Assessing and communicating our impact on livelihoods, human rights, biodiversity, and climate is critical to understanding how well our interventions are working and where improvements can be made. At the heart of the Rainforest Alliance’s approach to monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is a commitment to integrate research learnings into our strategies and interventions—from certification and landscape management to advocacy and supply chain services. Teams dedicated to M&E lead this work using four main approaches.
First, we use a Theory of Change approach to design projects and programs that include carefully developed indicators to track outcomes and impacts. For example, our Theory of Change and indicator framework for the Rainforest Alliance Certification Program help us monitor compliance with our 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard and measure progress towards sustainability improvements. For landscape-level M&E, an individual Theory of Change and set of indicators are developed for each project to ensure that project activities are outcome-driven. LandScale is an example of an indicator framework that can be applied to landscape-level projects.
Second, we collect program-wide monitoring data to document the reach of Rainforest Alliance interventions, the characteristics of producers with whom we work, and the outcomes of our certification and landscape-level work. This reach data, some of which is publicly available in our Certification Data Reports, may include the number and gender of workers, harvest volumes, the amount of sustainability differential received by producers, geospatial information, and more. With the release of the 2020 Standard, our certification program has become even more data-driven: initiatives like the Farm Intelligence App and Smart Meters put farm data into the hands of producers and group managers, allowing them to track and analyze metrics about their own performance to support decision making and adaptive management.
Third, we develop learning opportunities to understand farm and landscape-level practices and outcomes in greater detail. Learning projects range from studies focused on sub-samples of the farms and communities that we work with to broader initiatives such as the Community Listening Program— currently in its pilot phase—which aims to incorporate the voices of community members, workers, smallholder farmers, and forest communities into our programs, projects, and policies. Learning projects help us understand how, why, and under what circumstances desired changes happen, and are a critical component of our efforts to improve the quality and implementation of our interventions.
Finally, we lead and commission impact evaluations to test specific hypotheses about our programs’ impact, and we collaborate with and support independent researchers to conduct rigorous and objective assessments of Rainforest Alliance interventions. Often, these studies compare certified farms to a control group of non-certified farms, or measure change over time through assessing baseline conditions and conducting follow-up investigations. These evaluations provide important insights into our impact and inform the development of our programs and strategies.
How you can get involved
The Rainforest Alliance recognizes the important role of the research community in evaluating and ultimately helping to improve the effectiveness of certification and other kinds of sustainability programs.
- Become a research partner: There are many ways in which research institutions can work with our monitoring and evaluation teams or conduct research in the context of Rainforest Alliance programs or field sites— from student internships to formal research partnerships. Learn more.
- Kleinhans Fellowships for Community Forestry Research: Every two years, the Rainforest Alliance awards a fellowship to a postgraduate level researcher who is seeking solutions to the challenges facing the community forestry model. (See application guidelines)
- Tell us what you think: Do you have questions or comments about the Rainforest Alliance’s monitoring and evaluation work? We’d like to hear them.