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Tips for Successfully Working With Metrics and Reporting

3p Contributor | Wednesday August 10th, 2011 | 1 Comment

By: David Jaber

Many CSR professionals struggle with setting benchmarks, measuring progress toward goals and evaluating past performance. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are some tips to get you started:

Good metrics should be:

– relevant. If your goal is to ‘improve public understanding of environmental justice,’ the metric needs to be something related to the public like number of community members interviewed.  Perhaps this is obvious, but there may well be cases where relevance is not so clear and it’s important to be reflective on this one.

– actionable.  Evaluating the metric should help you make a decision.  This is why metrics work best with a target,  so you can clearly see if you have or have not hit your target, and then take appropriate action.

– timely.  You must be able to get all data before your deadline to make a decision or otherwise evaluate your performance.

– measurable, by definition.  You might think this is also apparent, but it is relatively easy to establish a metric for which you later find you have no access to relevant data.

Order of Operations for Working with Metrics:

  1. Define and determine with metrics to use.  This is best done through a process to . . .
  2. Get broad stakeholder agreement to use these metrics.   Stakeholders can be internal within a company, or external; key stakeholders are those that own the data that you’ll need to evaluate.
  3. Double-check that metrics are aligned with your goals.  What are you trying to achieve, and will these metrics give you useful information for that effort?
  4. Map out where the metrics data is and how to obtain it.

In the sustainability realm, it’s tempting to skip the stakeholder agreement step, particularly if you’re using an established metrics framework (think GRI), or participating in a program that defines reporting metrics. [ed note: if you are interested in learning more about GRI reporting, please consider attending our upcoming Certification in Sustainability Reporting in October] However, without obtaining buy-in and explaining and reaffirming the importance of performance metric evaluation to colleagues, people simply aren’t going to be motivated to help you on this basis alone, and won’t be spurred by a sense of shared ownership to help get that performance insight.

The need for alignment is hardly new. Public agencies have been asked for years to go through a metrics alignment process, through submission of logic models in grant reporting.   And Balanced Scorecard and other tools promote alignment in the private sector.

It is true that particular reporting programs will constrain the choice of metrics (like, say, the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, if you’re a farmer), because what you measure should be aligned with what you’re reporting. Otherwise there is extra effort between internal data gathering and external reporting, so stakeholders will have less leeway to choose.  Nevertheless, metrics must reflect the purpose of the business and concerns of its stakeholders.  If the reporting program in which you participate doesn’t support that, it might be time to look for another program.

[Image Credit: concrete_jungler101, Flickr]

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David Jaber is a Principal at inNative, where he leads performance metrics development,  data analysis and evaluation, supply-chain greenhouse gas inventories, environmental site assessments and related analytical work. http://www.innative.net


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  • http://www.davidjhendrickson.com David Hendrickson

    Interesting article, but I wonder why in CSR reporting there is so little emphasis on qualitative indicators for tracking an existing environmental, economic or social condition that can reveal deeper understanding and even cause-and-effect relationships.

    Relying solely on performance indicators fails to identify root causes of unsustainable states. Are we relying too much on performance without understanding the root causes behind our measurements?

    David Hendrickson