Gather the Facts

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The right information at the right time

In order to ensure our clients have the right information at the right time it is critical that we engage a combination of relevant and credible approaches. This includes training local staff, conducting hands-on fieldwork using surveys and focus groups, incorporating scientific input as well as using advanced technologies and techniques.

Key components include:

1. Vetted Surveys

COSA data is collected primarily via professionally structured digital surveys designed to give consistently accurate results. They have been vetted and constantly improved by thousands of uses with Farms and Producer Organizations. Most surveys are conducted by trained local professional surveyors. On average, surveys take 1 to 1.5 hours and include both direct observations and structured questions. We also offer simpler online versions as well as options for Performance Monitoring, a related but much simpler tool that has been developed specifically to serve the managerial needs of a project or investment. It is brief, depending on the client, and provides real-time reporting with minimal training.

2. Building Local Capacity and Global Standardization

One of the risks of a global framework for sustainability assessment is the potential to lose relevance to local conditions. Partnerships within many different networks are therefore an integral part of COSA at every level. Knowing that sustainability cannot be successfully imposed from the outside, we engage leading institutions as Research Partners in each country to build local capacity rather than merely relying on outside experts. These investments are made possible by the support of key donors.

COSA (Committee on Sustainability Assessment) selects a Research Partner institution to develop permanent institutional capacity in a developing country...With adequate initial COSA support, the Research Partners in a country become valuable advocates of sustainability and are ideally placed to ensure the contextual validity and relevance of the findings within their own agricultural sector. They also serve as a resource for anyone wishing to better measure or understand sustainability in that particular country, so that new efforts can benefit from, and build upon, the lessons already learned. It is expected that after 3-4 years, our institutional Partners will be able to conduct this sort of research at a world-class level on their own, using COSA mostly in an advisory capacity. One of our institutional Partners now conducts so many sustainability assessments for private firms, NGOs, producer groups, and even governments that this type of work has become its primary source of research revenue.

3. Digital Data Capture and Geospatial Mapping

COSA uses diverse technologies to accelerate understanding in sustainability. For example, our COSATouch surveys have skip-logic, internal answer validation checks, offline functionality, and automatic capture of place and time. Surveyors can use any sort of hand-held devices (Android or Apple tablets, laptops, smart phones) to make the process of interviewing farmers and group leaders speedier and more conversational than would be possible with sheets of paper and a clipboard. Combined, these efforts make it faster and easier to collect accurate data in rural areas.

Mapping data geospatially refines diagnostics and can improve the targeting of interventions. This makes it easier to contextualize the situation in a region. Opportunities exist to also integrate farm-level data to the remote sensing of land-use changes to ascertain the correlations between certain socio-economic factors and changes in the environment.

4. Performance Monitoring

The COSA Performance Monitoring System offers fast and affordable measurement of sustainability performance that integrates vital information feedback loops to management. The Monitoring gathers simple survey data during normal field operations from traders or local staff. It is customizable with a range of tailored indicators and mission-critical questions that reflect key concerns and objectives. It can capture KPI and it presents management with necessary data in real-time dashboard formats to improve their tactical decisions. Our Performance Monitoring System can link directly to the more sophisticated COSA baseline and impact assessments for a deeper understanding and it is readily auditable (if desired) to improve accuracy and reliability for more credible reporting.

COSA (Committee on Sustainability Assessment) Performance Monitoring Basline and Impact

For Performance Monitoring we extract a subset of relevant and customized indicators from our master list. These performance indicators answer mission-critical questions about the sustainability of a program or intervention.

View an interactive demo of our Performance Monitoring indicatorsGO

5. Understanding and Working with Producer Organizations

A “Sustainable” Producer Organization is one that combines good governance and sufficient economic activity to support necessary social and environmental services that benefit their members and the enterprise. 

COSA is coordinating a network of 30 organizations, representing a mix of private, development, and research institutions with the goal to guide Producer Organizations (PO) toward sustainability.  The PO assessment tools will be administered by buyers, lenders, NGOs and Producer Organizations to move PO management systems and farmer services towards economic, social and environmental sustainability. This tool will be used in combination with COSA’s farmer level surveys to gain a complete understanding of the diverse impacts of participating in supply chains.


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