ASC’s mission is to “transform aquaculture towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility”. Having a well-defined mission is so important – but it’s not enough on its own. Because if we want to keep improving our own performance, we need to know how far we’ve come in achieving that mission.
By Douglas Tenison-Collins
As with any organisation that intends to drive change, it can be surprisingly challenging to measure this – it involves not just measuring changes in global aquaculture, but to what extent those changes are the result of ASC activities. Fortunately at ASC we love a challenge, so we have developed a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework that helps guide us in measuring our impacts and system performance. This has been developed in line with ISEAL guidelines (the impacts code) to ensure our continued full membership and to allow us to benefit from a wealth of knowledge and expertise developed through certification in other sectors.
The M&E framework serves two main purposes. First, monitoring refers to the regular collection of key indicators that help us to track the performance of the program, identifying any points that may need to be addressed with operational reviews, consultation with conformity assessment bodies (CABs) or other such targeted activities. Examples of indicators here may be things such as the volumes of certified production per country; the total farm area certified per country; the number of CABs per country and their auditing performance. Second, evaluation refers to the periodic undertaking of more in-depth analyses, through which we test the extent to which changes in the aquaculture sector can be attributed to the activities of the ASC programme. This is often undertaken in collaboration with specialist researchers and with a scope that is limited to a particular region or farming system. For example, last year we analysed the corrective actions made by salmon farms in Chile and Norway in order to address non-conformities raised during ASC audits, finding that they were making several improvements in health and safety practices and worker conditions as a result of engaging in the ASC certification process.
The M&E framework is built around our theory of change (ToC), a key part of our organisational planning, essentially setting out how our immediate activities will deliver our long term vision via a series of intended short and long term outcomes. Of course our unintended effects are also considered as part of this.
ASC faces many of the same problems faced by other certification schemes and organisations more widely, whereby rapid technological developments pose both an opportunity and a challenge. As a result, we’re working hard to ensure our certification processes can keep up with these changes, therefore allowing the improved collection of key data for M&E purposes as the programme continues to grow. And it’s not just about collecting new data – we have a wealth of historic data on the programme and we want to unlock the full potential of this with new approaches to cleaning, storing and analysing it – a bit like restoring old film footage using modern techniques to see things that might not have been visible before Finally, we are strengthening links with research institutions to help facilitate the in-depth evaluations necessary to develop a greater understanding of ASC’s impacts. And we hope that our M&E results will be helpful to other stakeholders in the industry. One of the benefits of the ASC programme is its transparency, allowing aquaculture performance to be measured at a country, species or region level on a scale that wouldn’t have been possible before. We’re taking a similarly transparent approach to M&E, ensuring that we share our findings through organisations such as ISEAL and the Certification and Ratings Collaboration (https://certificationandratings.org/).
That’s just a few of the ways we’re measuring our performance against the ASC mission. It’s a mission that we all believe in, which makes it all the more important that we know how well we’re achieving it. Monitoring and evaluating might not sound as exciting as a mission but in reality the two go hand-in-hand, and are both vital for an organisation dedicated to constant improvement.