Backbone Organizations

Many sectors have developed platform or “backbone” organizations with a mandate to collect and manage precompetitive data. While there is a large amount of detailed data out there currently (farm size, income, adoption of practices, productivity), there has been a lot of hesitation in sharing this data for fear that it may be misunderstood or received poorly. Global Shea AllianceWorld Cocoa Foundation, and Global Coffee Platform shared their experiences and insights on collaboration through backbone organizations.

Backbone organizations use data to help paint a picture of progress toward sustainability as a sector, understand context to shape strategy, and inform national platforms to feed into sector-specific strategies.  However, getting members to collaborate is difficult and involves defining a value proposition for data sharing.  Backbone organizations look to strike a balance between promoting the sharing and use of data and understanding which is not useful or is unable to be shared, and in some cases, incentivize data sharing through funded initiatives.

There is also the difficult task that backbone organizations take on of getting their members to agree on a set of indicators.  Backbone organizations have employed different approaches in this context, and cited a few examples of what they found to work the best: inclusion (vertical and horizontal buy-in), working groups, voting, building trust and relationships, in-person meetings to hash out details, and involving governments as well as members.

As these backbone organizations grow more mature it is useful to ask what their potential and role is for the future. As one of the goals for such organizations is to help understand context and plan interventions, it would be useful to collect larger data sets (for instance, statistical information that can be aggregated and anonymized to inform strategy).  This way data could be compared across members and the sector to create common learning and goals, as well as enabling feedback to the farming families. This sharing could also eliminate the need for individual companies to conduct this type of research individually (for example, on living income) reducing cost and effort. Or, for a relatively small amount of money the backbone organization members could hire a third party to do a yearly collection of data that everyone would share.  The potential for collaboration is great if backbone organizations are able to break down the barriers to data sharing.

The Global Coffee Platform has finalized its Sustainability Progress Framework and is now at the stage of developing indicators for the framework. Jenny Kwan and George Watene from the GCP along with Niels Haak from the Sustainable Coffee Challenge led a session reviewing the framework and soliciting feedback on the process of metric development.  You can see an update and ways to be involved in that process here, and learn more in the presentation below.

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