Key Point 3: Telling the story of your measurements
With any story, it is important to provide context for the readers including:
- Your organisation's profile
- Your management process and leadership
- Your ways of working
- Your approach to economic, environmental and social issues
- How you have gathered your data
- The reliability and accuracy of your data
Fiona Pelham explains in more detail about telling the story of your measurements. You can read a transcript of the video below.
Now you’ve decided what you want to report on and why, and you’ve engaged with your interested parties and stakeholders to hear what they think you should report on. You are now at the point where you can start telling the story of your measurements.
As with any storytelling it’s important to provide context. So first of all start by explaining a bit about your profile, so within ISO 20121 that means the scope. For example, how large is the organisation you are reporting about, or the event that you’re reporting on? Where is it located? How many staff is involved? What is the budget behind it?
Providing these details will give your report reader a real idea of what you are actually telling them. As well as talking about your profile, it is important to explain your current situation. It may be that your top management could write a piece in the report to explain where you currently are, what your recent history has been, and what your potential future is going to be. Top management are likely to be the people who know the strategy of the business, and have understood why certain decisions have been taken, which may affect the content in your report. It’s always a good idea to provide this background, again so that your report readers will understand the content that they are reading.
If you’re following GRI EOSS this part of the report is called ‘disclosure on management approach’. It basically means talking about your way of working and how you approach economic, social, and environmental decisions. If you are implementing ISO 20121 it is at this stage you can report about the things you are doing to implement ISO 20121.
For example, you can talk about setting the scope, identifying your objectives, your sustainability team and how you check they have the right competencies to do what they need to do. You could talk about the action plan that you have created, and the regular team meetings and processes you have put in place to monitor and measure.
It’s important to report on your way of working in relation to the environment, the economy, and the social community around you. So you may want to split your report into these three areas, or if you are doing ISO 20121, explain that with every business decision, you work according to the processes from ISO 20121.
Remember that you are sharing in your report numerical measurements, but these may be very difficult to understand if you haven’t provided enough context behind them.
Here is a practical example. One large, international outdoor event was reporting on the amount of wood that they used in the set-up of their event. They were weighing the wood; in one location the weight came back significantly heavier than other locations. This was because the wood had been stored outside and it had rained, so it was heavier.
Obviously the numerical measurements did not explain the background to that story. So it’s very important within your report that you explain your approach to gathering each measurement, and give your report readers as much information as possible, so they can understand the true background.
You should explain the background to your report in relation to your organization's overall approach to sustainability, including your understanding of sustainability and how it relates to your long term business strategy.
This relates to how your organization approaches the issues relating to economic, social and environmental impacts. What systems or processes do you have in place?
The way in which you collect your data can have a significant impact on your results, and this should therefore be shared in the report.
The way in which your report is presented should allow readers to easily access the information that they require. You may wish to discuss possible report formats with interested parties before you begin reporting, as it could influence the way in which you present your data.
This presentation provides more detail about telling the story of your measurements. You can read a summary of the presentation below.
When you’re reporting, as well as providing the numerical data for your events, you will also want to provide the background to these measurements so that the readers of your report have a context for the information. An introductory background will also set the scene for the report and provide relevant information about your organisation, as well as any decisions that you have made in terms of what you should or should not include in the report.
Why are you reporting on particular areas of sustainability? Have you decided that there are areas of your activities that have a larger impact than others? For example, there may be certain areas that are not relevant for your organisation, so you may have chosen not to report on these aspects.
You should also provide some information about your approach to sustainability. What systems or frameworks are you using? What does sustainability mean to you? Why is it important? This allows report readers to understand the reasons for the content of your report and your activities.
What are your ways of working? Do you have any formal systems or management systems in place (for example ISO 20121 for event sustainability)? What procedures do you have in place for allocating roles and responsibilities, and how do you communicate within the organisation? How do you choose what to report on? If you produce a financial report, you may wish to include management information from this report in your sustainability report.
We have already mentioned the importance of providing background information and context to your report, and you will have heard Fiona Pelham talking in her video overview about the difference in weight of wood measured due to a lack of consistent methodology.
If you have just started reporting and don’t have a clear system in place then you can begin by describing how the data was collected (for example the tools used – and their reliability – the frequency of measurements, dates of measurements).
Essentially, report readers will need to understand any potential variations in your data and be able to see the data in the context of how the information was collected.
Your data can be showcased in a number of ways and you should decide on the most appropriate format(s) in which to produce your reports. You can consider this during your initial engagement with interested parties, and then take their feedback into account when choosing the final report format(s).
How will the people reading the report want to access the information? For example, you could create an engaging and interactive report on a web page, but if most people are likely to want to read the report offline (whilst travelling, for example) then a PDF document may be more appropriate. Would your report readers find it easier to access if it was translated into another language? You don’t have to take all of these steps right away – so for example you may want to create a summary of the key data points to be translated – but it makes sense to plan ahead for future report requirements so that you can allocate the relevant budget and resources.
You can create a report in multiple formats and include some additional evidence through video and audio footage, for example. For any report formats, you should consider how you check that you are aligning with any best practice or frameworks, and how you are making sure that the report formats allow readers to compare information between reports easily.
The first report from London 2012, entitled a blueprint for change, reviews their commitments to sustainability, achievements and challenges.
Choose your methodologies
At this point, you should decide how you will monitor, measure, collect and analyze data from your report. You can change this in the future, but it will affect the consistency of your reports, so it makes sense to spend time considering this area now.
For example, if you do not have accurate data, how will you calculate your estimates? How will everyone involved in the data collection process know the right format in which to provide the data? What methods do you currently use, and are they good enough?
Decide the format for your report
It will help with the data collection process if you decide at the start how you will be sharing your report. For example, if you plan to have an interactive web page, then it may make sense to include video footage or photographs which summarise or explain the data (remember, you need the story behind the data and not just the data itself).
You may wish to start small with a short PDF case study for example - that is fine, but if you are thinking ahead about how you will be reporting in the future, then you can start to plan different data collection options in advance.