ISEAL has been working with standards and sustainability initiatives in the metals, minerals and mining (MMM) sectors to understand how MMM standards can deepen their impacts and improve effectiveness through increased interoperability. A new report outlines the opportunities that interoperability can bring for cross-sector learning.
Interoperability is the degree to which diverse systems, organisations and individuals are able to work together to achieve a common goal. This research from the MMM sector identifies and explains six types of interoperability, offering recommendations and practical tips for standards systems seeking to work with others to achieve their aims.
1. Joint working groups
Groups can address specific issues like gender, living income and free, prior and informed consent. Working together on these common challenges enables the pooling of resources, perspectives and shared learning. But these processes can take time and consensus is not always easy. Often a backbone or neutral convening organisation is needed, as is agreeing a shared outcome.
2. Joint projects
Joint projects can be based around common issues or the pooling of resources. For example, MMM standards are working together on issues facing artisanal and small-scale mining. Shared monitoring and evaluation systems are examples of joint projects that save standards money and resources. Agriculture standards have used a shared theory of change as a basis for joint projects. However, differences in perceived power balances or the size of organisations can present challenges. It’s vital to formalise the project objectives and lay out the resources each party can offer.
3. Plug and play
Plug and play approaches use one component of another sustainability system, such as policies and procedures. No action is required on the part of the organisation whose approaches are being adopted. It can happen across sectors, such as the emerging Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance using the more mature Forest Stewardship Council’s policies and procedures. Establishing value at the outset is crucial, as one standard may not wish to ‘give away’ something it has spent resources to develop.
One standard may recognise a specific result like certification or assurance results of another standard. Recognition can be unilateral, partial or full. It can be challenging to accept the systems of another standard and it requires trust in the credibility and rigour of that standard. Ongoing meetings can ensure understanding of the recognised standard and continual alignment.
5. Shared processes
Shared processes could include joint audit or traceability programmes. Although this may require more resource allocation, the results can reduce costs, increase efficiencies and lessen administrative burdens.
Harmonisation is the alignment of language by eliminating major differences and creating common minimum requirements. Examples include aligned due diligence requirements, or alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or the ISEAL Common Core Indicators. Vested interests and existing language can be barriers and differences in language can reflect differences in systems that are difficult to align.
How can a theory of change (ToC) help?
Developing a ToC or strategic plan can help individual organisations examine their own strategy and determine where interoperability would help achieve their end goals. A ToC can be used as a way of getting to know an organisation. Generalised ToCs within a sector can highlight overlap between organisations or determine where there may be gaps.
How do I start my interoperability or collaboration journey?
Our interviews and workshops point to these recommendations:
- Start with areas that are broadly relevant and not too contentious across stakeholders
- Have clear, formalised expectations and objectives
- Start early: the best time to start is when your initiative is young or when you are revising aspects of your work
- Joint activities, dialogue or information sharing can be the first step in a recognition process to build trust and understanding of each other’s systems
- Understand what is happening on the ground
- Be patient: interoperability and collaboration take time and resources
Check out the summary report, the executive summary and the webinar through the links on the right. GIZ's full report on the project will also be available shortly.
This work is part of a project funded by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, or GIZ).