Fostering innovation to drive change: What have we learned so far?

Our new learning report and brief capture some of the early lessons from the ISEAL Innovations Fund and Programme. 

There is an urgent need to tackle some of the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges, but this requires collective action, collaboration and experimentation. This is why the ISEAL Innovations Fund and Programme - with support from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO - is catalysing innovation amongst ISEAL members and the wider sustainability systems community to drive change and scale impact. 

This year’s UN World Creativity and Innovation Day centres on the role of creativity and collaboration in achieving global sustainability commitments and the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). This theme strongly resonates with the ISEAL Innovations Fund and Programme. 

Since 2016, we have fostered innovation and experimentation, an active learning community, knowledge sharing and partnerships. And we have created new guidance to scale the impact and value of sustainability systems. Building a portfolio of cross-sector innovation projects has allowed our members to keep experimenting, and to push technology and themselves to understand the next frontier for sustainability systems.

Key lessons learned to date

We currently have an active innovation portfolio. But what early lessons have we learned so far to inspire continual improvement, innovation and collaboration in sustainability systems? 

Below is a snapshot of some of our key insights to date. To explore these in more detail, download the full learning report and briefing note

  • The future role of sustainability systems will not be limited to assessing compliance. Sustainability systems deliver value and impact through much more than standard-setting and assurance. Building on their networks and market position, sustainability systems are often well placed to support and drive improvement and action within supply chains or at a landscape level. 
  • Sustainability systems are testing and implementing strategies to improve their performance to become more effective at responding to key sustainability challenges. Many are starting to analyse the broader context in which they operate, identifying different types of sustainability strategies and forming partnerships with key stakeholders to find ways to transform sectors and regions for the better.
  • Involving producers in an innovation process can ensure that their needs are met. An impactful innovation only counts if it’s integrated into people’s lives. By including producers in the innovation planning and design stages and gathering their feedback throughout an innovation process, sustainability systems can ensure that new solutions and tools are accessible, relevant and focused on what producers need. 
  • Mobilizing the expertise, support and knowledge of local stakeholders and partners can help scale an innovation. Collective action is needed to drive large-scale sector transformation and it requires engaging those that will be affected the most by the innovations that sustainability systems are testing.
  • Data and digitization are at the core of many promising innovations and opportunities for sustainability systems to add new value for users and producers. The insights from our most successful projects reveal common characteristics, which we believe translate into useful recommendations for sustainability systems as they embrace the potential of data and technology going forward:
  1. Align protocols to enable better sharing of data

  2. Invest in resources for capacity development in data and digitization

  3. Share technology and innovations for the common good

  4. Make use of hybrid approaches and audits that integrate new data sources with traditional data to create new insights.

Our flagship resources to drive innovation

Our innovation reports and guidance define good practices and identify entry points to equip sustainability systems and their users to better respond to sustainability challenges, catalyse innovation and scale their impact. 

These resources can help you address challenges ranging from unlocking the power of data to gather new insights on sustainability performance, to adapting and improving sustainability strategies. 

Looking ahead

We will continue to capture, learn from and share the lessons and insights emerging from our Innovations Fund and Programme portfolio with ISEAL members and the wider sustainability community.

Looking ahead, this learning will inform the implementation of our 2021-2024 strategy. Our focus will be on catalysing new innovations that address key sustainability challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, the protection of human rights and smallholder farmer livelihoods. We look forward to seeing how these emerging solutions, technologies and novel approaches can create new opportunities to drive impact at scale.