Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Closing the Credibility Gap

Just reading an interesting and timely report from the team at Sustainability - Signed, Sealed, Delivered - exploring th...

December 6, 2011

Just reading an interesting and timely report from the team at SustainabilitySigned, Sealed, Delivered - exploring the present value and future role of branded certification systems.

As in any maturing market, there is an ongoing tension between the heavy weight of the vertically integrated systems that kick-started this assurance infrastructure, and the paper-thin, but tightly laminated layers of process that now support it.

The many-celled structure that we have now is undoubtedly costly and cumbersome and may still not be delivering the assurance that’s required.

The Sustainability team does a good job of starting to unbundle both the functions and outcomes of assurance systems and so begins to reveal some of the inefficiencies, opacities and redundancies of so many overlapping schemes.

They don’t suggest that labels and certifications are to be made redundant, but they do imply that the provision of Credibility is an exercise in the gathering, auditing, assuring and communication of non-financial impact; and that each of these is a specialist task, susceptible to optimisation; and that all might be rebundled in new and more resilient ways.

We live in a fast-maturing market for Credibility, when values-based claims are increasingly susceptible to investigation.  Any entity, or set of entities seeking to make judgemental claims of a product must assess its risk from two standpoints.

Firstly, what is the assurance-value inherent in that claim, compared to others’ claims? i.e. How much value are consumers investing in the claims being made?

Secondly, what is the scepticism-risk inherent within the trust network of that claim? i.e. How likely is it that a sceptical observer would find a claim dishonest, or disingenuous.

Where risk and value intersect, rational judgements can be made about the breadth and depth of the reassurance to be provided.

There is a third issue though, and one which goes to the heart of this dilemma. What is the social coherence of the claim? i.e. How resilient are the value-exchanges that support it? How incentivised are stakeholders to supply legal, decent, honest and truthful information?  If power is distributed too much to the top or the bottom of the assurance system, or even captured by the middle, credibility will be imperilled.

There are major clues in this report that the way to unglue this matrix lies in interoperable assurance networks, which can overlay individual supply-chains, and that the credibility platform, and the reassurance processes that sit on that platform will need to become increasingly separate, and increasingly specialised, over time.

Brands are fighting hard for their Credibility. Certification systems will need to offer them ever stronger Reassurance.



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