The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) encourages entrepreneurs and organisations to practice Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). For example, companies and organisations that do business abroad and want to make use of the International Programs of the RVO must endorse the OECD guidelines. However, RVO currently has insufficient insight into how companies actually work and how effective the promotion of (international) CSR is in practice. That is why a monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) system is now being developed on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It will give RVO insight into the CSR performance of entrepreneurs and the effectiveness of its own policy.
With a multidisciplinary team of scientists, IT specialists and CSR experts, Empact supports RVO in designing the MEL system. The project’s first phase has now been completed, and RVO has all the ingredients to continue building the IT infrastructure. For this article, we spoke with Kristine Ocon, CSR advisor and project leader at RVO, about how the project has progressed so far and the experiences with Empact.
“We are very excited. I have not often experienced projects that went so smoothly in the collaboration.”
In order to properly map out the extent to which companies and organisations work in a socially responsible manner, the project was divided into steps, and research questions were formulated in advance. Important questions were, for example, which subsidies and other instruments are eligible and how compliance with OECD guidelines can be translated into KPIs.
That is why a funnel approach was chosen. “We funneled a lot of information from a lot of different programs. So what are we going to focus on? Which programmes are relevant then? What should the MEL system ultimately be able to answer? And that’s how you make choices, and that’s how we ended up with a self-assessment based on a questionnaire that you submit to companies to arrive at answers.”
By dividing the project into steps, there was always an intermediate result that served as the basis for the next step. This created peace and clarity. Kristine: “Because we had set up the project in seven work steps, an intermediate product always came out. That gave us an overview, and we could say okay, yes now it’s done, or this or that still needs to be adjusted. That makes it very easy towards the end because then you already have so many intermediate products that you have already approved or are all satisfied with. As a result, you have no surprises at the end. That is actually quite nice.”
“Because we had set up the project in seven work steps, an intermediate product always came out. That makes it very easy towards the end because then you already have so many intermediate products that you have already approved or are all satisfied with.”
All ingredients for a system to monitor, evaluate and learn
The result of this phase of the project is a self-assessment that can be presented to entrepreneurs from time to time. In the next phase, and in collaboration with Empact, an IT system and a dashboard will be developed around these questions that will enable entrepreneurs, RVO and other stakeholders to measure, evaluate and learn.
“The intention is that the company that completes the questionnaire also immediately receives a report and can see what it has completed. In addition, the company already receives some pointers to get started. The RVO project advisor is also shown the results so that s/he can prepare for the meeting with the entrepreneur. A second advantage is the overarching view of all entrepreneurs of all instruments together so that we can zoom out and see trends and developments.”In this way, one’s own policy can be evaluated. “A third benefit is that we will be able to use it in a few years’ time to see and learn about developments. The company learns what it can do even better, and we learn about company bottlenecks. This way, we find out how we can improve our services so that companies can take the next step more easily.”
“The company itself learns what it can do even better, and we learn in turn about bottlenecks at companies.”
Expert team and network of Empact
For this project, Empact worked together with scientists from the University of Amsterdam to form an expert team. “I really liked the inclusion of an expert team. We had the best mix of experts for this project, including the IT specialist. It is also nice for me to have the assurance that someone with in-depth knowledge of the OECD and methodologies is watching. With the approval of experts on a certain topic, it is also easier to involve others in this.”
Empact’s network also came in handy when RVO could not quickly find enough companies to test the self-assessment. “Then Empact also jumped in to tap into its own network for that, and we were able to continue. That is very pleasant in the collaboration.”
From Empact, we have experienced the cooperation with the two project leaders of RVO as extremely pleasant and professional. According to Kristine, this is completely mutual: “We are both very excited. I have not often experienced projects that went so smoothly in the collaboration. We had a working method that we were all comfortable with. We had regular consultations and knew every time what was on the agenda to discuss and what action had to be taken. And, of course, not everything went smoothly. Sometimes things take a little longer, but that also turned out very well. At a given moment, you decide together, okay, this phase is now taking too long, we will now tie the knot, and then you can move on. The high quality of the work was also nice, and I really had little comment on intermediate products. I also appreciated that Empact’s Martin de Jong and Teresa Brose are good listeners; that way, they could translate our needs into what we had to do.”
Thanks to Empact, RVO can now take the next step towards gaining insight into entrepreneurs’ CSR performance and government policy’s effectiveness.