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Evaluating a values-based business ecosystem

Evaluating a values-based business ecosystem

New business models, systems and practices reversing the decline of the Textiles and Clothing sector and supporting its future sustainability.

Between 2015 and 2019 we were part of a consortium funded by the Horizon 2020 programme (GA No 646133) to implement the Textiles and Clothing Business Labs (TCBL) project.

About TCBL

The Textiles and Clothing Business Labs (TCBL) project started in 2015 in order to address some important challenges the textile and clothing (T+C) sector is facing: over-production and over-consumption leading to poor working conditions and pressure on wages, waste and other environmental degradation such as release of high amounts of chemicals from textiles dyeing, high water use, and energy consumption.  Against this background, TCBL set out to offer the sector an alternative vision: competition based on knowledge not price; creation not extraction of social, economic and environmental value by those working in the sector. And it wanted to achieve this by creating a T+C business ecosystem in which diverse organisations pursue collaborative innovation.

Evaluating TCBL: approach and methods

Our role in the consortium was to carry out a process, outcome and impact evaluation of the project with the ultimate aim to assess the extent to which the project had achieved its ultimate objectives.

We designed the TCBL evaluation to work with the project’s core features by incorporating principles from ecosystems thinking, complexity theory and large scale change into a theory based evaluation design. Covering both formative (ex ante and developmental) and summative (knowledge and accountability) dimensions, key features of the evaluation design included:

  • A focus on understanding contribution to change, in recognition that straightforward causal pathways allowing for a clear attribution of observed changes to TCBL would not be possible.
  • Multiplicity of methods and analysis techniques to reflect the different purposes and ‘moments’ of the TCBL evaluation and address different stakeholders’ information needs. These included: interviews; longitudinal case studies; one outcome survey covering the TCBL ecosystem to capture views on outcomes and impacts achieved as well as financial results for participating businesses; social network analysis of business pilot members and of participants’ networking behaviour during the annual conferences; social return on investment and cost consequence analysis to model the economic outcomes of the project; critical incident analysis to capture key events in the project’s development; theory of change mapping and peer learning.
  • Participatory and inclusive, implementing some data collection and interpretation of this data jointly with TCBL partners. This addressed requirements of ecosystems, complexity and large scale change perspective on evaluation where decentralisation, multiplicity of views and context are important both philosophically and conceptually.
  • A strong learning focus. Learning permeated the whole of the TCBL evaluation, and was achieved through a mix of peer learning activities, seminars / webinars and contributions to partner meetings.

Some project results

Our evaluation showed that the project generated some important results.  We showed that TCBL had a positive impact on business collaboration: the majority of participants surveyed extended their network and expected these new collaborations to last. The Bioshades business case, for example, pioneered an open and interdisciplinary inquiry into growing bacteria to dye textiles. This created a network of 31 organisations collaborating on the subject, and 200 people knowledgeable about the techniques involved. According to one of the participating labs: “That openness makes it easier and more interesting, and it moves faster to take experimentations to the next level.”

By means of these and other experimentations, the TCBL partnership was able to develop new business models and business service concepts, some of these were already replicated during the lifetime of the project. The evaluative SROI carried out suggests a positive return on the project investment of 0.716 even though the project was primarily an experimental research project heavily top-loaded to reflect the R+D effort required.  Overall, evaluation data suggested that there were signs that, through expanding the TCBL ecosystem going forward, and through the operations of the TCBL Foundation and its service company, the business models, systems and practices developed through TCBL could make a significant contribution to reversing the decline of the sector and supporting its future sustainability.

Project team: Dr Kerstin Junge, Dr Joe Cullen, Giorgia Iacopini, Anna-Sophie Hahne, Dr David Drabble

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