ResearchQuestions+EAFIT Research

Assignment: Assessing Universities’ Sustainability Performance

What

Just like companies, universities have measurable impacts on the world around them – and responsibilities around that impact. Many report these impacts in similar formats to companies – through CSR and Annual Reports.

While much research on WikiRate focuses on the sustainability performance of companies and analysis of that data, the same approach can be used to understand and compare university sustainability performance and impact. There are many frameworks out there for Universities to track and report publicly on their sustainability and impact on the different communities they serve.

The two standards on WikiRate with metrics applicable to universities are: (1) the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) used by UK educational institutions, and (2) the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) developed by AASHE, which is a global standards for university reporting. Many other standards are out there and in development, so opportunities exist to add these to WikiRate as well, or to design new metrics.

Keep in mind the assignment allows for flexibility in the research and research questions you will ask. A calculated metric will be developed to assess disclosure rates along a set of indicators to provide an example of how calculated metrics can be used and applied. There are a few research projects here for inspiration. The WikiRate team can support additional analysis on the platform (through supporting calculated metric set-up) as students express their interest. For technical support, report an issue, for trouble-shooting, check the guidance page and for all other questions contact WikiRate.

Before beginning your data research

Step-by-step

  1. Choose research topic and generate research questions. Discuss research questions and choose one or two research questions that can be answered through data collection.

    a. Some example projects have been set up to answer specific research questions. These can be applied to your specific university research, or you may develop your own research question to address.

    b. To develop a research question, choose an SDG and consider which aspects of university performance are relevant, what tends to be reported and how this could be analysed. For inspiration, look into the SDG Compass, which has mapped indicators to the Sustainable Development Goals, from standards organisations relevant to universities, like the Global Reporting Initiative (among others). For university metrics, an initial mapping done by students can be seen here. This is not yet comprehensive, but can be helpful for selecting metrics relevant to specific SDGs. The company-relevant SDG Compass is on WikiRate here.

  2. Select the companies (in your case universities) to be researched. Some starting points for finding universities that may track and publish information on their performance are here: UN Global Compact’s database of companies and universities: Advanced reporters and Active reporters; the STARS reporting database here; and the HESA reporting database here. You can use the Company Vetting project on WikiRate to assess whether the university reports data viable for the exercise. If you don’t go through the process of answering the metrics, at least have a look at the metrics for reference to what types of data you might be looking for.

    Company Vetting

    Inactive
    | organized by
    1 Companies, 8 Metrics | 12.5%
    12.5%
    0.0%
    87.5%

  3. Research chosen university’s/ies’ data according to the Core Research Metrics. See a video tutorial here on researching companies on WikiRate.

  4. Peer review. You should be paired or pair yourself with another student to conduct a review one another’s data research. There is a mechanism on WikiRate for double-checking metric values. This exercise may require dialogue with your partner around nuances in the data reported by a university. Sustainability tracking and measurement is nuanced and often requires some level of subjectivity to interpret universities’ reports.

  5. Conduct analysis. If you are required to submit a report, presentation, or other analysis, you will start to use the research questions and data you’ve found to analyse and draw conclusions. Some example Research Questions have been created and applied to research on specific data. You may use the Research Questions example projects to conduct analysis, or set up their own project on WikiRate for analysis. There are calculated metrics within those projects which automatically conduct analysis once the data has been researched – an example is environmental impact disclosure rate, where the calculated metric will assess the number of answers vs. the number of unknowns for a given company, once the input data has been added for the given metrics and years.

    University performance - energy and environment

    Inactive
    | organized by
    2 Companies, 14 Metrics | 50.0%
    35.7%
    14.2%
    50.0%

Tools

Projects. If you are answering a new research question, you can create a new Project frame on WikiRate and add the set of metrics and universities you’ve chosen to research. This tutorial walks you through how to create a new project.

Metrics. To find out more about metrics, browse the Metrics page, and read about the types of metrics on WikiRate (calculated and researched).

Sources. Add a source for research and citation see the tutorial here.

Extras. You may export data from a project or metric page for analysis off the platform.

General Guidance

Using WikiRate. An overview of tools on WikiRate with guidance on how to use them.

Student Research FAQs. Answers frequently asked by students using WikiRate for research for assignments.

WikiRate Values & Principles. Principles such as these are common to a ‘wiki’ format, and help to develop communities of knowledge sharing.

Data research (GRI research best practices). Metric research is not always a question of finding a number and adding this value to WikiRate – different companies and universities may calculate these numbers in different ways or vary in terms of the scope of who/what is covered. It is helpful to have fellow researchers around to discuss the quality of data and what it actually means. Information about how a data-point was calculated, or the scope of operations it covers, is important to interpreting that value properly. Best practice on WikiRate is to always write down your methods for finding a value and the context where you found it, as a “comment” to the answer you submit (On what page number did you find the data? Is it presented with background information? Did you have to do a calculation to work out the right value?). This creates the background necessary to understand a value, and allows for a discussion around the data-point itself.

Communicate: WikiRate can be used for communication and dialogue, to generate debates around specific topics, metrics or other ideas. See wikirate.org/Discussion.