Universal Commons Measurement Challenge update

The Universal Commons team, working closely with Nesta in the UK, has made significant progress on researching the scope and objectives of a Universal Commons Measurement Challenge. Measurement is a central pillar of the Universal Commons Project, as it will unlock the value of Social and Natural Capital (S&N Capital). Good measurement and common standards will drive investment into the preservation and improvement of S&N Capital, and will help internalise it into commercial decision making rather than leaving it as an unaccounted externality.

Nesta hosted a highly successful workshop in February that brought together experts in the fields of measurement, public health and environmental economics, as well as air quality, which has been proposed as the first target of a challenge prize. The workshop made great strides in identifying what would be required for a successful Measurement Challenge and many of the challenges it would need to overcome.

One major hurdle is where to set the bar in terms of measurement detail and rigour. If the bar is set too high, the Measurement Challenge may end up being unwinnable or could take too long to complete. If the bar is set too low, the Measurement Challenge may not provide a sufficient improvement to current measurement standards or might fail to be rigorous enough to interface with the Universal Commons Exchange (UCX).

Another hurdle that was highlighted at the workshop was the need to focus the Measurement Challenge on dimensions of S&N Capital that have the highest impact on people and the planet, and are most relevant to commercial activities today. By identifying the most relevant dimensions of S&N Capital, we can ensure that the output of the Measurement Challenge is likely to contribute to current efforts in measuring and reporting impact, and give businesses and other organisations greater incentive to engage with the UCX when it is operational.

A third hurdle is that the output of the Measurement Challenge must be more than just high quality metrics; it also needs to produce a “product” that is able to be traded on the UCX. For example, a Measurement Challenge for air quality should not just produce better measures of air quality, but should also yield an output that can be converted into “tokens” or “credits” that can be traded on the UCX. The ultimate objective is that measurement will direct investment to where it’s most needed and reward organisations that are contributing to improving air quality.

Next steps

After reviewing progress in establishing the criteria for a challenge prize, and acknowledging the hurdles mentioned above, the Universal Commons and Nesta teams have agreed to a Market Design Project, which will be led by Gavin Starks at Dgen.

This project will accelerate the market design of the Universal Commons Exchange, and will work in parallel with the research phase of the Measurement Challenge, with each project iteratively informing the other. This will ensure that the output of a Measurement Challenge will successfully fit the requirements of the UCX, and will in turn help shape how the UCX will function to enable the trade in improvements in S&N Capital.

Nesta is continuing its focus on clean air as the first proposed dimension of S&N Capital to be the subject of the Measurement Challenge, given the ubiquitous importance and the wealth of metrics and experts in air quality that might be eligible to enter the challenge prize. This also makes it a strong candidate for listing on the UCX.

The initial findings of the Market Design Project will be presented in a second workshop scheduled to take place in May, and the output of that workshop will inform the draft criteria of the Measurement Challenge. The Universal Commons Project and Nesta have had a productive few months, and with the initiation of the Market Design Project, are coming closer to having the full criteria for a Measurement Challenge that yields a result that can advance the Universal Commons Project.