Building Information Sharing Networks to Support Consumer Choice Project
Most products consumed within the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) are produced and distributed through low cost supply chains that typically do not reveal certain types of information to end consumers. Without this information it is difficult for consumers to assess the quality of the products they buy or exercise their preferences for safe, environmentally sustainable, and economically just products and services. Producers also have much less of an incentive to provide such goods without an effective, trustworthy way to inform consumers. In order to provide full information about how, when, and by whom products were produced, producers, supply chain operators, and third party certifiers need to agree on a data architecture that can facilitate exchange and sharing of information that comes from product production systems, supply chain distribution systems, and systems used to determine compliance with voluntary and government-mandated product standards.
The Building Information Sharing Networks to Support Consumer Choice Project (I-Choose Project) is a three-year research activity funded by the National Science Foundation. The research team consists of a network of researchers and practitioners from Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The project aims to develop a data interoperability framework to provide consumers with a wide range of information about how, where, and by whom products are manufactured and brought to market. The project will focus first on development of interoperability among stakeholder communities for the single case of coffee grown in Mexico, and distributed and consumed in Canada and the United States. The lessons learned from this specific case will then be generalized across other product domains.
The I-Choose network will consist of producers, supply chain operators, and third party certifiers as well as academic researchers from the US, Canada and Mexico. Throughout the project network, members will work together to identify the knowledge domains and stakeholders whose input is necessary for improving the quality of the I-Choose prototype. The network will be expanded over time to include additional scholars whose research interests align with the goals of the project, including doctoral students and post doctoral associates, as well as those whose practical interests might be served by its work, such as government certifiers, supply chain managers, and consumer advocates.
The creation of a data interoperability network involving diverse stakeholder groups is difficult. To develop such network, it is important to create an agreed-upon data architecture to facilitate information exchange and sharing from production systems, supply chain distribution systems, systems used to determine compliance with voluntary and government-mandated product standards, as well as systems empowering consumers with collaborative rating tools. I-Choose data architecture will be developed consensually through a multi-stage iterative process of sequential consensus building activities with members of the I-Choose network.
I-Choose Consumer Preference Prototype
The I-Choose consumer preference prototype will create the scenario representing actual experiences of various type of users—consumers, producers, and distributors. The prototype development will be coordinated with stakeholder evaluation activities and will be done using a rapid application development approach that encourages interaction with stakeholders. The I-Choose network members will engage in prototype evaluation to gather feedback on how to better design and implement future interoperable product traceability and labeling systems as well as to identify challenges for implementation and provide recommendations for policy changes to maximize the market share of fair labor, eco friendly, or sustainable products within the NAFTA training regions.
Policy Analysis and Recommendations
As part of this project, a series of policy white papers will be developed to detail how community-based interoperable data sharing networks focused on providing elaborated product information to end-consumers can become a cornerstone of international trading regimes. In short, the papers will identify smart ways of labeling that can substantially reduce the information gap between producers and consumers. These policies will focus on helping businesses in the NAFTA region identify what consumers care about, contributing to forecasting consumers’ behavior, and bringing consumers and producers together in order to increase trust in worker and environment friendly products, recommend policies which increase the market share of organic, fair trade, and eco-friendly products and promote sustainable economic development.