The often-claimed environmental and social benefits of forest certification remain to be empirically evaluated. Despite numerous publications on the impacts of tropical forest certification, virtually all are based on secondary sources of information and not on field-based measurements. This paper proposes an empirical research framework for a carefully designed field-based evaluation of the ecological, social, economic, and political impacts of tropical forest management certification taking into account location-specific contextual factors which shape certification outcomes. The paper also suggests that solid methodological quantitative and qualitative approaches be used to build proper counterfactuals on which to base the comparisons for inferring impacts, all informed by a thorough theory-of-change and through processes that bring stakeholders together. The proposed research framework represents a first step towards the design and future implementation of evaluation research in the context of tropical forest certification on a global basis. It is hoped the research framework proposed contributes to learning from past mistakes, building on lessons learned and enhancing decision-making towards the maintenance of forest values over the long term, and for the benefit of society as a whole.