An adaptive learning process for developing and applyingsustainability indicators with local communities
Mark S. Reed
, Evan D.G. Fraser, Andrew J. Dougill
Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 9JT, United Kingdom
A R T I C L E I N F O A B S T R A C T
Received 10 December 2004Received in revised form 9 June 2005Accepted 2 November 2005Available online 19 January 2006Sustainability indicators based on local data provide a practical method to monitor progresstowards sustainable development. However, since there are many conflicting frameworksproposed to develop indicators, it is unclear how best to collect these data. The purpose of thispaperistoanalysetheliteratureondevelopingandapplyingsustainabilityindicatorsatlocalscalestodevelopamethodologicalframeworkthatsummarisesbestpractice.First,twoideological paradigms are outlined: one that is expert-led and top
down, and one that iscommunity-based and bottom
up. Second, the paper assesses the methodological stepsproposed in each paradigm to identify, select and measure indicators. Finally, the paper concludes by proposing a learning process that integrates best practice for stakeholder-ledlocal sustainability assessments. By integrating approaches from different paradigms, theproposed process offers a holistic approach for measuring progress towards sustainabledevelopment. It emphasizes the importance of participatory approaches setting the contextfor sustainability assessment at local scales, but stresses the role of expert-led methods inindicatorevaluationanddissemination.Researchfindingsfromaroundtheworldareusedtoshow how the proposed process can be used to develop quantitative and qualitativeindicators that are both scientifically rigorous and objective while remaining easy to collectand interpret for communities.© 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Sustainability indicatorsCommunity empowermentStakeholdersLocalParticipation
Tohelpmakesocietymoresustainable,weneedtoolsthatcanboth measure and facilitate progress towards a broad range of social, environmental and economic goals. As such, theselection and interpretation of
has become an integral part of international and nationalpolicy in recent years. The academic and policy literature onsustainabilityindicatorsisnowsoprolificthatKingetal.(2000)refer to it as
...an industry on its own
millionsof dollars and much time
has been wasted on preparing national, state and local indicator reports that remain on theshelf gathering dust.
(Innes and Booher, 1999, p. 2).Partly this is a problem of scale since the majority of existing indicators are based on a top
down definition of sustainability that is fed by national-level data (Riley, 2001).This may miss critical sustainable development issues at thelocal level and may fail to measure what is important to
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Tel.: +44 113 343 3316; fax: +44 113 343 6716.
firstname.lastname@example.org (M.S. Reed).
Wedefine sustainability indicatorsasthecollection ofspecific measurablecharacteristics ofsociety that addresssocial, economic andenvironmental quality.0921-8009/$ - see front matter © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2005.11.008
available at www.sciencedirect.comwww.elsevier.com/locate/ecolecon