The role of Sustainability Indicators within evidence-based policy for sustainable development in the European Union

Bell, Simon and Morse, Stephen (2010). The role of Sustainability Indicators within evidence-based policy for sustainable development in the European Union. In: The 16th annual international sustainable development research conference, 30 May - 01 Jun 2010, Hong Kong, China.



Sustainability Indicators (SIs) have been popular among a section of the policy and science community for some years and are often promoted by this group as a potent vehicle to help make sustainable development a reality. One of the claimed strengths of SIs is their ability to present complex data and trends to policy makers. It is assumed that SIs can thereby help to make policy and indeed management more transparently evidence-based, yet this assumption has rarely been tested. This was the rationale behind the European Union funded Framework 7 project 'Policy Influence of Indicators' (POINT; contract no 217207) which began in 2008. A major element of the project involved a number of participatory stakeholder workshops designed to elicit viewpoints regarding the use of SIs in sustainable development policy at EU and member-state levels. This paper presents the results of those workshops, and discusses the ramifications for the use of SIs in evidence-based policy in the EU. We summarise some of the key findings as the '5 Ds':
Disconnect with current use of SIs. Issues here are a lack of understanding as to what is required in sustainable development and who is responsible for implementation.
Dominance of economic indicators making it difficult for SIs to be heard .
Dissemination; covers the need for education in the importance of sustainable development and the means by which information is disseminated.
Disambiguation; covers data availability issues and opaqueness of existing SIs making them difficult to appreciate.
Dictum. A grammar or rules is needed clearly indicating what we mean by sustainable development and thus the SIs that are needed for implementation.
Our research is also indicting that we are gaining clarity over what features are most consistent between indicator user groups and indicator use. This is leading us towards an heuristic device for measuring and even predicting the use of indicators by specific policy groups.

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