BERmon33 Sustainable development indicators: Much wanted, less used?
Ulla Rosenström, 2009
Monographs of the Boreal Environment Research no. 33, p. 74. URN:ISBN:978-952-11-3415-9, ISBN 978-952-11-3415-9 (PDF).
The publication is available also in printed form
For the past twenty years, several indicator sets have been produced on international, national and regional levels. Most of the work has concentrated on the selection of the indicators and on collection of the pertinent data, but less attention has been given to the actual users and their needs. This dissertation focuses on the use of sustainable development indicator sets. The dissertation explores the reasons that have deterred the use of the indicators, discusses the role of sustainable development indicators in a policy-cycle and broadens the view of use by recognising three different types of use.
The work presents two indicator development processes: The Finnish national sustainable development indicators and the socio-cultural indicators supporting the measurement of eco-efficiency in the Kymenlaakso Region. The sets are compared by using a framework created in this work to describe indicator process quality. It includes five principles supported by more specific criteria. The principles are high policy relevance, sound indicator quality, efficient participation, effective dissemination and long-term institutionalisation.
The framework provided a way to identify the key obstacles for use. The two immediate problems with current indicator sets are that the users are unaware of them and the indicators are often unsuitable to their needs. The reasons for these major flaws are irrelevance of the indicators to the policy needs, technical shortcomings in the context and presentation, failure to engage the users in the development process, non-existent dissemination strategies and lack of institutionalisation to promote and update the indicators. The importance of the different obstacles differs among the users and use types.
In addition to the indicator projects, materials used in the dissertation include 38 interviews of high-level policy-makers or civil servants close to them, statistics of the national indicator Internet-page downloads, citations of the national indicator publication, and the media coverage of both indicator sets.
According to the results, the most likely use for a sustainable development indicator set by policy-makers is to learn about the concept. Very little evidence of direct use to support decision-making was available. Conceptual use is also common for other user groups, namely the media, civil servants, researchers, students and teachers. Decision-makers themselves consider the most obvious use for the indicators to be the promotion of their own views which is a form of legitimising use.
The sustainable development indicators have different types of use in the policy cycle and most commonly expected instrumental use is not very likely or even desirable at all stages. Stages of persuading the public and the decision-makers about new problems as well as in formulating new policies employ legitimising use. Learning by conceptual use is also inherent to policy-making as people involved learn about the new situation. Instrumental use is most likely in policy formulation, implementation and evaluation.
The dissertation is an article dissertation, including five papers that are published in scientific journals and an extensive introductory chapter that discusses and weaves together the papers.
Ulla Rosenström, Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), email@example.com