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"Beyond Delusion:
Science and Policy Dialogue on Designing Effective
Indicators of Sustainable Development"

May 6 - 9 1999, San Jose Costa Rica
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Summary

The Science and Policy Dialogue on Designing Effective Indicators for Sustainable Development took place in San Rafael de Heredia, Costa Rica from 7 to 9 May 1999. The workshop was organized by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and co-sponsored by the Bellagio Forum for Sustainable Development, the Deutsche Umweltstiftung, the Mistra Foundation and Deutsche Bank. The Dialogue brought together 40 participants from different geographical regions and backgrounds, including policy-makers, experts on various types of indicators, academics, and representatives from multilateral organizations and businesses.

The Dialogue met in three Plenary sessions and four working groups that discussed case studies on: Community Level Sustainability Assessment in India; the European Environmental Pressure Indices Project; the work of Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development; and corporate reporting of The Placer Dome Group. Keynote speakers presented each case study. Working group outcomes were subsequently considered by Plenary round-table discussions. Two break-out groups were tasked with synthesizing discussions on feeding back into decision-making processes and grouping indicators under clusters or themes.


Photo highlights from the workshop

Working Group 1, which met to discuss the European Environmental Pressure Indices Project during the workshop. Participants also discussed the clustering methodology used by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, following Agenda 21's main chapters.

Working Group 2 used the work of Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development as their case study. The group designed a diagram to illustrate a sustainable development reporting system. The system builds on a process that includes both indicator development and assessment, leading to the production of a sustainable development report.
GIF #1 of the reporting diagram (5 Kb)
GIF #2 of the reporting diagram (10 Kb)

Adil Najam, Center for Energy and Environmental Studies (middle, back row), opened Working Group 3 with a presentation entitled Community Level Sustainability Assessment in Dasudi, India, a participatory assessment method developed by IUCN and IDCR and tested in India. He explained that the approach combined institutional, project and whole system assessment. Najam referred to a holistic and systemic approach to assess community level sustainability.

Tony Hodge, IISD, presented the "Placer Dome Group" case study to Working Group 4. He said the challenges that the Group faces are parallel to those faced by broader society with respect to the need to address environmental, economic and social concerns. Hodge noted that the Group annually compiles a small set of well understood financial indicators and no equivalent set exists to track human and ecological concerns. He said the Group had not attempted to compile aggregated indices to address the various dimensions of sustainability.

Synthesis Discussions on "Process:" This breakout group, facilitated by David Bell, sought to synthesize discussions on approaches to clustering indicators and on sustainable development assessment and reporting processes. Several participants agreed that the ultimate purpose of reporting on performance was to improve decision-making and to contribute to bending the curve of development in the direction of sustainability. Participants agreed to focus their discussion on principles underlying assessment and reporting processes.

Synthesis Breakout Group on "Clusters:" The breakout group, facilitated by Richard Norgaard was tasked with synthesizing discussions on clustering approaches produced by the four working. They examined the "dashboard," "jigsaw puzzle" and "intersecting circles" charts produced by the working groups to illustrate approaches. The group concluded that the "dashboard" provides an adequate approach and noted more work needs to be done to overcome shortcomings such as its inability to track trends and provide early warning signals.

David Bell (York Center for Applied Sustainability, York University) facilitating the final plenary during which some participants suggested developing a single, super-aggregated SD indicator, noting its effectiveness as a means to communicate with policymakers and the public. Participants noted that the time needed to develop an imperfect but testable SDI could range from two to three years and experience gained during this period could serve to refine the index. Others suggested that, instead of creating a single SDI, the primary objective should be to develop a cluster of sub-indices to be aggregated in the future.
From left to right: Rowan Martin (independent consultant), Gyorgy Marx (Hungarian Physical Society), Michiji Konuma (Faculty of Environmental and Information Studies, Musashi Institute of Technology) and Jochen Jesinghaus (Institute for Systems, Informatics and Safety; EC).
From left to right: Goran Persson (Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research - MISTRA, Sweden), Peter Hardi (Chair of the workshop and Director of Measurement and Indicators Programme, IISD) and Allen Hammond (World Resource Institute).
Barbara Pyle of the Environment Division of Turner Broadcasting Systems
Bill Glanville, Vice President IISD
The Parachuting Cats, by Alan AtKisson
Mr. AtKisson sang this original composition during the Closing Plenary
to remind participants that solutions must be context-specific and that local adaptation is a function of local Involvement.

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© 1999, SD / Earth Negotiations Bulletin. All rights reserved.