Typology of Indicator Designs

The DPSIR framework has analytical significance for indicators in a policy context. In such a context, environmental indicators are used for three major purposes:

• To supply information on environmental problems, in order to enable policymakers to evaluate their seriousness (this is especially important for new and emerging issues)

• To support policy development and priority setting by highlighting key factors or places in the cause-and-effect chain that cause pressure on the environment and that policy can target

• To monitor the effectiveness of policy responses

Regardless of its position in the DPSIR system, an indicator should always convey a clear message, based on relevant variables (Box 8.1). The indicator typology outlined here aims to provide a classification to aid indicator design. As a means of structuring and analyzing indicators and their related environment—society interconnections, the typology can be used to analyze existing indicators to check their coverage and suitability and can also help to identify possible gaps, pinpoint indicator requirements, and support indicator construction.

Descriptive Indicators (Type A): "What's Happening?"

Descriptive indicators can be used for all elements of DPSIR, although they are seen most commonly as state, pressure, or impact indicators. They can be represented as

Box 8.1. What is an indicator?

Indicators always simplify a complex reality, focusing on certain aspects that are regarded as relevant and for which data are available. Indicators are meaningful only as part of a framework or story. Indicators are a necessary part of the stream of information we use to understand the world, make decisions, and plan our actions. Indicators are communication tools that

• Simplify complex issues, making them accessible to a wider, nonexpert audience.

• Can encourage decision making by pointing to clear steps in the causal chain where it can be broken.

• Inform and empower policymakers and laypeople by creating a means for the measurement of progress in tackling environmental progress. Indicators cannot replace scientific studies of cause and effect. They are presentations of associations and links between variables. When we choose to present variables together as part of an indicator, we make an explicit assumption of the connection between them. Indicators therefore can never replace statistical analyses of data or the development and testing of sound hypotheses. Source: EEA.

numbers, in pie or bar charts, on maps or other forms, and in line graphs, which are commonly used to present trends in a variable over time, such as the cadmium content of blue mussels, the number of indigenous species in biogeographic regions, or the share of organic farming in an agricultural area (Figure 8.6).

If descriptive indicators are presented in absolute terms, such as "mg/kg dry matter," the relevance of the numbers given is often difficult for a nonexpert to assess. Comparison with another relevant variable (as in Figure 8.6) or as a performance indicator often improves their communication value.

Performance Indicators (Type B): "Does It Matter?" ("Are We Reaching Targets?")

Performance indicators may use the same variables as descriptive indicators but are connected with target values. They measure the distance between the current environmental situation and the desired situation (target): "distance to target" assessment. Performance indicators are relevant if specific groups or institutions can be held accountable for changes in environmental pressures or states. They are typically state, pressure, or impact indicators that clearly link to policy responses.

1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003


1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003


* EFTA-4 without Switzerland

Figure 8.6. Example of a descriptive indicator: Share of organic farming in total agricultural area (courtesy of the Institute of Rural Sciences, University of Wales, Aberystwyth).

Most countries and international bodies develop performance indicators on the basis of nationally or internationally accepted policy targets or tentative approximations of sustainability levels. A typical presentation of a performance indicator is shown in Figure 8.7.

Efficiency Indicators (Type C): "Are We Improving?"

Efficiency indicators relate drivers to pressures. They provide insight into the efficiency of products and processes in terms of resources, emissions, and waste per unit output. The environmental efficiency of a nation may be described in terms of the level of emissions and waste generated per unit of gross domestic product (GDP). The energy efficiency of cars may be described as the volume of fuel used per person per mile traveled.

An absolute decoupling of environmental pressure from economic development is necessary for sustainable development. Most relevant for policymaking, therefore, are indicators that show the most direct relationships between environmental pressures and human activities. For reasons of clarity, these indicators are best presented with separate lines rather than as a ratio. Figure 8.8 gives a good example for the energy supply sector. The diverging lines for energy consumption and GDP indicate increasing eco-effi-




I ;


■ ■ , ,

Gap between projected emissions of greenhause gases* and Kyoto Protocol targets for 2010 (Index points)

Figure 8.7 Example of a performance indicator: Projected progress toward Kyoto Protocol targets (courtesy of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC, DG Environment, European Commission).

ciency. Presented in this way, eco-efficiency indicators combine pressure and driving force indicators in one graph.

Policy Effectiveness Indicators (Type D): "Are the Measures Working?"

Policy effectiveness indicators relate the actual change of environmental variables to policy efforts. Thus, they are a link between response indicators and driving force, pressure,

Examples Energy Efficient Design
Figure 8.8. Example of an eco-efficiency indicator: Total energy consumption and gross domestic product, EU-25 (courtesy of Eurostat).

state, or impact indicators. They are crucial in determining the reasons for observed developments. The Dutch yearly environmental indicator report (RIVM 2000) contains several examples of this type of indicator. The first examples for the EU have been published in EEA's Environmental Signals reports (EEA 2001a, 2002).

Whereas for the previously mentioned indicators an assessment text is necessary to communicate the background information on the reasons behind the development of an indicator, for policy effectiveness indicators much of this information is included in the graph. The production of this type of indicator takes a large amount of quantitative data and expert knowledge. With the expected increase in national and European capacities to carry out policy analysis, it is likely that this type of indicator will develop from the current model, which links with technical measures (e.g., decrease in sulfur emissions in Figure 8.9), to a model that indicates the link with the policy decisions that started off the technological changes.

Electricity sector, European Union

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1993


Figure 8.9. Example of a policy effectiveness indicator: Reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions in the electricity sector, EU (courtesy of the EEA).

Total Welfare Indicators (Type E): "Are We on the Whole Better Off?"

In any discussion of sustainability and human welfare, the balance between economic, social, and environmental development is crucial. For an integral assessment, some measure of total sustainability is needed in the form of a green GDP. The Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) is one such example that also includes measures of inequalities and of nonpaid work.

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