At least two separate strands of communication can be identified: how best to communicate the content or substance and how best to package and market the product. Communicating the content is linked to the indicator development process, taking the users' needs into account and consulting appropriately with relevant stakeholders.
The format of the publication describing the indicators also must be suitable for the intended audience. Given the digital divide that exists both within societies and between countries, a Web-based publication might not be sufficient. In particular, there may be a divide between the resources available to stakeholders and potential audiences in developed and developing countries, which may affect the format of the output. The timing of publication can also be very important, at least for media coverage. For example, the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) reports are published to coincide with the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
The loose definition of the phrase policy impact in SDI development circles makes its attainment difficult to measure. The key role of indicators is to measure progress, so if legitimacy is established through a transparent indicator development process, then the measure of progress shown by the indicator will be more widely accepted. The legitimacy of the institution proposing indicators probably is as important as the transparency of the process used to determine them.
However, even if the indicator development process is transparent, the resulting progress report may not be of any consequence (it may be ignored or overshadowed by other events), or the reverse may occur. In the case of the fifteen headline indicators in the UK set, the policy impact was far greater than anticipated. This was assisted by the unexpected link made by a media cartoon between bird population size and human happiness or welfare (published in the Financial Times, November 24, 1998). This cartoon caught the imagination of the general public. Although the indicator developers themselves did not promote this link, it made a lasting impact, and the association has persisted, giving the indicator public and policy relevance far greater than the measured variable itself.
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