In 1999 Telos started to develop a method for assessing regional sustainable development in the province of Brabant. Since then, a model has gradually been developed and applied five times, twice in Brabant and once in three other provinces. At the moment we are engaged in evaluating the outcomes of these assessments. Out of this evaluation, some preliminary conclusions have emerged.
The first conclusion is that the model withstood our testing, but it has become clear that some major adaptations are needed.
One weakness of our model is in the way in which the interactions between the three forms of capital are worked out. This was also one of the main comments that emerged from the stakeholders' evaluations. One could argue that this criticism is beside the point. The Telos method does not try to model processes such as interactions but to describe a state of affairs. It is enough to specify that the development of one capital may not prevent the development of another, as Telos did, and investigate whether this is the case. But this argument is a sophism. Even these kinds of investigations require a clear view of how the kinds of capital are interconnected.
We are well aware of this. At the same time, we realize that the task of describing the connections between the capitals is perhaps the most difficult of all if you adopt the three-capital model. Resolving this issue is a high priority for Telos but not something we can do and want to do on our own. The more closely you look at the problems involved, the deeper you have to dig. It is no coincidence that this question arises everywhere and consumes much of the energy and time of researchers involved in conceptualizing and modeling sustainable development. It is a matter we want to look at in close cooperation with others.
Another weakness of the Telos model is the fact that the requirements and indicators developed, and to a lesser extent the stocks, are too sensitive to change. Local and temporal considerations have too great an impact on the manner in which they are chosen and defined. This compromises our ability to repeat and compare assessments done at different moments in time or in different places. This was an unforeseen and unwanted consequence of our decision to involve local stakeholders in all the phases of the model's construction. It was good for commitment but not for the robustness of the model.
We want to define more sharply where and how stakeholders should play a role. We think that the assessments done so far provide us with clues on how to proceed. For instance, we think that the stocks and some of the requirements can be made far less susceptible to changes in the perceptions of stakeholders or to the impact of time. At the same time, stakeholders could be more involved in the weighting process.
We are still at the beginning of this process. We want to proceed carefully and take the time to analyze related models. The situation is different from that in 1999. We do not have to start from scratch, and now there are far more methods to assess sustainable development at the local level.
We are especially interested in models developed for totally different regional settings than ours and in models that are built with a greater stakeholder involvement.
1. At the level of capital, Telos opts for the idea of strong sustainability instead of weak sustainability. For an extended and interesting discussion about this issue, see the CRITINC working papers, available at www.keele.ac.uk/depts/spire/working_Papers/
2. We realize that this statement is far too crude if we look at it from a broader (e.g., global) perspective. However, the first objective of Telos was to develop a method to assess the state of affairs with regard to regional sustainable development in a province of the Netherlands. Therefore, we started with a local focus in defining the issues to address. For the sake of acceptance of the model we decided to take up the problem of flows and far-reaching supraregional interactions and transfers later.
3. The calculations were not corrected for the new stock that was included only in Limburg. If two provinces decided to accept a new indicator, this counted twice. The same indicators measure the same issue.
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