SDIs are intended mostly for use in the wider political arena, whether at the local, national, or global level. Targeting the external political process wisely therefore is essential, although the indicator development process itself also has a role to play.
In very generic terms policy has a life span: It starts with the realization that there is a need for policy to tackle a certain issue, followed by the design and implementation of that policy. This is often followed by an evaluation, leading to revisions and possibly, in the long term, to the phasing out of the policy as the problem is resolved (Chapter 8, this volume). Information that arrives at the wrong time in the evolution of an issue can fail to influence action (Cash et al. 2003).
In the widest sense the issue identification and framing for sustainable development have already taken place, but for measurements of progress to be possible, the framing must become more focused. An analogy could be measuring progress in reducing the environmental impacts of transport (Chapter 8, this volume). Although there was general consensus that action was needed to tackle this problem, the issue had to be broken down further before progress toward a set of indicators could be made. This was done by a reframing of the wider issue ("What are the environmental impacts of transport?") into subquestions that then allowed progress to be measured (Box 4.1).
The process of framing the issue is critical because this is where scientific and technological expertise meets the stakeholders and the political process, and synergistic activity to create a common work program is needed. If the framing stage is well grounded in a participatory process, the indicators themselves are likely to be more acceptable and credible.
The policy life cycle highlights the need for flexibility in the design of indicator sets. However, there is a risk that this desired flexibility may come at the expense of stability and familiarity, both of which are important in the development of successful indicators. A single indicator will not remain policy relevant unless it specifically meets a need in the policy life cycle that may exist for a long time, such as routine monitoring.
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