Toward Institutional Sustainability Indicators

Because the four dimensions and the corresponding four sets of criteria are omnipresent in human life, sustainable development can be understood as a group of specific constellations (expressed by the criteria) in all four dimensions, characterized by the fact that their synergistic interaction permits and even creates a variety of feasible pathways for continued existence and reproduction of the overall system (Bossel 1998).

Thus, although industrial societies can be characterized as productive societies, sus-tainability calls for reproductive societies, including the need to permanently reproduce the institutional and societal as well as the social and human dimension of each society. Substantial sustainability will have to take both into account. However, the complex, nonlinear interaction of institutions with each other and with the other dimensions, the impossibility of listing and counting all of them, and the fact that the same effect can be produced by widely varying institutional settings render fruitless any attempt to test the sustainability of the institutional system and to derive indicators based on simplified, causality-based analytical systems or to analyze the institutions one by one regarding their appropriateness for specific purposes (such an analysis would not even help us understand the functioning of the institutional system as an emergent property on a higher system level). Instead, indicators must be derived for the institutional system as a whole, based on the explicit or implicit objectives and targets of the sustainable development paradigm, and designed to measure the performance of the institutional system in implementing them. The following six steps lead to a comprehensive set of institutional indicators by applying the differentiation outlined here.

First, all institutions present in the reference documents (organizations, mechanisms, and orientations) and the purposes they are referred to are identified. The result is a systematic list of all institutional aspects in the reference documents as the basis for further analysis.

Second, the institutional aspects are classified according to their objectives, resulting in indicators for the institutional sustainability of the social, economic, and environmental dimension and those for sustainable institutions (core institutional indicators).

In a third step, the purposes should be cross-checked with the existing sets of sus-tainability indicators to find out whether they have already been covered. This way, a number of prevailing indicators can be identified that measure the effectiveness of institutions by assessing the implementation of their purposes.

Based on this analysis, in a fourth step, complementary indicators can be suggested, based on measuring institutional sustainability as the effectiveness of implementation of the purposes of institutions.

Having exhausted the explicitly mentioned purposes, from step five on the indicator development must be based on the implicit ones. This refers to institutions and institutional purposes that have not been explicitly defined in the reference documents or for which the scope of purposes mentioned clearly is only a fraction of the functions the institution has in reality. Once the purposes are plausibly derived from the objectives, actors, and institutions mentioned, the corresponding indicators can be developed as described earlier.

In step six the comprehensiveness of the list of purposes is tested against the sus-tainability objectives mentioned in the same context. If the objectives are not covered by the purposes mentioned or developed so far, further amendments to the purpose list are to be derived based on the objectives, together with the corresponding indicators.

With this step, the total of implicit and explicit purposes of institutions in the reference documents is covered and indicators developed. However, because there probably will be objectives and institutions not mentioned in the references but important for sustainable development, a final test is recommendable, checking additional relevant documents such as UN decisions, international conventions, and conference results in a similar fashion to identify gaps regarding important institutional aspects in the basic documents used for the analysis. This kind of sensitivity analysis is disputable because "important for sustainable development" is a criterion that—beyond the official documents mentioned—will always depend on subjective assessments. Nonetheless, the feasibility of this approach has been demonstrated by stepwise analysis of the institutional imperatives in Agenda 21 and development of indicators suitable to monitor their implementation (Spangenberg 2002; Spangenberg et al. 2002); the result of this exercise is documented in Appendix 7.1.

This appendix is not intended to be the final set of institutional indicators because the discourse on methods in the scientific community is still in its infancy, but it may serve as food for thought. For instance, it illustrates that many aspects can be covered by data mining and introducing unusual cross-references. However, other indicator suggestions face severe data poverty, but it is instructive to see which domains (e.g., gender issues) have been neglected in data collection. In this sense, the state of data availability itself can be used as an indicator pointing to institutional issues that have been neglected in the sustainable development discourse.

Finally, the indicator formulation in itself is only the first step of a longer journey. The plethora of indicators suggested here is systematically derived, and no smaller set can be chosen by simple cherry picking without losing the systematic character. Instead, additional work is needed to derive indicator hierarchies (headline indicators for strategy development, policy-level indicators, and implementation-level indicators) in a manner reflecting the experiences with the UN sustainable development indicators and the new set suggested by the European Commission for the revised EU sustainability strategy.

Decentralization and Accountability

Share of local authorities in total public expenditure Number of elected members in parliaments and councils per 100,000 citizens Percentage of population involved in locally managed credit systems Locally managed credit systems as share of national volume of commercial loans Share of municipalities that implement local Agenda 21 Share of population that takes part in local Agenda 21 processes*

Public Policies and Civil Society Empowerment

Percentage of GDP spent on environment and development policies Share of development plans including environmental impact assessments and social and economic acceptability assessments Percentage of environment and development expertise in government consultancy, plus gender shares thereof* Ratio of full-time paid and voluntary sustainability and development experts in government, business, academia, and NGOs to total staff by gender* Financial support for NGOs as percentage of total subsidies Number of people involved in work for NGOs* Number of court cases on claims of violating sustainability legislation per billion dollars GDP Share of NGO-initiated cases

Share of national and regional development plans under legal scrutiny because of NGO initiatives Share of NGOs entitled to file suit

Education and Research

Percentage of research expenditures for sustainability, including New share of gender-sensitive research and development Percentage of interdisciplinary policy-relevant research in total New research and development budget Percentage of public—private partnership expenditure in New sustainability-related research and development Share of private funding in research for sustainability New

New New

Established New

Established New


Germany (1999) New

New New

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  • michael
    What is institutional sustanability abd its formula?
    7 months ago
  • osman
    What is institutional sustainability?
    7 months ago
    What is financial sustainability?
    5 months ago

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