Traditionally, organizations tend to measure conditions that exist.
This is called the state. For example, an environmental agency
measures the condition of the air--the air quality--by measuring how many parts
per million of a pollutant are in the air or how many days the air
quality is rated "good." These are measures of the state of air quality.
An agency may also measure responses related to that state: how many
air permits were issued or what emissions standards have been set for
automobiles? These are measures of response to the state of air quality.
However, frequently what is not measured is the activity that is
causing the state to exist. This activity is called the pressure.
In the case of air quality, examples of pressure are the
number of cars being driven and the amount that they are driven. When
you develop indicators, make sure you pay attention and measure
pressures in addition to states and responses.
(Note: The pressure-state-response framework was developed for
environmental issues and works well for those types of indicators. It
is harder to apply this framework to social and economic issues. It
helps to establish a context and draw a boundary around a problem
before deciding what the pressures, states, and responses are.
For example, if the issue is crime, as defined by "the number of
robberies," then the context is "safety." The number of crimes is the
"state." A response might be to hire more police officers. The
number of police officers is a measure of the "response." There are a
number of "pressures" that may be causing the "state" to exist,
including drug use and poverty. The amount of drug use or the lack of
jobs are measures of the "pressures." These pressures and responses
define the boundary of the issue.
However, it is possible to see the lack of jobs as a "state" if the
context is "economic well-being." In this case, welfare and job
training are both "responses" to the state; as a society, two
responses that we have to the lack of jobs are: giving people money
(welfare) and helping people develop skills (job training).
these responses need to be measured, but there should also be a measure
of the pressures causing the lack of jobs. Examples of pressures
causing lack of jobs include increased mechanization and the shifting
of jobs to places with lower wage rates.
In a sense, the shifting of jobs to places with lower wage rates can
be seen as a pressure causing crime (a state) and job training (a response to
crime), but they are both outside the boundary of the original context
of "safety." Setting the boundary of the context helps to keep the
Another difficulty with pressure-state-response discussions is that
some things may be a pressure in one context and a state or response
in another. For example, if the context is air quality, then the
amount of air pollution is the state and a pressure would be the
number of cars being driven. However, if the context is
transportation, the state becomes the number of cars driven and a
pressure may by the distance between where people live and where they
work. Again, it is important to understand the context and the
Discussions of pressure-state-response can be like the ripples caused
by throwing a stone into a pond-everything leads to something else.
Understanding the ripples of the cause and effect relationships is an
important part of developing better indicators.)