Section 2 - What makes a good indicator?
The purpose of this section is to provide participants with an understanding of what makes an indicator a good indicator of community sustainability. By the end of this section, participants will understand some of the problems with traditional indicators. They will also examine some examples of better indicators that communities are developing. Participants will realize the necessity to make indicators that help community members understand how their actions affect the sustainability of their community.

Tips for Teaching/Key Elements

The important concepts to emphasize are:

1) Sustainable community indicators are useful for: monitoring progress; understanding sustainability; educating community members on the issues; describing linkages; motivating and focusing action.

2) A good indicator of sustainability:
  • addresses carrying capacity
  • is relevant, understandable, and useable by the community
  • takes a long term view (25-50 years)
  • shows linkages
  • is not at the expense of another community

3) The GNP and GDP are measures of the flow of money, not measures of economic welfare. They include a number of factors that actually decrease human and environmental welfare. Most monetary measures are not good measures of community sustainability.

4) New national measures of economic welfare, like the Genuine Progress Indicator, have been proposed, but none are universally accepted yet.

5) Ecological footprints are an estimate of the amount of resources that an individual consumes. They have been calculated for a number of countries based on national data. Lifestyle choices affect the actual size of a person's ecological footprint.

6) Indicators for a sustainable community need to speak to the people whose behavior is affecting the sustainability of the community.

7) Indicators should address causes as well as effects. Don't just measure a 'state' that needs to be changed or the 'response' that is meant to change the state, measure the 'pressures' that are causing the 'state.'
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Copyright © 1998 Maureen Hart. All rights reserved.