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What is sustainable development indicators (SDI)?

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What is sustainable development indicators (SDI)

There are different kinds of indicators which can serve the main purposes of sustainable development indicators (SDI), political guidance, summarizing analysis and communication: nominal or binary indicators, ordinal indicators, and cardinal indicators. Can we balance economy development and sustainable development, click here to see!

In order to be useful in the decision preparation, implementation and monitoring processes, indicators must fulfil a number of criteria. The necessary key qualities of suitable indicators result from their purposes and to fulfil them, indicators need to be indicative, derived from a sound scientific basis, relevant, transparent, and measurable. Click here to understand Anthropogenic Global Warming!

In order to generate a simplified but sufficiently reliable description of reality, indicators must be reproducible, robust and general. For successful monitoring indicators must be sensitive. It is obvious then that it is neither necessary nor possible that all the time to meet all these criteria to the same extent. This is because if the indicators are not resonating with the stakeholders, it will not be useful to them.

The issues with SDI

While sustainable development indicators are useful tools to reduce a complex set of diverse data, it should be kept in mind that every process of indicator selection or aggregation will include both a gain in clarity, but also a loss of information. Indicators sets must balance the needs to reduce complexity, be easily understandable, resonate with a clearly defined target audience, and be limited in number.

Indicators used for policy planning provides new opportunities for transparency and efficiency but also generate new risks. The four key risks are:

  1. The temptation to define easily achievable rather than adequate objectives, and to set targets derived from the desire to be able to deliver positive reports in the short term rather than reporting on substantial progress in the medium to long term.
  2. The risk of focusing in a narrow-minded way on progress towards the indicators defined while neglecting other relevant trends. Some of these may emerge as a side-effect of the improvements achieved, others might emerge anew or pre-exist but some relevant or even dominant once the initial challenge is under control.
  3. Focusing on single issues as described by the indicators may lead to a neglect of the links between dimensions of policy, with the trends in other indicators going unnoticed. So a juxtaposition of different sectorial politics could emerge, undermining the effectiveness of governing and governance.
  4. The desire for positive news might lead to attempts to “cook the books”, which means to hide negative results and generate positive reports without a substantial base. Hierarchical administrative systems, but also dependency on good records in the face of external shareholders, donors of money or voters create situations favouring such fraud.

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