Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 225–243 | Cite as

Reframing social sustainability reporting: towards an engaged approach

  • Liam MageeEmail author
  • Andy Scerri
  • Paul James
  • James A. Thom
  • Lin Padgham
  • Sarah Hickmott
  • Hepu Deng
  • Felicity Cahill


Existing approaches to sustainability assessment are typically characterized as being either “top–down” or “bottom–up.” While top–down approaches are commonly adopted by businesses, bottom–up approaches are more often adopted by civil society organizations and communities. Top–down approaches clearly favor standardization and commensurability between other sustainability assessment efforts, to the potential exclusion of issues that really matter on the ground. Conversely, bottom–up approaches enable sustainability initiatives to speak directly to the concerns and issues of communities, but lack a basis for comparability. While there are clearly contexts in which one approach can be favored over another, it is equally desirable to develop mechanisms that mediate between both. In this paper, we outline a methodology for framing sustainability assessment and developing indicator sets that aim to bridge these two approaches. The methodology incorporates common components of bottom–up assessment: constituency-based engagement processes and opportunity to identify critical issues and indicators. At the same time, it uses the idea of a “knowledge base,” to help with the selection of standardized, top–down indicators. We briefly describe two projects where the aspects of the methodology have been trialed with urban governments and communities, and then present the methodology in full, with an accompanying description of a supporting software system.


Indicators Social sustainability Sustainability reporting Community engagement Urban development 



This research was supported under Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects funding scheme (project number LP0990509). The project is funded with the support of FujiXerox Australia, Cambridge International College, Microsoft Australia, Common Ground Publishing, Angusta Systems and the City of Melbourne. The research was supported as part of the development of the UN Global Compact Cities Programme methodology “Circles of Sustainability.”


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Liam Magee
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andy Scerri
    • 1
  • Paul James
    • 1
  • James A. Thom
    • 2
  • Lin Padgham
    • 2
  • Sarah Hickmott
    • 2
  • Hepu Deng
    • 3
  • Felicity Cahill
    • 4
  1. 1.Global Cities InstituteRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Computer Science and Information TechnologyRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.School of BusinessRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.School of Global Studies, Social Science and PlanningRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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