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Institutions and indicators – The discourse about indicators in the context of sustainability


In order to implement policies towardssustainable development indicators are widelydiscussed to promote action in this direction.In addition, in many strategic documents onsustainable development (e.g., EU documents) theimportance of the development and use ofindicators is pointed out. In this contextindicators are meant to be used to supportpolitical decision making as well as toevaluate measurements towards sustainabledevelopment. In this article the developmentand use of indicators is questioned consideringtheir contextualisation and, hence, theirrelationship to existing institutions.Incorporating some of the main results from ananalysis of a regeneration programme in theLondon Borough of Southwark and from theanalysis of the Climate Protection Programme inthe city of Vienna, which are two of the casestudies examined during an EU funded projectcalled PASTILLE (Promoting Action forSustainability through Indicators at the LocalLevel in Europe), indicators are seen asdynamic sites of conflict and co-operationbetween policy actors. Different groups ofactors have diverse expectations or objectionsto this instrument. Indicators are, forexample, tools to augment transparency.Concerning certain institutional traditionsthis characteristic could explain opposition tothem.

Indicators are meant to be another opportunityfor shaping the network of relationships,forging new relationships or reinforcing oldones. They are perceived as a means by whichactors seek to exercise power, retain statusand strive towards policy goals. The stabilityand fluidity of existing structures ofgovernance will, therefore, be central factorsin determining the history and future ofindicators promoting actions towardssustainable development. To put it differently,the central question of our paper is how thenature of institutions of governance is shapingthe use and development of indicators.

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Correspondence to Florentina Astleithner.

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Astleithner, F., Hamedinger, A., Holman, N. et al. Institutions and indicators – The discourse about indicators in the context of sustainability. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment 19, 7–24 (2004).

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  • indicators
  • institutions
  • local policy processes
  • sustainability
  • urban governance