Indicators - used, abused or ignored?
There is an increasing demand to basing policies, including those for R&D and innovation, on evidence underpinned by regular monitoring and evaluation (Pawson 2006). A number of monitoring and evaluation schemes, employing indicators, have subsequently been set up at all levels of government. The ambitious agendas set out in the Lisbon and Gothenburg Summits for the European Union, in line with the Better Regulation Action Plan (EC, 2002a), also express a need for regular monitoring (EC 2002b, 2004).
Likewise, the Cardiff process furthering integration of environmental and sectoral policies (EC, 1998) initiated indicator exercises for example in the transport and agricultural sectors, resulting in the TERM and the IRENA and indicator sets (EEA, 2001 and EEA, 2005). Considerable efforts at both expert and political level have subsequently been taken to design and select suitable indicators for supporting the various stages of the strategic planning and policy cycle. For example, the monitoring and evaluation of the European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development is supported by a set of 155 indicators developed by a Europe-wide expert work led by the European Statistical Office (EC, 2005). Most EU member states have undertaken similar efforts.
Despite the enthusiasm for the use of indicators in policy-making, evidence from research suggests that their use and direct influence has sometimes been modest (e.g. Bell and Morse 2001, Gudmundsson 2003, Hezri 2006, Rosenström 2007). In some cases assessment models or indicator-based monitoring systems have been inadequate or ill conceived, while in other cases information systems have been ‘misused’, or simply ignored by decision makers.
Our overall aim is to help find better ways of using indicators in all aspects of policy, by enhancing the understanding of the factors that condition the successful use and influence of indicators in policymaking. The focus will be on the processes through which indicators enter into policymaking, but the project also seeks new ways of improving the conceptual validity and reliability of indicators, so as to improve their relevance for policy.
A major thematic focus of the project will be the role of indicators in fostering sustainable development. Sustainability has generally been accepted as a long term policy aim for all levels of decision making. However, considerable challenges remain in making the concept operational and measurable, overcoming the structural and institutional inertia in existing policy architectures, and reconciling the trade-offs between the long-term and short-term objectives along the different dimensions of sustainable development (Bartle and Leuenberger 2006, Weidner 2002, OECD 2001, WCED 1987). Indicators have a potential to help manage and overcome such barriers and trade-offs – both within individual sectoral policies, and at the level of overarching, intersectoral policy strategies (Kemp et al 2005; Astleithner and Hamedinger 2003; Hammond et al 2005).