As an integral part of the efforts of the World Urban Campaign (WUC), this knowledge-sharing platform on Tools for Assessment and Measurement of Sustainable Urban Development (TSUD-KSP) aims to contribute to WUC goals, recently captured by UN-HABITAT Executive Director Dr. Joan Clos in an interview in Cities Today (June 2012). He stated that one of the principle functions of WUC is “to bring best practices to leverage skills and competencies and generate concrete results in cities” with regard to sustainable urban development. A critical element in achieving this goal is developing and applying tools to assess and measure sustainable urban development. The WUC Committee on this topic firmly believes that measurement precludes management, as the popular quotation says: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
- Advance the goals and support the principles of the World Urban Campaign
- Provide data and information about the various efforts to assess and measure progress toward sustainable urban development around the globe in an easily accessible, easily searchable fashion
- Help create a community of practice among those involved with creating and implementing such tools
TSUD has three parts:
- An explanation of the relationship between sustainable urban development and tools for assessment and measurement
- Representative Measurement Systems
- Related publications, reports and links
Overseeing TSUD is a curatorial committee whose members are:
- Eugenie Birch, Professor and co-Director,Penn Institute for Urban Research,
- Sharon Kuska,Vice President, Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities,
- Luigi Fusco Girard, Professor, University of Naples,
- Christine Platt,Commonwealth Association of Planners,
- Jane Katz,Director,International Affairs & Programs,Habitat for Humanity International,
- Karen Stelzner, Project Director, Corporate Communications and Government Affairs, Siemens AG,
- Abdul Saboor, International Labour Organization
In response to global warming, resource depletion, economic downturns, high levels of poverty, wasteful settlement and urbanization patterns, and a scarcity of adequate, affordable housing and services, twenty-first century public and private decision-makers are fashioning sustainable urban development policies and programs. In doing so, they assume that human settlement activity has lasting effects on the well-being of individuals and society and understand that sustainable development is an ongoing process. In their choices of policies and programs, they adhere to the World Commission on Environment and Development or Brand and Commission’s interpretation of sustainable development, to improve the human condition to meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, an idea refined at the Rio Earth Summit (1992), captured in Agenda 21, a foundational manifesto with principles, an action plan, and a mandate to evaluate progress with indicators. The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) affirmed these principles and in fact, singled out cities as important foci for action. This knowledge-sharing platform on Tools for Assessment of Sustainable Urban Development reinforces the lead statement in the Framework for Action section of Rio+20’s The Future We Want Outcomes Document (Section 104): “We recognize that goals, targets and indicators, including where appropriate gender-sensitive indicators, are valuable in measuring and accelerating progress. We further note that progress with implementation of the actions stipulated below can be enhanced by voluntarily sharing information, knowledge and experience.”
Gauging Progress in Sustainable Development
While experts agree that sustainable urban development is a complex concept, challenging to define and execute because the interplay of various factors have a wide variety of outcomes, they also hold that like any of the physical and social sciences, it is measurable and manageable. Sustainable urban development practice deals with value-affected, multifaceted systems by examining individual components, first, in isolation and, later, together. They give sustainable urban development clear, workable definitions, implement it through congruent and coherent policy and programs and evaluate it via transparent, evidence-based measures.
The many evaluation techniques that exist to assess and measure sustainable urban development include quasi-experimental and impact evaluation studies, case studies, benchmarks, surveys and questionnaires and indicators. The world-wide standard stresses the use of indicators however; they are not the only way to measure the phenomenon. The TSUD-KSP will cover various methods as contributed by WUC partners.
Gauging Progress in Sustainable Urban Development
Quasi-experimental and impact evaluation studies
In order to measure the results of a specific intervention related to sustainable urban development, researchers may engage in quasi-experimental or impact evaluation studies. Such studies employ large samples and statistical methods of analysis. A quasi-experimental project has a control group (one where the intervention did not take place) and a test group (one where the intervention did take place). The objective is to determine if a measurable outcome (or causal relationship) results from the execution of a specific policy or program. Unlike medical research, practical or ethical reasons do not allow for random assignment of the members of each group. Instead the researcher attempts to group the subjects according to whether or not they participated in a particular program or undertook implementation of a specific policy. The researchers then collect data (statistical in nature) to measure outcomes of the variables under consideration. For example, the World Bank instituted such a program in 2005 that by 2010 resulted in the evaluation of more than 250 lending programs in health, education, institutional/governance reform, water resource management and other projects. These studies differ from impact assessments that look at a community or set of communities before (ex ante) and after (ex poste) an intervention to measure the outcomes. Here the researcher asks what did a specific place look like before and after the application of a program or policy. In contrast, in the quasi-experimental study, the researcherasks what happens in the absence or presence of a particular policy in a group of places or for a target population. Employing statistical analyses to the results, researchers can suggest causal relationships. Researchers also engage in qualitative research – case studies, observations and other field based work to identify critical success factors or uncover details not revealed in the quantitative research. For example, the World Bank studied a new policy, “Breaking Ground,” a slum upgrading program, undertaken by the South African National Department of Human Settlements, measuring the outcomes via survey research among the population in terms of empowerment, safety, health, employment, consumption and production activities. Such studies have limits: they may be based on inaccurate or weak assumptions, they may not account for unobserved variables, the sample size may be too small or they may establish correlation but not causation. Nonetheless, they do provide breadth in assessing a problem or issue and therefore, if all weaknesses are negligible, can provide generalizable information.(For more information see: Arianna Legovini, “Development Impact Evaluation Initiative: A World Bank-Wide Strategic Approach to Enhance Development Effectiveness, June 29, 2010).
Researchers employ case studies to uncover and detail phenomena related to sustainable urban development in one or more places. A case study may focus on best practices, decision-making processes or other policy related matters. Case studies may be exploratory (understanding a question or problem in general), descriptive (detailing a phenomenon from which to draw lessons) or explanatory (establishing a causal relationship or prove or disprove a theory). Researchers may undertake a single case study in order to look in depth at a particular place, policy or program or they may design a study with multiple cases in order to detect patterns or variations. Or researchers may include cases from different sized geographies or population groups. Case study analysis uses primary and secondary evidence – surveys, interviews, field visits, newspaper or scholarly articles, original documents – to develop a narrative about the matter at hand. A case study researcher begins with a research question or hypothesis, endeavors to answer it through subsequent collection, examination and analysis of data and concludes with key findings. Examples of case study research in sustainable urban development are: OECD, Territorial Review: Guangdong, China, Paris: OECD Press, 2010 and Tom Dixon, “Sustainable Urban Development to 2050, Complex Transitions in the Built Environment of Cities,” Retrofit 2050 Working Paper, Oxford, England, October 2011 http://www.retrofit2050.org.uk/sites/default/files/resources/SustainableUrbanDevelopmentto2050epsrcv2.pdf. In the first example, the authors concentrate on Guangdon, China, China’s most populous and urbanized (63%) province that hold’s the country’s largest economy, detailing and identifying social, environmental, economic and governance issues and recommending means to transform the area through sustainable urban development. In the second example, the authors discuss the theoretical framework of sustainable urban development in detail, outline critical success factors and follow with three short case studies (Hammarby, Stockholm, Sweden; Dockside Green, Vancouver Island, Canada and Curitiba, Brazil) to illustrate variation. For more information see Bent Flvbjerg, “Case Study,” in Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2011 and Eugenie L.Birch, “Cities, People and Processes as Planning Case Studies,” in Rachel Weber and Randall Crane, Oxford Handbook of Urban Planning, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Worldwide, government and non-government entities have long employed indicators (or indicator systems) (e.g. health [life expectancy], economics [gross domestic product] and social conditions [poverty rate]. While, indicators have limitations, scholars and practitioners in policy arenas continue to advance this work testing selected indicators against policy goals and actual behavior, consulting users about their improvement and sharpening the underlying data to achieve uniformity and comparability.
For example, to judge the level of economic growth and well-being, nations employ the “gross domestic product” indicator (from which cities and states have derived their own gross state product, gross city product figures). While this measure has much discussed limitations such as its inability to account for the value of unpriced activities or natural resources, it has become the standard and as the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson has noted: “truly among the inventions of the 20th century, a beacon that helps policy makers steer the economy towards key economic objectives. Since its adoption, international bodies have worked to improve GDP accounting, laying out conventions for data collection via the System of National Accounts (2008) published by the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Eurostat, now in its fifth edition. A second example, the United Nations’ widely adopted the Millennium Development Goals (2000)with its eight goals, 18 targets and 48-element indicator system is representative of the indicator systems approach.Finally, it should be noted that UN-HABITAT did a substantial amount of work on human settlement indicators in the 1990s.
Employed correctly, indicator systems support the flow of information to stakeholders, assist in establishing policy coherence, provide a means to set priorities and focus and offer a means to link themes across disciplinary or subject areas. The trick is to select appropriate indicators, ones that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic or relevant and time bound).
Agenda 21 is the reference point in the collective decision to use indicators sustainable development evaluation. It mandated:
Methods for assessing interactions between different sectoral environmental, demographic, social and developmental parameters are not sufficiently developed or applied. Indicators of sustainable development need to be developed to provide solid bases for decision-making at all levels and to contribute to a self-regulating sustainability of integrated environment and development systems (UN 1993,273).
In pursuing this directive and with broad consultation and experimentation, the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), has worked for more than two decades to develop model sustainable development indicators for nations to adapt and adopt. Its latest recommendations, issued in 2007 encompasses 50 “core” indicators nested in a 96-element list.
As the CSD work has progressed, extensive research and discussion from academics, civic leaders and practitioners has accompanied it, building a robust field of knowledge around the sustainable urban development. Inquiries have focused on conceptual and definitional issues related to urban sustainability, data-collection, relevance and timeliness. Further, researchers have distinguished among different kinds of indicators (pressure, state and response), providing information on the utility of each type. They have examined single indicators, pooled indicators, indices and weighting factors.Their general assessment, however, is that much work remains to be done in order to tailor indicators and indicator systems to specific policies and programs of sustainable urban development. The TSUD-KSP will disseminate these efforts. For more information see:Bell,S. and S. Morse. 2008. Sustainability Indicators, Measuring the Immeasurable? Second Edition. London. Earthscan