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Indicators in Practice: How Environmental Indicators Are Being Used in Policy and Management Contexts (2013)

Abstract: The number and type of indicators used for assessing environmental sustainability around the world have proliferated dramatically within the last few years. From a count of nearly zero just two decades ago, environmental indexes now number in the hundreds. While much has been published on the technical aspects of indicator construction, much less attention has been given to the actual management and policy uses of environmental indicators. Whether environmental indicators are performing a true service in the policy arena is still an open question. This paper addresses this gap by reviewing the impacts of indicators in policy and management contexts generally and in the environmental policy context specifically. We examine the theoretical role that indicators may play in informing or driving policy decisions (e.g., by simplifying choices, highlighting trends, or holding decision makers accountable) and examine case studies of indicator uses around the world derived from a survey of indicator efforts, to identify factors that affect how indicators are used. Where possible we identify best practices for designing effective indicators that can drive policy decisions.

Suggested Citation: de Sherbinin, A., A. Reuben, M. Levy, and L. Johnson. 2013. Indicators in Practice: How Environmental Indicators are Being Used in Policy and Management Contexts. New Haven and New York: Yale and Columbia Universities.