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Number: 67
Year: 1999
Author: Eloísa Trellez Solís and Gustavo Wilches Chaux
Title: Education for a Sustainable Future in the Americas

Process Indicators and Criteria to Assess Sustainability

Theoretically, consensus exists concerning the inability of conventional indicators, such as gross domestic product and per capita income, to assess development in terms of “human satisfaction.” In practice, however, these indicators are used almost exclusively, not only to measure development but also to design, plan, and execute development policies – which is far more serious. Economic indicators per se still prevail over measures of human quality of life and, of course, over the quality of life of all other species. In spite of widespread recognition that economic growth is not equivalent to “development,” governments continue to assume that when statistics indicate growth, life quality automatically improves generally.

Efforts have been made to design alternative indicators and methodologies. Among the most advanced efforts, is the proposal “Desarrollo a Escala Humana” (Development on a Human Scale) published by the CEPAUR (Centro de Alternativas de Desarrollo) task force in Chile with its systemic matrices of needs and satisfactions, as well as the Human Development Index (HDI) proposed and applied by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

As is widely known, the HDI mixes a conventional indicator, per capita income, with life expectancy at birth and the education level that a given society is able to guarantee its members. The last two variables more closely approximate a quality-of-life measure than economic figures. However, the HDI has not been accepted as the indicator of development. In a sense, it still is a marginal, academic, “alternative” indicator, and not the guiding principle of those responsible for managing national economies.

The joint efforts undertaken by the UNDP and some Latin American governments to make the HDI increasingly relevant through a more comprehensive measurement system, will complement the indicator with other variables. For example, the quality of the environment where human development takes place should be included, together with the quality of education that society offers the individual. If environmental factors were taken into account in assessing human development, (and, even more accurately, if the cost to some countries of other countries’ development were calculated) it is likely that the international ranking of “more developed countries” would be rather different.

Through consideration of questions such as the following, we might determine whether a specific development process leads to a more sustainable society - or not.

For example, we might ask whether, as a consequence of a process:
  • Participatory organizations and their leaders gain legitimacy, representation and managerial capability?
  • The exercise of leadership becomes less authoritarian and more instructive and participatory?
  • New organization or networks are created and-or existing ones are internally and externally consolidated?
  • The community and local authorities gain managerial capability, self-determination and decision-making power with respect to processes affecting them?
  • The community and the region reduce their economic vulnerability through the diversification of income sources and increasing capacity to generate aggregate value, economic surplus, social welfare, food security, increasing socioeconomic opportunities, and a more equitable distribution of wealth?
  • The state and its institutions gain legitimacy, credibility and the capacity to govern?
  • Institutional management becomes more participatory and democratic?
  • Decisions taken contribute to the sense and significance of a process, from the point of view of a given community’s imaginary?
  • Society’s most vulnerable sectors become able to participate in decision making and manage resulting consequences?
  • The male-dominated view of the world recedes before a gendered perspective, with meaningful consequences in terms of equality?
  • Women gain space and opportunity to exercise leadership, to participate and to take make decisions?
  • The population of children and young people in a society can find conditions that stimulate their creativity, allow them to develop their personalities freely, and to participate in the construction of their own future?
  • The culture offers creative possibilities for human development and allows reduction in levels of alcoholism, juvenile delinquency and drug addiction?
  • The older population can maintain an active role in building the community and can continue to learn? The knowledge and experience of older people is valued and incorporated into the living cultural endowment of the community? Spaces are created for intergenerational dialogue?
  • Ethnic indigenous and Afro-american communities acquire and/or consolidate recognition as well as the ability to control and manage their own territories according to their criteria of sustainability? Ethnic communities succeed in strenghtening their identity through internal and external validation of their own characteristics instead of through a negation of the characteristics of others?
  • Values such as cooperation and coexistence gain space in opposition to exclusion, competition and domination?
  • The ability to access and manage information is increased, together with the ability to apply it to the solution of local problems and needs?
  • Access to communication media becomes more democratic and the unilateral communication of information is ended or reduced?
  • Understanding of community problems is increased? Social awareness of problems, their causes, their implications and their alternative solutions are effectively increased?
  • The capacity to produce, recover, value and apply local knowledge in analyzing and solving problems is increased.
  • Education empowers people to generate new knowledge and to “learn to learn?”
  • People learn to formulate projects integrally and manage them in order to solve problems?
  • “Dialogues of knowledge” and “dialogues of ignorance” can be encouraged and conducted?
  • Formal and non-formal education more closely reflect the reality of the community?
  • Participants in educational processes develop their ability to generalize and contextualize their knowledge and experience?
  • Willingness and the ability to solve conflicts peacefully are increased?
  • Places for dialogue and consensus building are developed?
  • Ecological factors affecting a community’s quality of life improve? (Air, water, and soil quality; noise levels, landscape quality, etc)?
  • Ecosystems fulfill their ecological as well as their social purposes?
  • Environmental management produces an increase in self-organization and self-regulation of ecosystems?
  • Soil productivity (together with the general productivity of the ecosystem) is increased, while reducing the use of polluting chemical fertilizers and pesticides?
  • Risk levels are diminished or restrained through the reduction or adequate management of threats (natural, socio-natural) and vulnerability, in terms of both ecosystems and the communities interacting with them?
  • The elimination of threat from recurring natural phenomena is achieved?
  • Risk management becomes an integrated part of planning and management?
  • Human and material losses resulting from disaster community are reduced?
  • Permanent participatory systems for monitoring risks (threats and vulnerabilities) are established?
  • The contradictions between the actual and potential uses of the soil, and more generally of ecosystems, are reduced?
  • Appraisal of “environmental services” rendered by ecosystems are incorporated in the assets inventory of a given region?
  • “Production” of water in a given basin is increased?
  • Biodiversity in all its expressions is protected or enhanced?
  • Progress is made toward environmental management with the effective participation and decision-making of the community involved?
Challenge for the Future
  • To consolidate educational strategies that suggest proper evaluation questions;
  • To determine whether a given process encourages or impedes sustainable development;
  • To advance in the construction of qualitative and quantitative indicators that provide responses to the questions posed.