An adaptive learning process for developing and applying sustainability indicators with local communities

Mark Reed, Evan D. G. Fraser, Andrew J. Dougill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

481 Citations (Scopus)


Sustainability indicators based on local data provide a practical method to monitor progress towards sustainable development. However, since there are many conflicting frameworks proposed to develop indicators, it is unclear how best to collect these data. The purpose of this paper is to analyse the literature on developing and applying sustainability indicators at local scales to develop a methodological framework that summarises best practice. First, two ideological paradigms are outlined: one that is expert-led and top-down, and one that is community-based and bottom-up. Second, the paper assesses the methodological steps proposed in each paradigm to identify, select and measure indicators. Finally, the paper concludes by proposing a learning process that integrates best practice for stakeholder-led local sustainability assessments. By integrating approaches from different paradigms, the proposed process offers a holistic approach for measuring progress towards sustainable development. It emphasizes the importance of participatory approaches setting the context for sustainability assessment at local scales, but stresses the role of expert-led methods in indicator evaluation and dissemination. Research findings from around the world are used to show how the proposed process can be used to develop quantitative and qualitative indicators that are both scientifically rigorous and objective while remaining easy to collect and interpret for communities. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)406-418
Number of pages13
JournalEcological Economics
Issue number4
Early online date19 Jan 2006
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2006


  • sustainability indicators
  • community empowerment
  • stakeholders
  • local
  • participation
  • environmental-management
  • developing-countries
  • rangeland health
  • Kalahari
  • identification
  • performance


Dive into the research topics of 'An adaptive learning process for developing and applying sustainability indicators with local communities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this