Relevance – a neglected feature of sustainability indicators

Authored by: Svatava Janoušková , Tomáš Hák , Bedrˇich Moldan

Routledge Handbook of Sustainability Indicators

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138674769
eBook ISBN: 9781315561103
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter critically reviews the state-of-the-art in assessing the quality of sustainability indicators and focuses attention on an important feature – relevance. The indicator quality has several dimensions, including relevance of the content, credibility of the source and process, originality, timeliness, legitimacy, etc. Although mostly well-defined theoretically, the validation criteria are far from being ready to use. Relevance, in particular, is a characteristic employed by all indicator developers and promoters; however, it is often totally unclear what they mean by that term. To make the relevance concept operational and usable for practical purposes, we distinguish two types of relevance – thematic relevance and indicator relevance. Since indicators serve a multitude of purposes, we categorize relevance first and foremost by the user to which they refer: i.e. from policy, science, and public perspectives. Finally, we introduce an “indicator user factsheet” model allowing the indicator user to take advantage of the knowledge on different relevance types when using indicators in decision-making.

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