• Conditions For Effective Use Of Community Sustainability Indicators And Adaptive Learning

      Powell, James E.; Kofinas, Gary (2012)
      As the number of community sustainability indicator programs (SIPs) increases in many regions of the world, including in the United States, questions continue to arise regarding how decision makers can use sustainability indicators (SIs) to contribute in a meaningful way to their efforts to build resilient and sustainable communities. Through an analysis of the sustainability activities in sample cities from across the U.S. and a case study of one city that adopted SIs but has yet to implement them, this study seeks to uncover the conditions for effective SI implementation and use. The study began with a review of the literature on communities' sustainability efforts and the historical roots of sustainability and resilience theory leading up to today's sustainability indicator projects. A heuristic model for adaptive learning is presented to illustrate the relationships among sustainability, resilience, and administrative concepts, including the goals and domains of sustainability indicators. The study's data collection and analysis began with an Internet-based investigation of 200 U.S. cities. A five-tiered system was devised to categorize findings regarding sustainability patterns and trends in studied cities, ranging from an absence of sustainability activities through fully implemented sustainability indicators. The second phase of data collection employed an electronic survey completed by informants from a 38-city sample of the 200 investigated cities, followed by phone interviews with informants from cities that ranked high for developed sustainability programs. A case study using focus group research was then conducted of one small U.S. city, Juneau, Alaska, where local government adopted sustainability indicators in the 1990s but fell short of implementing them. Most cities in the U.S. have not developed sustainability indicator projects, and, among those that have, few have been able to implement them fully. Among highly ranked cities with sustainability indicators, several approaches, including innovative organizational structures and adaptive learning processes, were found to be present. Recommendations for incorporating such innovations and for grounding sustainability indicator projects in sustainability science, resilience thinking, and public administration theory are offered to help ensure sustainability indicators become fully operational in Juneau, as well as in other communities seeking to establish successful sustainability indicator programs.