Imagine yourself entering new territory without a map to guide you, without any idea how to read the signs around you for direction. Pretty uncomfortable isn’t it? Sustainability planning can feel like that in the beginning. Not to worry, there is a solution. In this post, I am going to talk about the importance of something crucial for sustainability planning: something known as process indicators! These indicators are used to guide a person, organization, or community toward its goal and are vital for success. The Centre for Sustainability recognizes this need and has thankfully added a process indicator specialist to their roster to respond to it: me! Nice to meet you, my name is Erin.

First I need to let the indicator geek inside of me shine through and clarify something. When most people think of indicators they think of monitoring levels of fish stocks in the local river, or the cost of housing year after year. These are known as socio-economic indicators. These indicators tell the story of something that has already happened, and in some cases, of damage already done. Although necessary, these socio-economic indicators paint only part of the sustainability picture, specifically the last part. Whistler2020′s monitoring program is an excellent example of tracking mostly socio-economic indicators. The number of minutes it took for you to reach your destination is another example of a socio-economic indicator.

With sustainability planning, it is our goal to avoid going down the wrong path by using indicators at the onset of a planning process. This can often be the case because with only one target in mind people often get excited and put all of their efforts and focus in to single-issue initiatives, instead of taking a more strategic whole-systems approach.

Process indicators (sometimes known as planning-process indicators) are what help us avoid this problem. They tackle social, economic and ecological problems at the level of root-causes, so to avoid any negative effects of a plan. For example, percent of total municipal departments and staff involved in the planning process is a process indicator for a community sustainability plan. They would have also been those questions you asked yourself before even stepping out your door, on your new journey, so that you would feel confident you knew which way to go when you entered that new territory.

The Centre for Sustainability has expertise in community sustainability planning, so our use of process indicators is generally focussed on sustainability planning; however they are a tool that can be used for any planning process. In my research (at the Blekinge Institute of Technology) I found that two of the biggest challenges to community sustainability planning are internal compartmentalization (too many department silos) and lack of public acceptance. This is where process indicators come in to save the day. To avoid the uncomfortable feeling of disagreement on a resulting action or plan, the use of process indicators takes us back a step to a place that is more agreeable and comfortable for everyone involved so the end result will be one that all parties can support. They perform best when used over and over again to ensure the best path is being followed at every junction. In other words, they can be functional at every junction! (Does that type of local humour work here? I’m new, what can I say.)

The Centre for Sustainability employs planning process indicators to accurately guide community sustainability planning processes in order to result in positive outcomes. Used in conjunction with the methods already employed by the Centre, process indicators act like a check-in to ensure the usual planning challenges are not left unconquered. Taking this upstream approach to community sustainability planning almost always guarantees that a community will remain on a path that leads them to wherever it is they truly want to be!

by Erin Romanchuk