Context, Conceptual Framework and Sustainability Indicators | 49

1.4.3 Indicators in the IAASTD

The scope of the AKST assessment includes the relevance of agricultural systems and encompasses major aspects of human well-being and environmental sustainability. This extended view of agricultural development is in line with the major international initiatives addressing sustainable development, such as the MDGs and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). The assessment thus suggests indicators that assist in observing critical changes in the area of human development, the environment, agriculture, and AKST. The particular challenge for indicators is that they must be able to link AKST with these three areas of sustainable development in a meaningful way.

     This broad, sustainable development-oriented view of the process of agricultural development has also been adopted by major international actors in development for the past two decades, e.g., the Agenda 21 of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002. The indication of effects of agricultural development on the broader aspects of human development and the environment poses major challenges to the identification of impact and process indicators.

Identification of indicators for the AKST assessment

This global assessment occasionally uses some key indicators to show how different global and sub-global trends and drivers-including effectiveness of investments in AKST systems-affect the main agricultural outcomes and services, and more importantly, how they impact on the global population and their well-being, and on the ecological systems used and/or affected. A global assessment like IAASTD gains in efficiency and effectiveness if it focuses on a limited number of representative indicators. Indicators are quantitative and qualitative variables that provide a simple and reliable means to track achievement, reflect changes connected to an intervention or trend, or help assess the performance of an organization, an economic sector, or a policy measure against set targets and goals. Tracking changes over time relative to a reference point ("baseline") using indicators, can provide useful feedback and help improve data availability and thus support decision-making at all levels.

     For the purpose of the assessment, two main types of indicators have been considered:

Impact indicators show impacts of AKST on society and the environment in terms of poverty, livelihoods, equity, or hunger. These impacts are influenced by various technical, environmental and socioeconomic drivers and pressures, e.g., immediate outcomes of AKST investments. The targets and goals used in this assessment are closely linked to the internationally agreed MDGs.

Process/performance indicators show the influence of key drivers on AKST, on AKST and main agricultural outputs/ services, and on AKST and human well-being as defined in the MDGs.

Because of their considerable policy relevance and practical use, the selection and presentation of the indicators is of critical importance in the assessment. However, most of the underlying data that is needed to derive the desired indicachapter


tors is either organized along individual sectors (agriculture, health, and environment), or highly aggregated into indexes like the Human Development Index (HDI) or the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM). Therefore, the challenge is to identify indicators which clearly describe the relationship between agricultural science and technology and sustainable development in the various aspects described above.

Indicator characteristics. As indicators are used for various purposes, it is necessary to define general criteria for selecting indicators and validating their choice. Indicators (Hardi and Zdan, 1997; Prescott-Allen, 2001) can be characterized by their:

Relevance to measure change: for an indicator to be relevant, it must cover the most important aspects of the topic "human capacity for AKST". It must also be a sign of the degree to which an objective is met.

Reliability from well-established data sources: an indicator is likely to be reliable if it is well founded, accurate, and measured in a standardized way using an established or peer-reviewed method, and sound and consistent sampling procedures.

Feasibility: an indicator is feasible if it depends on data that are readily available or obtainable at reasonable cost.

To be consistent, an indicator must illustrate trends over time, as well as differences between places and groups of people. The usefulness of indicators depends on how well they meet the above criteria. When no direct indicators can be found that adequately meet these criteria, then indirect indicators or "proxies" and/or a combination of indicators or aggregate indices can be used. The selection of variables and indicators, together with underlying methodologies and data sets, must also be clearly documented and referenced. The more rigorous and systematic the choice of indicators and indices, the more transparent and consistent an assessment will be. And the more involved decision makers and other stakeholders are in the selection process, the higher the chance of acceptance of assessment results.

However, three potential problems need to be noted here:

  1. Not all potential indicators are practical: data may not be available; and data may be either too difficult or too expensive to collect. For this reason, more distant (proxy) indicators need to be selected. These may not be the most appropriate and reliable indicators, but they can be interpreted to reflect the issue being monitored. For example, if one is comparing innovation levels in different countries, the proxy indicator of the number of patents issued per million people per year may be used to save time and resources, making use of existing reliable data sources in order to give an approximate idea of different innovation levels in different countries.
  2. Experience with indicator identification for this assessment shows that one cannot expect to find clear and concise indicators for many of the critical IAASTD areas such as (1) AKST and sustainable development in general, exemplified through the MDGs; (2) AKST and human health; (3) AKST and social equity, etc. Therefore, indicators selected for this assessment will often