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Framework for comparing and evaluating sustainability assessment practice

Bond, A., Morrison-Saunders, A. and Howitt, R. (2013) Framework for comparing and evaluating sustainability assessment practice. In: Bond, A., Morrison-Saunders, A. and Howitt, R., (eds.) Sustainability Assessment Pluralism, Practice and Progress. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, Oxon, UK, pp. 117-131.

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The aim of this chapter is to develop a framework to compare and evaluate the effectiveness of sustainability assessment practice in different jurisdictions. To do this, it is important to clarify what is meant by effectiveness. Chapter 3 set out a typology of effectiveness criteria derived from the academic literature and identified that effective sustainability assessment involves procedural, substantive, transactive and normative elements. The key message from Chapter 3 is that effectiveness is difficult to measure in absolute terms because of the diverse and even divergent reference points against which effectiveness might be judged. Consequently, in comparing and evaluating sustainability assessment in different places, the way that the ecological, social, political and cultural pluralism that provides the context in which the work of sustainability assessment is done must be recognised and accommodated as a central point of any comparative discussion.

The framework outlined in this chapter considers how this emerging field of practice integrates learning and knowledge into continuous improvement (Boothroyd et al., 1995; Jha-Thakur et al., 2009). Figure 8.1 depicts the four categories of effectiveness introduced in chapter 3, and incorporates the critical influences of pluralism, and knowledge and learning, into a typology that provides a coherent framework for comparative evaluation of sustainability assessment across different jurisdictions, times and approaches in terms of methods and data availability. We recognise that sustainability assessment is a relatively new practice, and that like any field of professional practice, it needs constant review, development and improvement within the community of practice. Therefore it is inappropriate to attempt to create here a single hard-and-fast set of criteria to compare and evaluate effectiveness. Rather, this section explores how both the formally prescribed operation of sustainability assessment (equivalent to external sustainability assessment as defined in chapter 7), and the less formal cultures of professional practice (equivalent to internal sustainability assessment as defined in chapter 7) are evolving in different places, and what that experience brings to the task of improving future sustainability assessments.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Publisher: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group
Copyright: © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group
Publisher's Website:
Notes: Chapter 8
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