A flexible framework for regional sustainable development indicators using system thinking criteria (INSURE)
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Developing politics and actions guided by sustainability criteria require to have elements that support decisions at the most strategic levels and facilitate the communication and justification of decisions made. To do so, indicators are simple tools aiming to facilitate high-level decisionmaking, playing the role of making complex systems understandable or perceptible. Sustainable development (SD) indicators are specifically designed to facilitate a perspective on sustainability, but sustainability is a blurred concept lacking a well based scientific theory that supports it, it is more a social and political approach that implies a transverse vision of different sectors strongly influencing each other in a complex system of mutual (and some times not well known) relations. SD indicators cannot therefore be conceived as isolated trends, unaware of the systemic vision implicit in the SD concept, being the real challenge not to identify SD indicators(there are hundreds of good lists available) but to look for the best way to put them all to work together providing a consistent and coherent vision of how regional systems are progressing towards SD objectives. This is the main objective of INSURE. Starting from any hierarchical thematic framework that is also determined by policy targets and priorities, the INSURE system indicators (S-indicators), initially designed to be applied at regional scale, aims to interpret and to understand indicators and trends in connection with the regional sustainability system behind. Its objective is to link the structured view of the policy SD priorities2 —ordered around a hierarchical thematic framework— with a systemic view that represents how the most important elements operating in the region are integrated in the regional system. This means to understand how the different trends of SD are related each others and how they influence the behaviour of the regional system in relation to policy priorities. What makes INSURE different from other SD indicators methodologies is its capacity to focus the analysis in the diagnosis of the regional system, placing particular emphasis in its systemic character, and then to transfer the richness and complexity of SD relations to a conventional hierarchical indicators thematic framework, based on a reasonable reduced number of SD trends, which is oriented by policy priorities. As a result, the data trends obtained from indicators are converted into SD trends values, which are determined not only by statistical data, but also integrating correction indices depending on how they are expected to influence other SD trends in the region.