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Sustainability Indicators and Local Governance in Portugal Book

Sara Margarida Moreno Pires

Year: 2011

Keywords: sustainable development, Portugal, Governance, Local Level, Local Government, Sustainability Indicators

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Associated Project(s): none


This research aims to understand the role of sustainability indicators in local governance contexts in Portugal and the way they can contribute to challenge current institutional practices for sustainable development. The last two decades have witnessed a growing debate around sustainability indicators, where countless proposals for specific indicators, conceptual frameworks, methodologies, communication methods or participative tools, etc., have been discussed. Three broad approaches to these indicators have sprung: the ‘technical’, the ‘participative’ and the ‘governance’ approaches. This thesis aims to contribute to this recent and less explored ‘governance’ approach, focusing on Portuguese local experiences. It considers crucial to understand how and in what circumstances and contexts the role of these indicators can be diminished or enhanced, particularly at the local level. It places the investigation within the scope of institutional analysis and tries to assess if and how those indicators have been changing or challenging local governance settings in Portugal towards sustainable development and if and how they have been used in those contexts. Seven case-studies representing the oldest local experiences in Portugal were selected and analysed in detail. We looked for particular and contextual factors in each one, but also aspired to develop a more comprehensive comparative study framed by a normative position towards good governance for sustainable development. The main obstacles to the development of local sustainability indicators in the country are identified, as well as the major outcomes and uses of those processes. It also draws some conclusions about the main implications of the Portuguese case-studies for core values of good governance for sustainable development when comparing them with other European experiences. Finally, it tries to put forward some general recommendations for better institutional arrangements and for more effective outcomes and uses of these indicators. The case-studies have shown that they have not been a significant contribute to strengthen the dialogue between different levels of government, to expand networks or to improve the communication and participation mechanisms between local governments and local citizens and actors. Nevertheless, the most successful experiences demonstrated that sustainability indicators actually challenged and changed local government capacities. The major challenge remains so in the transposition and dissemination of these outcomes to the outside of the local government sphere. We hope that the thesis may create new opportunities for planners, policy-makers, academics and communities to see sustainability indicators through different angles and to challenge the general perception of indicators as mere ‘technical’ or ‘participative’ tools.

Journal Citation

Indicadores de Sustentabilidade e Governação Local em Portugal /
Sustainability Indicators and Local Governance in Portugal, , Universidade de Aveiro, Departamento de Ambiente e Ordenamento 2011




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