Sustainable development – as a people-centered concept

“Sustainability, is better seen as a measure of the relationship between the community as learners and their environments, rather than an externally designed goal to be achieved” (Sriskandarajah et al, 1991).

All too often “sustainability” is seen as an outcome – a tangible situation that we strive to define and arive at – rather than a process of “planned change” … or “managed learning”. This process must involve the building of sustainable relationships between people, and between people and their environment. To do this requires the development of learning societies … capable of adapting to feedback, with improved abilities to improve decision making through the sharing of information, communication and understanding. As Allen (20011) points out, Agenda 21 clearly identified information, integration, and participation as key building blocks to help countries achieve development that recognises these interactions. It emphasised that in sustainable development everyone is a user and provider of information. It stressed the need to change from old sector-centred ways of doing business to new approaches that involve cross-sectoral co-ordination and the integration of environmental and social concerns into all development processes. Furthermore, Agenda 21 highlighted that broad public participation in decision making is a fundamental prerequisite for achieving sustainable development.

As these multiple dimensions of development have been taken into account by governments, agencies and other organisations over the years, so we have seen a different language emerging in development papers and reports. The World Bank defines participation as ‘a process through which stakeholders influence and share control over development initiatives and the decisions and resources which affect them’, and talks about the need to ’empower’ the poor — helping them move from being ‘beneficiaries’ to ‘clients’ (World Bank 1996). The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) coined the term ‘sustainable human development’ to describe the very human-centeredness of sustainable development (UNDP 1996). From this perspective we can see that  ‘development’ as change that improves the conditions of human well-being so that people can exercise meaningful choices for their own benefit and that of society. This transformative ability ability lies at the heart of current initiatives to strengthen governance  initiatives, particularly those with a focus on community resilience  and community adaptation  in the face of global environmental change and other sustainability issues. This thinking has carried on in more current approaches, policies and initiatives.

Sustainable development

Sustainable development: how to manage something that is subjective and never can be achieved? This paper by René Kemp & Pim Martens examines the notion of sustainable development that has emerged as a new normative orientation of Western society. The authors argue that sustainable development is an inherently subjective concept and for this reason re-quires deliberative forms of governance and assessment. They outline the contours of sustainability science as a new form of science, complementing traditional science. Such science is to be used in service to reflexive modes of governance, for which they also outline the general principles and offer a practical illustration – the transition-management model. The example shows that it is possible to work toward sustainable development as an elusive goal through provisional knowledge about our needs and systems to satisfy these needs. Heterogeneous local understandings and appreciations are not suppressed but drawn into the transition process in various ways such as participatory integrated assessment and social deliberation. The social interest in sustainable development is exploited without falling into the modernistic trap of rational decision making that disregards local cultures.

www_iconSustainable development – Global issues This part of the web site attempts to introduce the issue of development and sustainable development. Sustainable development is often seen as an over-used concept, but it goes to the heart of tackling a number of inter-related global issues such as poverty, inequality, hunger and environmental degradation. In theory, development that is sustainable and not damaging to the planet is very possible. Of course though, in reality there are a lot of politics and challenges involved as highlighted throughout this site.

www_iconSocial learning processes and sustainable development This 2014 paper by Patti Kristjanson and colleagues shows how social learning can provide a way to address complex socio-ecological (so-
called ‘wicked’) problems by integrating diverse knowledge and value systems at many different levels and through different learning cycles.

A Sustainable Development Strategy for the NHS, Public Health and Social Care system. This site is home to the UK-based Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) is situated within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). This document focuses on ensuring a strong, healthy and just society living within environmental limits whilst recognising that achieving a sustainable economy, promoting good governance and using sound science responsibly are inherent pillars that support such a society.

www_iconSustainable development as a policy concept The need for new approaches to environmental policy and ecosystem management has emerged in line with the evolving concept of ‘sustainable development’. Over the past three decades, ‘development theorizing has progressed beyond economic parameters based on gross domestic product (GDP) per capita growth, and even the conventional social indicators of literacy, life expectancy and caloric intake … interventionist frameworks now regularly include such dimensions as sustainable environmental practices, gender equity, respect for human rights and participatory governance’. While conventional approaches to agriculture have in the past tended to employ narrow economic or productivity criteria to measure their success, today the questions have been broadened to simultaneously evaluate the health of relevant systems in terms of ecology, ethics and equity

The concept of social resilience  is closely linked to the ideas of sustainable development outlined here. A number of other papers that extend the ideas of sustainable development highlighted through the links here can be found from the social learning  and governance  sections. The main index points to related topic areas that can support the achievement of these ideas in practice.