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Indicators of Social Quality

Outcomes for Belgium

Veerle de Maesschalck

In presenting social quality indicators for Belgium, we have confined ourselves to explaining the national situation concerning these indicators without reflecting on the theory of social quality itself or the broader theoretical framework. When considering social quality from a Belgian perspective, it is important to keep the national context in mind and this is covered in Part I of this article. Part II focuses on the outcomes of social quality indicators, with the findings presented by domain, rather than by component (security, cohesion, inclusion, empowerment). An example of good practice in the context of social quality is provided in Part III, illustrating how the Belgian system of individual work time reduction embodies elements of each of the four components. Finally, we conclude this article by illustrating how Belgium performs in terms of social quality.

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Indicators of Social Quality

Outcomes of the European Scientific Network

Laurent J.G. van der Maesen and Alan C. Walker

In October 2001, the Network Indicators of Social Quality started the process of creating social quality indicators. This project of the European Foundation on Social Quality was supported by the European Commission (DG Research) under Framework Programme 5 (van der Maesen et al. 2000). The Network consisted of representatives of universities from 14 partner countries and two European NGOs. Over its forty-two-month life the Network held four meetings. Three plenary meetings were organised with all assistants thanks to the financial support by the Dutch Scientific Foundation (NWO). Also through the creation of unique national reference groups on social quality, the Network has engaged more than a hundred scientists and policy makers in its work. The project was completed in April 2005. The intriguing question was how to theoretically legitimise the choice of social quality indicators compared to the indicators constructed in the context of 'quality of life' approaches, as developed for example by ZUMA of the University of Mannheim (Noll 2000; Berger-Schmit et al. 2000) and the European Foundation on the Improvement of Working and Living Conditions in Dublin (Fahey et al. 2002).

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Konstantinos G. Kougias

Chronic deficiencies of the Greek welfare state and the introduction of austerity measures as part of the international financial bailout agreements have created an explosive cocktail of poverty and social exclusion that severely tested the resilience of the frail social safety net and the demands of equity. The score on the indicators of social quality has worsened considerably as the Greek welfare system was overhauled. This article examines the four conditional factors of social quality from the viewpoint of socio-economic policies and everyday experiences in Greece during the crisis.

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The articles in this European Journal of Social Quality have resulted from a European Network Project on Indicators of Social Quality, carried out between 2001 and 2005 and supported by the Fifth Framework Programme by DG Research of the European Commission and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The network was coordinated by the European Foundation on Social Quality. The full national reports, on which these articles are based, as well as the Final Report of this project by Dr. Laurent van der Maesen, Prof. Alan Walker and Drs Margo Keizer, can be downloaded from www.socialquality.eu.

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Léa Sébastien, Tom Bauler and Markku Lehtonen

This article examines the various roles that indicators, as boundary objects, can play as a science-based evidence for policy processes. It presents two case studies from the EU-funded POINT project that analyzed the use and influence of two highly different types of indicators: composite indicators of sustainable development at the EU level and energy indicators in the UK. In both cases indicators failed as direct input to policy making, yet they generated various types of conceptual and political use and influence. The composite sustainable development indicators served as “framework indicators”, helping to advocate a specific vision of sustainable development, whereas the energy indicators produced various types of indirect influence, including through the process of indicator elaboration. Our case studies demonstrate the relatively limited importance of the characteristics and quality of indicators in determining the role of indicators, as compared with the crucial importance of “user factors” (characteristics of policy actors) and “policy factors” (policy context).

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Barbara Demeyer and Fintan Farrell

This article contains the ‘European Anti-Poverty Network’ contribution to the European research- and Network-project on Indicators of Social Quality (ENIQ). It contains the following parts: after this introduction the European social inclusion strategy, one of the important policy frames for EAPN, will be discussed, followed by the translation of the European decisions on indicators (Laken 2002) by national governments up till now (National Action Plans 1+2) and the consequences for the praxis. The fourth section elaborates on the comments by the EAPN on these European based decisions and the nature of the following reflections within its own membership. The fifth section includes a presentation of research on qualitative indicators for poverty. The last section gives comments and conclusions by EAPN on the social quality approach.

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Eleanor Sterling, Tamara Ticktin, Tē Kipa Kepa Morgan, Georgina Cullman, Diana Alvira, Pelika Andrade, Nadia Bergamini, Erin Betley, Kate Burrows, Sophie Caillon, Joachim Claudet, Rachel Dacks, Pablo Eyzaguirre, Chris Filardi, Nadav Gazit, Christian Giardina, Stacy Jupiter, Kealohanuiopuna Kinney, Joe McCarter, Manuel Mejia, Kanoe Morishige, Jennifer Newell, Lihla Noori, John Parks, Pua‘ala Pascua, Ashwin Ravikumar, Jamie Tanguay, Amanda Sigouin, Tina Stege, Mark Stege and Alaka Wali

Measuring progress toward sustainability goals is a multifaceted task. International, regional, and national organizations and agencies seek to promote resilience and capacity for adaptation at local levels. However, their measurement systems may be poorly aligned with local contexts, cultures, and needs. Understanding how to build effective, culturally grounded measurement systems is a fundamental step toward supporting adaptive management and resilience in the face of environmental, social, and economic change. To identify patterns and inform future efforts, we review seven case studies and one framework regarding the development of culturally grounded indicator sets. Additionally, we explore ways to bridge locally relevant indicators and those of use at national and international levels. The process of identifying and setting criteria for appropriate indicators of resilience in social-ecological systems needs further documentation, discussion, and refinement, particularly regarding capturing feedbacks between biological and social-cultural elements of systems.

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Victoria C. Ramenzoni and David Yoskowitz

After Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, governmental organizations have placed the development of metrics to quantify social impacts, resilience, and community adaptation at the center of their agendas. Following the premise that social indicators provide valuable information to help decision makers address complex interactions between people and the environment, several interagency groups in the United States have undertaken the task of embedding social metrics into policy and management. While this task has illuminated important opportunities for consolidating social and behavioral disciplines at the core of the federal government, there are still significant risks and challenges as quantification approaches move forward. In this article, we discuss the major rationale underpinning these efforts, as well as the limitations and conflicts encountered in transitioning research to policy and application. We draw from a comprehensive literature review to explore major initiatives in institutional scenarios addressing community well-being, vulnerability, and resilience in coastal and ocean resource management agencies.

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Jens Jetzkowitz and Jörg Schneider

Recent ecological studies have identified human activity as a relevant dimension of current evolutionary processes. However, most of these studies rely on socioeconomic indicators that consider the impact of activities on ecosystems but have only limited informative value on the effects of concrete patterns of action. This paper focuses on the concept of style as a tool for the study of the interface between society and nature. We exemplify our thesis with reference to changes in plant biodiversity in settlements, and start by summing up the methods and findings of our interdisciplinary research project that aimed to explain the distribution of native and alien plants. Since the findings indicate that styles of living and acting influence plant species composition, we apply the findings of our research strategy beyond the narrow focus of our study. Finally, we comment on methodological implications for the study of the societal aspects of social-ecological systems.

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Dan Brockington

Measuring and being measured are some of the fundamental aspects of our worlds. Without them, we cannot live in our environments or function as social beings. But how we measure, and are measured, and to what ends and purposes, matters a great deal. Measurement does not just record; it shapes, changes, and constitutes things. It is not merely descriptive. It is creative. This introduction to the special issue explores how these themes of measurement are played out in diverse settings, including counting fish stocks, migration, social resilience, local measures of sustainability, oil exploitation, forest conservation, calculating ecosystem services, and measuring heat. Collectively, they provide a better understanding of how crucial measurements are formulated, and how they are and can be contested.