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Conference abstract, 2010

Can social sustainability be measured?

Nordström, Källström Helena; Caselunghe, Elvira


A socially sustainable development or social sustainability is a frequently used concept in various situations as well as in rural development. Organisations and governments want different actions to increase the social sustainability in an area or situation. But how do we know that we have achieved our social goals? How can these goals be evaluated? The aim of this paper is to discuss if and how a socially sustainable development can be assessed using social indicators. What indicators should be used? And to what extent are such indicators applicable? When evaluating the Swedish Rural Development Programme 2000-2006 a study to find useful social indicators took place. In this work different attempts from a number of organizations of using social indicators were assessed. As a result from that study 8 categories for indicators were suggested for evaluation of the Swedish Rural Development Programme: 1) Participation, democracy and social status, 2) Networks and social relations, 3) Public welfare, security, safety and working environment, 4) Equal opportunities, 5) Education and learning, 6) Service, infrastructure and accessibility, 7) Subsistence and employment and 8) Financial distribution. Another result is the need of space to create local influence defining indicators. These 8 categories are all relevant and well, but they also pose new challenges to evaluation processes: What are the contents of these categories? Do they have the same value or should they be prioritized? What categories are we missing out when we chose certain categories for measurement? There are also political and normative aspects of social indicators and with social sustainability in general. Can subjective experiences of social sustainability be taken into account? How do social indicators reflect the time aspect, change and development? Indicators are used as evaluative tool in different kinds of contexts. Political efforts towards social sustainability have to be evaluated, and it is often done in quantitative terms, very much tending to neglect important aspects that are not measurable. To grasp even factors and conditions that are less evident in that sense, it could be successful to complete qualitative evaluations with quantitative indicators (of qualitative character). Or the other way: Qualitative analysis provides meaning to and guides the interpretation of quantitative measures. The limits of both quantitative and qualitative measures must be considered when developing useful tools to evaluate achievements in for example the Swedish Rural Development Programme


Sustainable development; social sustainability; rural development; indicator; evaluation; qualitative; quantitative; Swedish Rural Development Programme; landsbygdsprogrammet

Published in

Book title: Nordic Rural Futures: pressures and possibilities : research conference on the future of Nordic rural areas, May 3-5 2010, Uppsala, Sweden : book of abstracts
Publisher: Division of Rural Development, Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden


Nordic rural futures: pressures and possibilities research conference on the future of Nordic rural areas

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development

UKÄ Subject classification

Social Sciences
Economics and Business
Agricultural Science

URI (permanent link to this page)