Political Framework in the Alps


Sustainability Objectives and Implementation Gaps

Many policy documents contain objectives of sustainable development. One can even say that talking of sustainability has become so widespread in the Alpine countries and regions that no public policy can get by without formal reference to this concept. Putting the intentions into practice, however, is more difficult. It needs an in-depth transformation of procedures and attitudes which is still in the beginning. Written documents may contain hidden contradictions between different objectives – but they arise only when implementation steps are to be taken because different interests of involved persons are concerned.

How is Sustainable Development Measured?

The famous Brundtland definition as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" is complemented by the "three pillars approach" which implicates that sustainable development requires the closer integration of economic, social and environmental policies.

(Source: M. DI LENARDO)
The "Thematic Evaluation on the Contribution of the Structural Funds to Sustainable Development" (GHK 2002) uses a 'four capitals' model. It allows for an operationalisation of the claim of integrating the three pillars. The 'four capitals' model considers development to be sustainable if the stock of capital (wealth) per capita remains constant or rises over time. Four types of capital stocks provide a flow of goods and services, which contribute to human well-being:
  • manufactured capital (economic infrastructure);
  • natural capital (environmental resources that provide services for social welfare);
  • human capital (human productivity potential based on individual health, skills etc.);
  • social capital ("relating to the stocks of social trust, norms and formal and informal networks that people can draw upon to access resources, solve common problems and create social cohesion" - GHK 2002)
Often, a wide gap opens up between targets or ambitions and practical implementation. All too often, sustainability has to take a back seat when it comes to concrete decisions.

Sustainable development evokes objectives in terms of development (socio-spatial fairness, economic efficiency and respect for the natural environment) as well as organisational principles (consultation, assessment, local governance). The methods of implementing public policies are just as important, if not more so, than the expected results. The way public policies are applied requires assessment.

Further Readings & Links

GHK (2002)
The Thematic Evaluation on the Contribution of the Structural Funds to Sustainable Development.

Reasons for Implementation Gaps

  • Lack of information: Some laws and policy instruments are little known to local decision makers, e.g. instruments for nature conservation. The lack of fundamental knowledge about general objectives and mechanisms, for instance about the impact on climate and the environment, also prevents local players from adopting an attitude favourable to general political sustainability.
  • Lack of stakeholder co-ordination: Adequate instruments and procedures of convergence between stakeholders are needed for balancing conflicting interests. The situation is particularly difficult when local projects are drawn up in a centralistic way and operated by outside specialists. Negative experiences with processes of joint decision-making (e.g. if the process failed or was ignored) cause tension.
  • Power games: Party-political considerations and short-term interests hinder sustainable solutions and agreements with a long-term effect.

Municipalities, regional administration and the population concerned should be thoroughly informed and involved more closely to policy design. Thus, stakeholders will be able to transform general objectives into local and individual ones – a precondition for the implementation of sustainable development policies. ( See T 8: “New forms of decision making” )

"Learning Organisations"

According to the concept of organisational learning, policy implementation is based on individual and organisational learning processes that are directed towards more sustainability. These learning processes require the change of principal orientations of the concerned organisations, and add ecological precaution and long-term orientation to their decision parameters. But organisational learning often is hampered by the inherent logic of organisations:
  • There are complex relations between the organisation and its societal environment which often puts a stronger emphasis on economic issues.
  • Organisations tend to safeguard and legitimate themselves and look for acceptance rather than problem solving in society: For instance, municipalities tend to use popular "green" labels, but avoid the introduction of problem-solving but conflicting measures.
  • Existing power structures within organisations may be threatened by learning procedures; this leads to blockades. Organisations may overcome these hindrances with a reflection of the own routines and power structures! (PAMME 2005)

Implementation of development concepts: According to HEINTEL, concepts – such as a local spatial development concept or a tourism development concept – consist of three parts:
  1. The process of elaborating the concept.
  2. The written product based on a consensus between the involved persons.
  3. The implementation steps based on an operational concept.
Concepts should formulate policy objectives in an operational way and introduce measurable success indicators. The involvement in the elaboration of the concepts creates identification with the product and facilitates implementation. Persons who are important for taking implementation measures should participate in the elaboration of the concept! (HEINTEL 2005)
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