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Recherche et développement régional durable

Corinne Larrue

Session 5. La mesure du développement régional durable / Measuring Sustainable regional development

View from a regional administration


Françoise Onclincx

Texte intégral

  • 1 Institut Bruxellois pour la Gestion de l'environnement, Bruxelles, Belgique.

1Note portant sur l’auteur1


2The field of regional development is extremely extensive. Among all the subjects which could have been tackled, this paper presents just three which are directly linked to applied research:

  1. The organisation of information-gathering, i.e. requesting information.
  2. The organisation of what is supplied, i.e. producing documented data.
  3. Training data administrators.

3Some preliminary remarks:

  • The Brussels-Capitale region is an institutional entity comprised of 19 municipalities;
  • In Belgium, environmental powers are chiefly regional;
  • The IBGE is the regional authority for the environment in Brussels, which in some cases develops research projects.

4This presentation is based on observations made from projects launched by us or in which we have been involved over the last few years, concerning the development of indicators. These include (1) the LIFE-Respect project, initiated by France, (2) a Euroregion project launched by us, and (3) the development of a panel of environmental indicators in Brussels.

5Sustainable development is in fact also the rational management of intellectual resources.


6At the regional level, requests for information have two origins:

  1. Local, to support regional policies and assess their performance, to present and monitor the current situation (for example the state of the environment), to help make forecasts, etc.
  2. National and international (in the case of Belgium), to help the country answer international questionnaires.

7This double request is unavoidable and time-consuming, and sometimes has little relevance at the regional level, as shown by the “ROD – Reporting Obligation Database” project carried out by the IBGE for the European Environment Agency. This involved making an inventory of the legal obligations for supplying data concerning air, water and waste. Once all the questionnaires had been gathered and the questions analysed, we observed that just for these three topics, the member States of the European Union (and in the case of Belgium, the regions) have to answer 25,000 questions every three years. One of the problems arises from the fact that there is virtually no coordination between the questionnaires, and that there is therefore no, or little, possibility of limiting their size.

8The relevance of some of the questions asked is also debatable: in its conclusions of the evaluation of its 5th environmental action programme, the Commission itself stressed that it could not draw concrete and practical conclusions about the performance of its own policies from this mass of information. And finally, a large number of questions have only limited relevance for local management. However, analysis of the questionnaires showed some initial integration between environmental compartments, e.g. the request for data linked both to water quality and waste production, or between the environment and economic issues. In fact, analysis of the questionnaires indicated that more than 40 per cent of the questions link environmental problems to sectors of production.

9Another project involved constructing a panel of environmental indicators for the Brussels-Capitale region. Among other things, our local authorities wanted to be able to compare themselves to other regions, and we were able to take advantage of the list of proposed indicators at the international level to make this comparison. The analysis, involving more than 400 environmental indicators, showed that there is a plethora of indicators on well-known subjects, such as selective waste collection, while there is a serious lack of indicators for more complex issues, such as prevention of pollution.

10The analysis of requests for information therefore highlights two problems: relevance and work load, in terms of both quantity and quality. It is clear that the questioning method must be rationalized, involving considerable scientific work to “recycle” current legal obligations.


11The Regions are generally well-supplied with information about the area and basic information. The geographic scale remains relatively personal. However, data is not always made the most of, due to the lack of human and financial resources for collection and treatment, in other words documentation. Documented data, which, moreover, specify the limits of using information, are like little lego blocks of information, small generic blocks which can be used in many different projects. These small autonomous units of information can be used to describe a situation, to evaluate performance or to make preliminary forecasts. They are multifunctional and therefore allow a multi-disciplinary approach.

12The lack of interest shown by decision-makers for these data can perhaps be explained by their non-dramatic appearance. Even if non-negligible increases in basic concentrations of noise or air pollution are noted, these evolve slowly. Trends are relatively predictable, apart from catastrophes. Furthermore, documented data do not interest a great number of people,: many politicians, journalists and individuals prefer data which is easy to understand, meaningful and brief. They do not necessarily realize that the “gross” data which comes out of the laboratory belongs to a completely different world in terms of complexity. Finally, it is only when a crisis occurs – as for example with mad cow disease – that they realize that the existing information is incomplete and/or popularized because of inadequate human and financial resources for providing data.

13In this context, what the administrator requires of the scientist concerns both the development of methods and tools for classifying information which are relatively easy to handle (e.g. the DPSIR model) to enhance what already exists, and the development of concrete means of communicating matters of local concern as a way of making these documented data more attractive. It should be stressed that a popularisation of quality is difficult to achieve.


14Setting up regular dialogue between researchers and regional administrators is essential, as witnessed by all the projects concerning indicators in which we have been involved. “Off the peg” indicator panels are not particularly useful, because they are often seen by regional administrators as an extra expense, ill-adapted to local conditions and of little relevance to their mission. Indicator panels created with future users prove to be more efficient from several points of view: first, questions are adapted to the specific area, in terms of regional particularities, needs and available resources; next, the usefulness of the panel can be perceived better by the regional administrator, and abstract concepts such as sustainable development or policy through objectives are applied concretely to the daily tasks of the administrators. This last point is perhaps one of the most interesting results of work connected to indicators. This dialogue, resulting in the implementation of indicators, has in fact sometimes led to the modification of the internal structure of authorities, in favour of the decompartmentalization of services and a multi-disciplinary approach, even if much remains to be done in this area.

15For all these reasons, it seems to me to be much more worthwhile in the long term to develop a shared method of measurement rather than shared indicators: contexts change, sustainable development is an evolving process, the phenomena measured today will no doubt be less relevant later, while intellectual tools can continue to improve without going out of fashion.


1 Institut Bruxellois pour la Gestion de l'environnement, Bruxelles, Belgique.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2002

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