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The Development of Indicators & Assessment Tools for CSO Values-based projects in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

Periodic ReportSummary - ESDINDS (The Development of Indicators & Assessment Tools for CSO Values-based projects in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD))

Project context and objectives:

The challenge

Civil society organisations (CSOs) working on sustainable development projects need more than traditional indicators like the number of trees planted. If their project empowers a community, establishes a trusting work environment, or improves social and economic justice, how would they know? Which of these values-based indicators are important to capture? Which values contribute to sustainable development outcomes? Which of the 'espoused' values in their mission statement are actually in use?

If CSOs knew the answers to these questions, they could plan their activities better, optimising outcomes from their limited funding. But CSOs need specialised researchers to help crystallise these issues; researchers who are familiar with current academic knowledge and committed to co-developing the knowledge localised in the CSO domain. The aim: an embryonic set of values-based indicators for direct use by CSOs.

Project aims

The aim of the ESDINDS project was to explore useful indicators which can measure values components of CSO sustainable development projects. These values-based indicators would be designed for use at the project level, and would overlap heavily with organisational values and those of the communities served. By identifying and co-developing indicators with academic researchers, the project aimed to develop toolkits and processes useful to diverse groups of CSOs.

Another aim was to involve a further 50-80+ CSOs with these, to form a new community of interest and, ultimately, of practice. It was anticipated that feedback from all the participating CSOs would help the research team to assess the toolkits against four criteria:

(a) relevance / importance;
(b) validity / reliability;
(c) measurability; and
(d) usability / comprehensibility.

The findings would highlight priority areas for future improvement or follow-up research.

Project results:

Research strategy
The ESDINDS project was characterised by CSOs and academia working in partnership to produce practical and useful indicators. The CSO partners involved in the ESDINDS project were engaged with many sectors of the community - education, businesses, faith groups, and community development organisations. This project intentionally brought together a diverse group of CSOs with a shared interest in values and ethics in order to identify indicators useful across a spectrum of institutional, social and cultural diversity.

The research design involved an iterative, participatory approach to the development of indicators and assessment tools. This was conducted in four phases:

1. January - November 2009: Background research into existing values-based indicators - within academic literature, and (the main focus) via in-the-field actions of CSOs. Developing a pool of possible indicators.
2. December 2009 - May 2010: Developing and trialling first set of indicators with ESDINDS CSO partner projects. Refining and adding to first set of indicators based on trials.
3. June - November 2010: Developing and trialling second set of indicators with ESDINDS partner projects and 50-80 additional CSOs. Refining second set of indicators and agreement on project conclusions.
4. December 2010 - January 2011: Collection of results from 50+ CSOs and main partners and disseminating results to a broad audience; jointly defining future questions.

Expected results

The expected primary outcome of the ESDINDS initiative was the development of a framework of values-based indicators, applicable in a wide range of national, cultural and organisational contexts. This has been fully achieved, and the initial expectations about the scope of the project outcomes have been substantially exceeded, as detailed below.

Potential impact:

Final outcomes

A set of values-based indicators with broad practical utility
The final outcome of the project is a revised set of 166 values-based indicators, which are now acknowledged to be applicable to multiple values (beyond the original six with which they were initially associated in phase I). They can be described as indicators of 'shared values in use', rather than espoused values. The indicators have already been incorporated into ongoing monitoring and evaluation activities in diverse civil society organisations and businesses, and there are opportunities for their application in other arenas, such as faith communities, educational institutions, indigenous communities, family or relationship counselling, and the health sector.

Feedback from over 40 CSOs highlights the very broad relevance of the indicators in different settings, including non-profit organisations, companies, social enterprises, academic and educational institutions, and faith-based organisations.

An open-access web platform
The indicators and related assessment tools have been disseminated very widely through a free, open-access web platform, entitled 'WeValue' (see online), which is estimated to have been viewed by more than 20 000 people. Almost 100 organisations, including non-profit CSOs, businesses, faith groups and educational institutions, have engaged actively with the project by creating a profile on the web platform, and of these, 36 have already worked directly with the indicators. The WeValue brand is already gaining international recognition.

Transforming policy and practice in real organizations
At least eight CSOs are known to have incorporated ESDINDS indicators into their internal monitoring and evaluation systems, and some of these have also influenced their affiliates or donors, so that the impact of the project will continue to be felt for many years. We have also observed that in parallel, the use of values-based indicators can catalyse significant and sustainable organisational development, especially when participatory methods are used to explore the indicators within a functional working group.

Accessible handbooks
The content from the web platform, which includes all 166 indicators detailed information on assessment methods, is available in PDF and Word formats. A separate 40-page 'WeValue toolkit' entitled 'Understanding and evaluating the intangible impacts of your work' has also been produced and disseminated to a wide audience.

An international conference and sustainable community of practice
A three-day conference was held at the University of Brighton in December 2010 to bring together workers in the different but overlapping fields of indicators, sustainability and values. A dynamic community of practice has emerged as a result, with a special interest group focusing on applying the indicators in schools in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Impact and wider societal implications

By linking the ESDINDS findings about the significance of ethical values in sustainability to the academic and policy literature on sustainable development, the project has contributed to a deeper conceptualisation of the process of social transformation towards sustainability.

Incorporating the indicators into monitoring and evaluation activities can create shared understandings, strengthen projects, boost morale, and help CSOs 'learn how to learn'.

In some cases, reflecting on the indicators can even generate sustainable behaviour change. It helps CSOs to clarify their own values and assess the extent to which they are actually in use within day-to-day activities, rather than merely espoused in mission statements. Thus, they learn to recognise and address values / behaviour gaps (ways in which they are failing to 'walk their talk'). This has enormous implications for civil society in general.

Thus, the ESDINDS project has created a tool (WeValue) with two separate, but interlinked, functions:

1. incorporating values dimensions into project monitoring and evaluation;
2. promoting behaviour change by closing values / behaviour gaps within organizations.

Why did the outcomes of the project exceed initial expectations?

This project was fundamentally about co-science. Academic researchers and CSOs developed ideas together, from inception and through every stage to final outcomes, and CSOs took the lead in decision-making. Participatory research methods were also adopted with non-partner organisations in the field testing phase, giving project staff a feeling of ownership and enabling them to use the indicators to transform their own policy and practice.

The nature of research into values-based indicators set the tone for the ESDINDS project itself. Consortium partners gave a high priority to values such as integrity, trust, respect, empowerment and unity in diversity. These values were evident throughout the project in their own interactions with one another, in both face-to-face meetings and electronic communications.

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