The SWRR Concepts Work Group developed a set of concepts as
a basis for the Rountable’s ongoing efforts to identify criteria and
indicators that would be useful in the assessment of the sustainability of
water resources in the U.S. The concepts are described in a paper published
in Water Resources Update*.
The conceptual framework consists of 2 components: Systems Concepts, which
represent “how the world works”; and Information Concepts, which
organize, communicate and apply information. We focus on the overall relationship
among three major systems: natural, social and economic, encompassed by the
concept of sustainability. We bring in the concept of capital as an organizing
principle, in identifying criteria and indicators by recognizing that sustainability
can be achieved by maintaining the capacity of capital in all forms to meet
human and non-human needs within the biosphere. All three systems - natural,
social and economic - produce flows of services, experiences or goods that
meet various needs over time.
In discussing how to select criteria and indicators, we consider various roles
and uses of information. The scope and nature of the criteria and indicators
to be selected depends on the roles and uses we want them to serve. Information
plays a pivotal role as feedback in a cyclical process of decisions, actions,
observation of consequences, and back to decisions, etc. We can show the relationships
among forms of information from stories, to criteria, to indicators and down
to measurements as a pyramid where we move from the more general to the more
specific. At the top is the most widely communicated form of information,
relatively simple stories that are told in various media. Such stories can
be developed by interpreting detailed criteria and indicators produced using
data from measurements.
We bring the systems and information concepts together to show
how indicators could be selected for each criterion using systems models to
identify and represent the important components and processes for each category
of capital. The framework developed from the systems and information concepts
can be applied as appropriate to operational models that describe ecological,
social, and economic processes.
* Kranz, R., S. Gasteyer, H.R. Heintz Jr, R. Shafer, and A.
Steinman. 2004. Conceptual Foundations for the Sustainable Water Resources
Roundtable. Water Resources Update. 127:11-19.