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Process Indicators to Measure Intermediate Progress of Social Impacts of an Individual Organization’s Transition-Related Research

In International Sustainable Transitions Conference IST 2016 Wuppertal, Germany, September 6-9, 2016 2016-09

The question of how to assess the societal impact of transition research conducted by specific research organizations is a very important but difficult challenge, especially in short planning periods of 1 or even 2 to 5 years used by most organizations. This is because social systems are very complex, and changes in them are caused by many complex factors, while measuring social change itself is already a formidable task.

This paper addresses this challenge by developing an assessment framework which classifies the different stages or process of impact generation and proposes intermediate process-based indicators drawing on this framework. The framework and process indicators consider a variety of types of activities or action-based research which are commonly used by organizations involved in transition research. It is expected that process based indicators will be practically useful to help organizations to plan more effective strategies and demonstrate intermediate results well before final impacts are visible.

This framework categorises its outputs, outreach, outputs and impacts into seven tiers as follows: 1) Outputs, 2) Outreach, 3) Outcome Level 1 – recognition of IGES expertise, 4) Outcome Level 2 – support for expanding IGES initiative and/or request for follow-up, 5) Outcome Level 3 – uptake of IGES proposal and/or acted upon by target stakeholders, 6) Impact Level 1 – changes in policy, planning or practice, 7) Impact Level 2 – changes in wider society. (See Figure 1 discussed below.)

This paper assessed the applicability and usefulness of this framework based on a comparative case study of five completed projects at IGES that have all resulted in a Level 1 Impact through the clear achievement of influencing wider changes among external stakeholders in policy, planning or practice. The selected projects were examined to identify the key features that supported impact generation in each case, and the analysis will consider if there is any discernible pattern(s) to the procedural flow of impact generation among these projects. This case analysis also aims to develop possible process-level, outcome-level and impact-level indicators to support future tracking of impact generation of individual projects.

The findings of this paper are intended to help individual organizations to develop a deeper understanding of processes for impact generation and thereby enhance their effectiveness in facilitating sustainability transitions.