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Are we doing the « right » things the « right » way ? Discourse and practice of sustainability assessment in North and South = Discours et pratique de l'évaluation pour le développement durable au nord et au sud
Hugé, J. (2012). Are we doing the « right » things the « right » way ? Discourse and practice of sustainability assessment in North and South = Discours et pratique de l'évaluation pour le développement durable au nord et au sud. PhD Thesis. ULB/VUB: Brussel.

Thesis info:

Author keywords
    sustainable development, sustainability assessment, Bénin, discourse, Flanders, energy policy

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Abstract
    Sustainable development is a ubiquitously used concept referring to a vision of society centred on the principles of global responsibility, integration, inter- and intra-generational equity, precaution, participation and a long-term time horizon. It is a contested concept that regroups various sub-discourses which embody its constructive ambiguity. For sustainable development to become a decision-guiding strategy in pubic decision-making, adequate decision-supporting processes are required. This thesis reflects on the theory and on the practice of ‘sustainability assessment’ in various contexts by combining discourse analysis with a case-study approach. The thesis builds on three case studies, undertaken in different –institutional, geographical, thematic and research- contexts. The three cases (situated respectively in the realm of sub-national policies; development co-operation and energy policy) allow for different approaches to sustainability assessment to be applied and analyzed. The relative novelty of sustainability assessment created room for experimental participatory approaches and provided opportunities for policy-relevant learning. Understanding how sustainability assessment contributes to a shared interpretation of sustainability, to an enhanced structuring of information and to influencing policy decisions is key to develop and apply the approach in the future. Research findings indicate that: sustainability assessment should act as a forum giving sense to the interpretational challenge of sustainability, within the boundaries set by essential sustainability principles. Participatory approaches are key in performing sustainability assessment, for both intrinsic and pragmatic reasons. Stakeholder knowledge should be combined with scientific information in real-life ‘science for sustainability’ experiments. There is no blueprint approach for developing and applying sustainability assessment. The discursive-institutional interplay determines how sustainability assessment is conceptualized and applied. Windows of opportunity for introducing and applying sustainability assessment may arise unexpectedly due to discursive and institutional convergences facilitated by the interpretational width of the sustainability concept, and these should be taken up. Sustainability assessment should be designed as a de-polarizing process, bringing the co-production of knowledge and decisions into practice. The capacity of sustainable development to grasp the complexity of current societal challenges by providing a decision-guiding framework can be operationalized by sustainability assessment, which entails an increased awareness of the overlap between different areas of public policy. If sustainability assessment is to actually support decision-makers, scientifically and participatory designed beacons are needed. This is a challenge where scientists act as analysts and facilitators to help translate the intrinsically dynamic meaning of sustainability into actions. This thesis wishes to contribute to this endeavour.

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