The Use and Influences of Indicators in European Sustainable Transport Policy

The Use and Influences of Indicators in European Sustainable Transport Policy


C Hedegaard Sorensen, H Gudmundsson, Technical University of Denmark, DK


Research shows that the use of indicators is limited. Two cases of use, influence of indicators in European sustainable transport policy has been carried out, one European and one national. The cases indicate extensive use and limited influence.


Indicators are produced all over. Although, indicators are knowledge adapted to policy making, research in the use of knowledge, science and decision support information for policy making has often found that to a large extent such input is ignored by political decision makers, or used in totally different ways than expected, even in cases where the information has been directly targeted to policy making.

POINT (Policy Influence of Indicators) is a research project within the EU's 7th framework program for research dealing with the use and influence of indicators in various sectors. The project is now close to finalization. Within the project a study has been carried out on the use and influence of indicators in sustainable transport policy, and that is what this paper will look into. The paper explores if indicators are used at all, how they are used, and why they become influential or not. It further goes into causes for use and influence.The paper looks at two cases of indicators applied for strategic policy making within the broader context of ?sustainable transport? aspirations, one at national level in Sweden and one at the level of the European Union.

The first case concerns indicators on the fulfillment of the national transport policy objectives in Sweden. The case study explores the use and influence of an annual indicator based evaluation report produced by SIKA, an agency within the Swedish Department of Enterprise, Energy and Communications. SIKA existed until 2010, when it was replaced by a new agency with the same function, Transport Analysis. The SIKA reports were submitted to Government and Parliament to inform on progress with regard to the objectives and were also distributed to the wider public audience.

The second case deals with indicators used to perform a mid-term review in 2006 (Keep Europe Moving) of the European Commission's transport policy 2001 White Paper (Time to Decide). We study the use and influence of the partly indicator based study "ASSESS" conducted as a one-time effort undertaken by a group of consultants in close collaboration with the European Commission's DG TREN service (now DG MOVE) in the period 2005-2006.

In the paper we distinguish between use, influence and roles of indicators, as well as causes for use and influence. Indicators can have instrumental, conceptual, symbolic, and process roles. Drivers behind indicator use and influence are grouped in three areas that each provides sets of possible explanatory factors, namely indicator factors, user factors and policy. Both case studies are based on reviews of key policy documents and indicator reports, as well as semi-structured research interviews with selected informants (civil servants, politicians, experts) on both the indicator user and producer side.

Results from the study shows that in both cases indicators are used. In the Swedish case, indicators are used for the Budget proposition, in planning documents, by governmental agencies and external stakeholders in hearings, in the Swedish Department of Enterprise, Energy and Communications and to limited extent by politicians. Also in the EU case, indicators are used. Hence the ASSESS indicators were heavily applied in the midterm review, Keep Europe Moving and in the Impact Assessment of Keep Europe Moving.

When it comes to influence, the picture is more diverse. In the Swedish case, we do not find any influence through the instrumental role of indicators, but some degree of influence through the conceptual (civil servants' as well as politicians' reading of SIKA's indicator report impacts on their knowledge and awareness of specific topics), symbolic (the report in itself confirms political goals and values) and process roles (the existence of the SIKA report increases transport agencies awareness of performance). In the EU case, we do experience policy influence through the instrumental role of indicators (policy objectives are changed from 2001 White Paper to 2006-Mid-term review), while also some degree of influence through the process role was discovered (use of indicators in policy making in European transport policy was increased due to experiences with ASSESS).

As to causes of indicator use and influence, it seems that indicators attached to quantitative political objectives achieves more attention that indicators that are not, as also indicators including evaluation of goal achievement are more applied compared to indicators not including such evaluations (indicator factors). Involvement of policy makers in indicator design and production seems also to increase use and influence; establishing of trust seems to be important (user factors). Finally, the existence of a regime of management by objectives and results seems to increase use, but not necessarily influence of indicators (policy factors).


Association for European Transport