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Key characteristics for tool choice in indicator-based sustainability assessment at farm level

Fleur Marchand, Social Sciences Unit, Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO); Ecosystem Management Research Group and IMDO, University of Antwerp
Lies Debruyne, Social Sciences Unit, Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO)
Laure Triste, Social Sciences Unit, Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO)
Catherine Gerrard, The Organic Research Centre
Susanne Padel, The Organic Research Centre
Ludwig Lauwers, Social Sciences Unit, Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO); Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Ghent


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Although the literature on sustainability assessment tools to support decision making in agriculture is rapidly growing, little attention has been paid to the actual tool choice. We focused on the choice of more complex integrated indicator-based tools at the farm level. The objective was to determine key characteristics as criteria for tool choice. This was done with an in-depth comparison of 2 cases: the Monitoring Tool for Integrated Farm Sustainability and the Public Goods Tool. They differ in characteristics that may influence tool choice: data, time, and budgetary requirements. With an enhanced framework, we derived 11 key characteristics to describe differences between the case tools. Based on the key characteristics, we defined 2 types of indicator-based tools: full sustainability assessment (FSA) and rapid sustainability assessment (RSA). RSA tools are more oriented toward communicating and learning. They are therefore more suitable for use by a larger group of farmers, can help to raise awareness, trigger farmers to become interested in sustainable farming, and highlight areas of good or bad performance. If and when farmers increase their commitment to on-farm sustainability, they can gain additional insight by using an FSA tool. Based on complementary and modular use of the tools, practical recommendations for the different end users, i.e., researchers, farmers, advisers, and so forth, have been suggested.

Key words

farm level; full assessment; rapid assessment; sustainability assessment tool; tool choice

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087