Community sustainable-development indicators: a useful participatory technique or another dead end?

This article undertakes a critical re-evaluation of a DFID-funded project in South Africa which ran between 1998 and 2001. The evaluation sought to test whether the development of community-led indicators would improve governance. Since the project ended, a series of papers have been published that are critical of such participatory methods, arguing particularly that they are apolitical and adopt a technocratic approach. In the light of these criticisms, this article re-assesses the DFID project, following on from the initial evaluation carried out by the author in 2001. Sobantu, a black township in Pietermaritzburg, was one of the original project sites. It was chosen as the subject of our research because the local implementing agency was a politically astute, well-connected institution that understood the political nature of the process required to develop the indicators. Although the project achieved some positive outcomes, the long-term commitment to the indicators has since been compromised. This was in large part due to the inability of community members to engage meaningfully with key municipal service providers. However, recent changes to the South African planning regime might provide opportunities for the indicators to become more useful again. pp223-234