Making ‘Soft’ Economics a ‘Hard Science’: Planning Governance for Sustainable Development Through a Sustainability Compass

Part of the Cooperative Management book series (COMA)


Earlier research presented the need for a critical re-evaluation of economics in reference to its original definition of οἰκονομία (oikonomia) or ‘household management’, referring to the effective management and allocation of resources for meeting human needs. This is an attempt to reframe the concept of ‘hard economics’, into one which is holonic and rejects closed, oversimplified and anthropocentric valuation of goods and services according to individual utility and preference. Economics cannot be isolated from other natural systems but must incorporate hard evidence about them, integrating human and natural systems into a unique understanding. The approach aims at addressing the on-going conflict between human development and sustainability, and strives to develop social learning processes about systems’ sustainability and to generate criteria to support evidence-based decision-making. The emergence of empirical evidence is facilitated by multi-disciplinary social learning that integrates qualitative and quantitative information and knowledge from different fields of science.

This paper explores how this argument has been used to support the development of the Governance Assessment Matrix Exercise (GAME) matrix and tool-kit, from social learning about qualitative criteria of sustainability (based on the Five Capitals Model of Sustainability), to a Sustainability Compass that defines quantitative metrics for monitoring advancements towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The paper describes the background conceptual framework, as a harder vision of economics: this holonic vision of household management pursues an efficient and effective allocation of resources for addressing human needs, which is supported by cross-disciplinary knowledge integration and social learning rather than non-supported and non-informed expression of preference. The paper concludes by summarising this process and exploring how it might be developed further through the prototype Sustainability Compass and associated metrics that might be employed in the social learning that underpins policy-relevant and evidence-based decisions directed at the realisation of the SDGs. Possible further developments are being planned for complementing the Sustainability Compass with a meta-evaluation framework that assesses the qualitative level of the metrics for this purpose.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pellervo Economic Research PTTHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Institute of Energy and Sustainable DevelopmentDe Montfort UniversityLeicesterUK

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