A framework for process indicators to monitor for sustainable development: Practice to an urban water system

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Although very often used, the concept of sustainable development has not yet been perceived pragmatically. Due to its process nature, in this paper, we argue that sustainable development is a process in which the essential feedback loops, or Viability Loops as we name them, in the system in question are kept healthy and functional. This process deals with evolutionary changes with the end point not known in advance. According to this perception, measurement of sustainable development does not make sense. Rather, we should look for the process indicators to monitor systems for sustainable development. The purpose of the paper is to develop a methodology to deal with monitoring systems for sustainable development and its practice in an urban water system. Using a system dynamics approach, the paper adopts a systemic monitoring framework based on the idea of Viability Loops to define process indicators to monitor systems for sustainable development. To illustrate the application of the framework, its practice in the urban water system of Tehran, the capital of Iran, is provided as an example. The example of the urban water supply system of Tehran is given as a case study, albeit with some unavailable data. Here, four typical viability loops are discussed. The results of this application show that the flows of informative signals are lacking. Adopting the process indicators, we can see the gaps between the public perceptions of water abundance, the costs of water provision and energy utilizations, and what is going on in the reality are getting wider. That indicates that the viability loops are not functional enough to produce effective changes to offset the reinforcing mechanisms. The sustainable development of the system is impaired due to the persistence of those reinforcing mechanisms.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Water Engineering


  • sustainable development, process indicators, monitoring, measurement, evolutionary processes, viability loops, system, urban water
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-161
JournalEnvironment, Development and Sustainability
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch