In order to implement policies towards sustainable development indicators are widely discussed to promote action in this direction. In addition, in many strategic documents on sustainable development (e.g., EU documents) the importance of the development and use of indicators is pointed out. In this context indicators are meant to be used to support political decision making as well as to evaluate measurements towards sustainable development. In this article the development and use of indicators is questioned considering their contextualisation and, hence, their relationship to existing institutions. Incorporating some of the main results from an analysis of a regeneration programme in the London Borough of Southwark and from the analysis of the Climate Protection Programme in the city of Vienna, which are two of the case studies examined during an EU funded project called PASTILLE (Promoting Action for Sustainability through Indicators at the Local Level in Europe), indicators are seen as dynamic sites of conflict and co-operation between policy actors. Different groups of actors have diverse expectations or objections to this instrument. Indicators are, for example, tools to augment transparency. Concerning certain institutional traditions this characteristic could explain opposition to them. Indicators are meant to be another opportunity for shaping the network of relationships, forging new relationships or reinforcing old ones. They are perceived as a means by which actors seek to exercise power, retain status and strive towards policy goals. The stability and fluidity of existing structures of governance will, therefore, be central factors in determining the history and future of indicators promoting actions towards sustainable development. To put it differently, the central question of our paper is how the nature of institutions of governance is shaping the use and development of indicators. © 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers.
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