Regions of urban networks and their hinterlands are complex, dynamic systems. Economic, socio-cultural and political-administrative forces largely determine the dynamics. There are correlations between economic progress, quality of life and ecosystem biodiversity with positive and negative feedback mechanisms. What is the action perspective for administrators in this complex force field?

A compass for decision making

Scientific knowledge is constantly renewing itself through advancing evidence and understanding. Science provides new knowledge and explanations for economic success, quality of life and biodiversity conservation. At the same time, discussions take place in public institutions and the media about the background of societal problems and the desired action perspective. Coalitions of social groups organise themselves around specific action perspectives. Strong coalitions manage to reach a consensus on a sustainable long-term perspective. Unexpected geopolitical and social twists can speed up or (temporarily) slow down this process. A dashboard with a limited number of indicators can give managers a foothold and provide a compass for making choices.

Critical Performance Indicators

A dashboard with critical performance indicators (KPI) helps keep a ‘finger on the pulse’. These indicators provide guidance when making crucial policy decisions. Strategic long-term goals, such as the transition to a low-carbon economy and biodiversity conservation, are the starting point for formulating a set of operational intermediate targets. With a limited set of indicators, tracking progress towards achieving long-term goals is possible. The long-term action perspective for the regional economy, quality of life and biodiversity conservation is the starting point for defining a set of indicators.

The deployment of instruments and measures is left to the political-societal debate. Influencing decision-making is done by political-social groups that manage to reach a consensus on a broadly supported action perspective. A change in a positive sense of the critical performance indicators means that policy choices and measures work and long-term goals come closer. If no change is visible, additional measures will be on the table.

Selection of indicators

Selecting critical performance indicators can be quite a puzzle. The challenge is to strike a balance between three often conflicting functions of indicators: an empirical-scientific, a political and a communicative function. Indicators should be reliable and measure what they are supposed to measure. Mathematical models and data should be reliable and accurately reflect reality. The availability of good data is essential.

Indicators should be acceptable to politicians and consistent with their political or policy ambitions. From a communication point of view, limiting the number of indicators per domain is essential. Limiting the number of indicators is necessary to see ‘the wood for the trees’. ‘Less can be more. The dashboard is flexible. The choice of indicators can consider what characterises a particular region, the region’s DNA.