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Effective Metrics

Metrics Matter

Metrics are central to any serious change process, large or small. One of the most pressing areas for societal transformation is the need to adapt our economies to the foreseeable challenges of resource decline and climate change. Despite receiving significant media attention, progress in this area has been minimal, and conditions have generally worsened. This performance gap significantly increases the risk of substantial societal harm.

Several factors contribute to this lack of progress. One notable issue is the absence of effective metrics. For metrics to make an impact, they must possess qualities such as factual accuracy, relevance, and the ability to empower their users.

Unfortunately, very few metrics in this domain meet all three fundamental criteria. Some metrics rely on shaky scientific foundations or offer limited relevance to the challenges at hand. Yet, perhaps the most common limitation among these metrics is their failure to empower their audiences and make their lives more wonderful; most tend to be burdensome rather than attractive for their audiences.

Making metrics attractive

While it is hard to tell how metrics will succeed, it is easier to understand why others have not. That’s an important start. For that I use a tautological set of conditions that metrics need to meet to be effective. With tautology, I mean a statement that is true in every possible interpretation. It is based on mathematical logic, self-evident and universally valid.

The three tautological conditions for effective metrics are:

  1. Fact based. Metrics must be grounded in scientifically testable evidence. If not, they are not evidence based, lack credibility and may be misleading, disqualifying them from consideration.

  2. Relevant. If metrics are not relevant to the challenges at hand, they are evidently irrelevant, which disqualifies them.

  3. Empowering. This means the audience feels better off accepting the metric than rejecting it. [1] It enhances their own motivation to use that information. Metrics that do not empower individuals are ineffective, as they lead to resistance rather than acceptance.


It’s important to note that what constitutes empowerment may vary depending on the context. For instance, while passing a driving test may not initially feel empowering, if it grants access to something desired (like driving privileges), then it can be considered empowering.[2]

By accepting these conditions, we can evaluate existing metrics, identify ways to improve them, and offer guidance on constructing effective metrics that can expedite the necessary transformation.

Advancing effective, and therefore also attractive, metrics is immensely significant and urgent, as deficient metrics can lead to costly consequences for society. Metrics that are disempowering can be even more damaging than having no metrics at all, as they foster resistance rather than transformation.

«Metrics that don't empower will most likely become counterproductive»

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A final note

While metrics are essential, they are not everything. Focusing solely on what is measurable may cause us to overlook what is truly important, such as love, trust, beauty, and joy. However, the absence of metrics can also lead to unaccountable behavior and destructive consequences.

Which effective, and therefore also attractive, metrics in the sustainability space have you encountered? Let me know!


[1] Whether something is empowering can be observed through the audiences’ uptake. When more people reject or fight it, rather than seeking out more information, then the metric is not empowering.

[2] For metrics that do not have the same binding backing as in the case of driver tests offered by government agencies, for instance, making metrics empowering takes extra effort. The reality for sustainability metrics is that they operate mostly in a voluntary space. But it is still tautologically true that if it is preferable for audiences to reject rather than embrace the metric (meaning the metric is not empowering), it cannot be effective.

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