Evaluation and environmental governance: the institutionalisation of ecological footprinting
This paper applies insights from actor-network theory to extend our understanding of the influence of evaluation techniques in decision making. Rather than assuming that evaluation is influential because of the intrinsic methodological veracity of the technique—that is, because it measures ‘the truth’ of our environmental predicament—it is more useful to view the adoption of evaluation tools in terms of their contested translation into decision-making settings. This is demonstrated by the growing use of the ‘ecological footprint’ (EF), which has been presented as a methodologically robust yet intuitive tool for guiding decisions. By following the use of the EF within a UK local government setting (Cardiff Council), one can see that its influence depended only partly on claims to technical credibility; it also depended upon an array of other institutional and personal commitments. The extent to which the EF was translated into policy settings reflected the way in which it had been institutionalised as an ‘obligatory passage point’ (after Latour) in decision-making arrangements, and careful representation of the implications of footprint measures. Overall, the credibility of the EF—as with other evaluation techniques—can be seen as a complex product of internal properties and institutional settings, but also of wider network-building activities which seek to cement the status of footprint calculations.
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