This thesis develops a context-sensitive framework for local community-based sustainable development monitoring in Tigray, northern Ethiopia. Tigray has a predominantly rural livelihood system based upon ox-plough rain-fed farming that is strongly dependent on surrounding natural resources. Tigray suffers recurrent droughts and was one of the most affected regions from nearly two decades of civil war in Ethiopia that ended in 1991. There is a need to monitor whether the extensive livelihood activities and vigorous rehabilitation and development efforts since the end of the civil war are leading towards an ideal of sustainable development.
Concepts relevant to the purpose of this thesis such as rural development, sustainability and sustainable development are reviewed in the context of the study area. A mix of bottom-up and top-down rural development approaches, and not a neat fit to either of the two, captures what is currently happening in Tigray. A distinction is made between sustainability and sustainable development in contrast to interchangeable usage in the literature. Sustainability refers to a system's ability to continue into the future, while sustainable development is a wider process of livelihood and natural systems improvement in terms of a multiple set of goals including sustainability, intra and inter-generational equity.
Grounded theory and critical systems thinking are employed as complementary research approaches in the study. Informed by critical systems thinking, two basic demands of grounded theory methodology are modified. The demands are the suspension of a priori assumptions from interfering with inductive theory development and that theory has to emerge around a single core problem of the inquiry. The first modification is to employ critical systems thinking to make a critical effort in explicating the a priori assumptions that inevitably enter theory development, instead of attempting an impossible task of suspension. The second modification, important in dealing with multi-systems inquiry, is recognising the possibility, indeed desirability, of developing an inductive theory with multiple and interconnected core issues. Using modified grounded theory methodology, a substantive model was developed that helps understand the dynamics of the livelihood and natural systems of the case study area. The substantive model has two triad sets of interrelated core concepts. The first triad set contains endowment, entitlement and entrustment. This conceptual triad represents the relationship between what resources and services are available (endowment), what are accessed through rights (entitlement) and what are contributed, transferred and refrained from through duties (entrustment). The second triad set is of institutions, interventions, and perturbations that determine entitlements and entrustments, and influence endowments. The substantive model hypothesises that the natural system of the case study area displays a predominantly nonequilibrium behaviour and thus uncertainty, requiring adaptive and flexible livelihood systems. The substantive model expands the notion of institutions in development studies by defining them not only as mechanisms of reducing social dilemmas, but also as ways of dealing with uncertainty in relations between society and nature. The concept of entrustment extends the entitlement theory of famine by introducing the need to examine duties entrusted upon social actors. The concept of entrustment also allows understanding the morality of designs, actions and institutions that mediate and express relations within and between generations.
A monitoring framework is developed with the substantive model as its core to ensure relevance. Dialogue that involves the community and experts is the central modus operandi of the monitoring framework. Making dialogue central to sustainable development monitoring contrasts with the development and organisation of indicators that is the major preoccupation of contemporary frameworks and indeed the original intention of this study. The change from indicators to dialogue is the result of learning and insights form critical review of contemporary frameworks and a systems-based sustainable development perspective. The learning is that using indicators as the central tools, contemporary monitoring-frameworks tend to exclude ordinary citizens because of the technical expertise requirement. A critical systems based understanding of sustainable development articulates the primacy of ethics and the legitimacy of involvement of all concerned citizens in sustainable development monitoring. Dialogue facilitates the explication of assumptions and judgments that are constitutive of the monitoring process. It changes the aim of sustainable development monitoring with regard to the public from informing to co-learning. Co-learning can directly influence previous and subsequent designs and actions towards sustainable development.
Tools from critical systems heuristics are proposed to enhance a local mechanism for collective reflection and evaluation known as gem-gam. Iteration of this case study is suggested in the development and application of the monitoring framework to other localities of Tigray.