The Development of a Diagnosis Indicator-Based Assessment Tool and Its Application to Rural Settlements in the Region Montes de Maria in Colombia

The Development of a Diagnosis Indicator-Based Assessment Tool and Its Application to Rural Settlements in the Region Montes de Maria in Colombia

Rabya Yawar-Mehmood* Laura Garcia Rios Cathrin Zengerling Udo Dietrich

REAP Research Group (Resource Efficiency in Architecture and Planning), Hafen City University Hamburg, Hamburg 20457, Germany

Corresponding Author Email:
29 April 2019
24 May 2019
1 March 2020
| Citation



One of the most affected regions in Colombia in terms of social conflict, deforestation and loss of biodiversity is the region called Montes de Maria. In view of the current land restitution plan the trend of the environmental degradation is most likely to increase due to a higher demand of natural resources caused by the returning population that was displaced during the conflict. With the objective to develop a simple and quick method to diagnose the inefficient and environmentally unsustainable consumption and management of resources for domestic and agricultural purposes from households in that region, the most inclusive method is approached supported by a literature review. As a result, the indicator-based assessment tool pro.eraa was developed with the help of the reference certification tool Green Villages by IGBC of India, the Technical Advice by the One Planet Development of Wales, the local NBA as guidelines and the SDI’s of the SDGs. Pro.eraa consists of a total of 51 indicators in the four resource themes: water, energy, waste and activity. The fourth resource “Activity” was necessary to be added during the process due to the agricultural context of the region. Pro.eraa was validated and pre-tested on two sites (Huamanga and Chalan) in Montes de Maria. The tool serves as a decision-aid tool to support the selection of tailored and effective interventions that benefits efficiency and environmental sustainability in regard to the human well-being of the rural population as well as the local biodiversity. Apart from the design and validation process, the work includes a showcase application and evaluation of a site and instructions for implementation. During the literature review, it was particularly noted that the current state of the art literature lacks adequate indicator-based assessment or certification tools that lay the focus on sustainable rural development.


agricultural households, biodiversity, environmental impact, household-centered surveys, indicator-based assessment tools, post-conflict Colombia, resource efficiency, sustainable rural development

1. Introduction

One of the most affected regions in Colombia in terms of both guerilla activity and deforestation is the region called Montes de Maria, an isolated group of small mountains near the northern coast of the Colombian Caribbean. In this region over 90% of the original dry forest has been lost [1]. As indicated, moreover, Montes de María is one of the regions with the greatest impact in violence and displacement due to the armed conflict. Under the Marke-D project, the Colombian foundation Fondo Patrimonio Natural (hereafter: Patrimonio) aims to re-enhance the biodiversity through the establishment of a green corridor. For this, multiple macro projects for farmers shall be allocated in the Montes de Maria region. This requires a baseline data acquisition of the existing situation of resources of households regarding water, energy, waste and activity. To facilitate this, a tool is developed and validated on site in the framework of the thesis, which will enable Patrimonio to increase the understanding of the resources’ demand, its management and efficiency for domestic and non-domestic (such as agricultural) activities. The allocated activity task for the HafenCity University is to ‘carry out a diagnosis of the efficiency performance of the resources of rural households’ (translated from Spanish from the official project documents). The tool diagnoses the problem of the investigated areas to allow a customized solution. Ideally, the tool shall serve any project as a decision-aid tool that aims to identify the resource efficiency of households in settlements.

In consensus with Patrimonio, the brief for the study implied the tool to provide the following criteria:

  • Be able to quickly collect and compare baseline data
  • Be able to highlight areas of good or bad performance, preferably on site
  • Ability to monitor by comparing before and after values of the assessed area
  • Allow comparison of performances with other areas
  • Be easily applicable, replicable and capable of being monitored in house
  • Be applicable across a range of spatial levels – from the smallest, most scattered hamlet to larger market towns
  • Invest as little as possible resources such as time, capital and staff
  • Consider local climatic conditions and settings

Therefore, the specific objective of the thesis is to develop a simple and quick method to diagnose the inefficient and unsustainable consumption and management of resources from households in Montes de Maria in form of a decision-aid tool in order to enable the implementation of a tailored and effective solution that provide human well-being and biodiversity benefits.

In each of the four resources water, energy, waste and activity, targets will be defined in the process of the tool design that serve the specific objective.

This paper is based on a collaborative thesis work by two students of the Master program Resource Efficiency in Architecture and Planning at the HafenCity University in Hamburg, Germany. In cooperation with Fondo Patrimonio Natural, a four-weeks field study was carried out in March 2018 to validate and refine the pilot tool by collecting data in two suitable sites in Colombia.

2. Methods of Design and Validation
3. Results

Based on applied research the final product of this practical oriented study is an indicator based assessment tool for resource efficiency in agricultural households in Montes de Maria.

The tool analyses the state of the art of the access, supply, demand and management of the resources water, energy, waste and activity. It consists of 16 criteria with 21 indicators for water, 7 criteria with 8 indicators for energy, 10 criteria with 11 indicators for waste and 10 criteria with 11 indicators for activity. In retrospect, the research reviewed that designing and implementing an appropriate indicator-based assessment tool for resource efficiency can be challenging and requires the consideration of the following aspects:

  • Reference tools can provide a helpful guidance on the design of assessment tools. A research framework can help identify appropriate reference tools.
  • Benchmarking indicators is the most challenging component of the design process. It requires an individual research for each indicator and some indicators are designed to establish a benchmarking with every new data input.
  • Developing questionnaire requires a design process of its own. Sufficient time shall be dedicated for the design of the questionnaires with research for appropriate model questionnaires.
  • The most important criterion for designing the indicators is the accessibility and availability of data.
  • Coming from a locally known institution like Patrimonio was massively helpful during the field trip in terms of orientation, existing contacts to the local community leaders and the provision of suitable interviewers. This granted us credibility towards the household owners and their willingness to participate in the survey.
  • Planning a workshop is a complex matter that requires time, costs and experienced staff and an announcement sufficient time ahead.
  • The quality of the data obtained depends on the proper design of the survey and a good knowledge transfer and training of the interviewers.
  • The involvement of the local authority should not be taken for granted and need to be strategically planned. However, the tool has to be designed to function also in cases of inaccessibility of the local authority.
  • To run a show case study is not only demonstrative for the future tool users but also helps to mirror your own work and results.
  • A new tool comes with expectations and interests from different stakeholders. The first step is to establish a consensus of the purpose and objectives of the tool.
  • The idea of a fully automatic tool is unrealistic. A certain amount of structure and means are necessary, and a basic understanding of resource efficiency for the interviewers is essential.
  • The interdisciplinary nature of the tool caused for some indicators an unclear assignment to one resource.
4. Final Discussion

The methodological approach determined the most inclusive method to measure and assess the resource efficiency performance of agricultural households in Montes de Maria in Colombia to be an indicator-based assessment tool. This tool was developed in a quantitative research based on a literature review from which guiding reference materials were derived. A negative finding in this phase was the research gap of sustainability assessment methods for rural areas.

The tool serves the main purpose to produce rapid findings at relatively low effort while enabling the monitoring of local-level projects. Apart from the operational limitation laid out in section 2.6, the tool can also only be applied in the agricultural context. However, it is geographically flexible and can be split by sector/resource.

Indicator-based assessment is in essence an approach to convert qualitative information into numerical data in order to evaluate the state-of-the-art and make it comparable. the quantification of information is in every case related to a loss of qualitative or local-specific information. The key issues in the process of the tool development were to find the balance between the amount of quantification of local-specific information and the requirement to have a faster and a more comparable diagnosis from which the approach of a community-based participation also suffers from. Ways on how to include the concerned local communities must be factored in during the selection of intervention phase. Another key issue is the process of weighting assignment that is vulnerable to ambiguity due to its subjective nature. Derived mainly from the intention to not prioritize neither environmental nor human indicators, our approach of assigning equal weighting factors solved this issue partially. Lastly, the data obtained states and does not explain a static condition with some exceptions that requires a manual causation, such as no energy consumption due to no access to electricity. In most cases though, it does not explain i.e. the low consumption of energy. This leads to what we have seen in the case of Huamanga: The tool does not reflect political or social situation and assesses the low consumption for electricity as positively sustainable when the household cannot afford electrical appliances. This means, the tool does not serve as a proxy for social variables.

On a large scale, sustainability indicators are a proven method for driving sustainable urban development as a progress-measurement tool or static sustainability diagnostic. This research shows that indicator-based assessment tools can very well provide simple, measurable evidence needed to create and maintain rural areas that are environmentally sustainable, promote long-term biodiversity benefits, as well as provide prosperity in regard to the well-being of their residents.


This work is supported by the Foundation Fondo Patrimonio Natural and is part of the Marke-D project. The Marke-D project aims to increase conservation areas and implement a sustainable management of the Tropical Dry Forest in the areas with a great biological significance in Montes de Maria. Main funds come from the program Riqueza Natural (USAID). As a strategy the non-profit foundation will implement corridors of conservation, that will be protexted areas by a network of households with agreements of conservation and sustainable practices with efficient use of the resources. The development of the tool in this work is an activity task of the Marke-D project.   


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