GAIA: A Multi-Media Tool for Natural Resources Management and Environmental Education
GAIA addresses both issues of environmental planning and management as well as information technology. Its primary objective is to build multi-media tools for environmental education and management, in a collaboration of 10 countries from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
In collaboration with two European institutions and university partners from seven developing countries, the project will develop a client/server multi-media system for environmental education, using the EARSS system as its starting point. Developed both as a workstations version and an internet server, GAIA provides provide access to numerous case studies and examples of environmental issues, problems, and solutions, embedded in the framework of Agenda 21.
The GAIA Conceptual Framework
Environmental assessment address a broad range of diverse themes or topics. They need to be presented (but also compiled) within a consistent framework that ensures completeness and consistency of the information presented, both for educational as well as operational purposes. Different organizational frameworks have been developed, including:
As an inclusive combination of issues, topics or themes, resource sectors, media, and selected processes, the thirty plus chapter headings of the UNCED document Agenda 21 offer a widely accepted and well publicized framework and organizing principle. The selection and prioritization of these issues and topics, as well as their definition in terms of measurable indicators and their linkage to the underlying data and their relationships through environmental (but also socio-economic) processes is of central importance for any flexible but comprehensive SoE reporting approach.
As an information concept, issues are loosely defined; they are described in the language of policy rather than science. Issues are not, per se, directly measurable entities, but can rather be understood as a more or less loosely coupled set of indicators and their interpretation in a broader environmental and socio-economic and political context.
Indicators , however, are representing measurable entities, which may be described on either cardinal or ordinal scales. They can directly (although potentially with rather complex and involved methods) be based on observational or derived statistical data.
Issues can be defined in terms of (usually several) INDICATORS, through explicit or implicit rules depending on context such as time, space, and a cultural and socio-political framework.
INDICATORS are : Measurable properties of the environment, defined in a spatial, temporal, and policy context. Indicators are linked to issues through subjective interpretation and complex evaluation.
Indicators illustrate issues.
Indicators are derived from environmental DATA by simple algorithms such as summation, averaging, interpolation, based on subjective agreements of experts or a well defined regulatory framework of environmental standards and agreements.
DATA are (or are derived from): Direct measurements and observations, possibly involving automatic conversions or interpretation, in hardware, firmware, or routine procedures, usually based on well established theory.
The central concepts in GAIA are issues and their related indicators, illustrated by specific case studies. However, given the dynamic concept of sustainable development, many common indicators are inadequate. To quote Agenda 21, from Chapter 40, section 4: