Sustainable Research: Accentuating the Human Dimension, and Proposals for an Integrative Sustainable Development Implementation Framework

Jerry Kolo


There is a tendency for sustainable development (SD) research, policies and programs to focus primarily on technological and economic growth strategies for achieving the intent and ideals of SD. Far reaching as the effects of such strategies are, this paper contends that there is a fundamental aspect of the sustainability challenge that is often underestimated in SD discourse or research and planning. This dimension is the human dimension. Put simply, the SD challenge is necessarily a human issue, and initiatives to address the world’s SD challenge must factor in the human element at every stage and facet. This paper posits that two core issues of the human dimension are enlightenment and engagement. The former is the ability and capacity of stakeholders to grasp the SD challenge, its implications for their lives and their roles and responsibilities in addressing the challenge. The latter is meaningful involvement of all stakeholders in the process of addressing the SD challenge. Using Africa as an example, the paper argues that SD initiatives on the continent remain hampered by the gross ‘ignorance’ and non-involvement of the vast majority of stakeholders about and in local, national and international SD initiatives aimed at improving people’s quality of life. The paper challenges the adequacy of the classical Brundtland Commission’s 3-E principles of SD planning (environment, economy, equity) and proposes a more integrative planning framework, termed sustainability pentagon, which adds two E-principles (enlightenment and engagement) to the classical three. The essence of these two extra principles is that citizen awareness and participation must be integral components of any SD policy, program, technology or initiative that aims to be cost-effective. The paper concludes that, in Africa, most SD initiatives have failed and the way forward must shift the paradigmatic framework for SD planning and implementation. The sustainability pentagon is an example of a promising pragmatic and culturally relevant framework.


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