The Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management ("Life Ministry") appointed an interdisciplinary group of independent experts to evaluate implementation activities under the Austrian Sustainability Strategy. In an international context, the "Life Ministry" has breaking new ground by applying an evaluation process to such a complex strategy. The evaluation has been jointly carried out by Adelphi Consult, the Freie Universität Berlin’s Environmental Policy Research Centre, and D-Coach. The evaluation process started in May 2005 and was finished in November 2005 with a comprehensive evaluation report.
The evaluation process aimed at assessing the impact of the Austrian Sustainability Strategy, applying criteria of efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and appropriateness to evaluate the implementation process, and evolving suggestions to improve the Strategy's effects and the institutions' effectiveness. The evaluation primarily focused on the implementation process, with a distinction made between implementation mechanisms (institutions and instruments involved in the Strategy's on-going implementation) and implementation activities (measures and projects to reach milestones). In contrast, the Strategy itself and the policy goals defined in it were not subject to the evaluation process.
The evaluation encompassed implementation measures and mechanisms from the time the Strategy was adopted, i.e., from April 2002 to May 2005, and comprised standardised assessment via questionnaires, a series of on-site interviews, and detailed research into the Sustainability Strategy's specific mechanisms and instruments. These included, for example, process steering in the "Life Ministry", the Committee for a Sustainable Austria, the Forum for a Sustainable Austria, Working Groups on planning and implementing key measures, interfaces with decentralised sustainability strategies and local Agenda 21 processes, the support measures data base, the working programme, the progress report, the indicator report, the monitoring mechanisms and the Internet platform.
The evaluation was structured as a participatory process and used workshops with representatives from selected implementation measures, from the states involved, and local Agenda 21 processes, as a basic element. Elucidating the "view from outside" by external evaluation and an "inside view" by consulting with the responsible stakeholders in the Austrian Sustainability Strategy enabled the innovation potential for future sustainable development in Austria to bear fruit.
A "Life Ministry" steering group and a project advisory board were accompanying the evaluation process. The advisory board included representatives from diverse stakeholder groups. The board's primary function was to offer detailed definitions of the issues, provide feedback on the findings from the current evaluation process, and bind the evaluation process into the particular network of stakeholders.