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A multitude of farm-level sustainability assessment tools (SATs) exists, reflecting a variety of agricultural practices and sustainability perceptions. Tools differ and insight is lacking about how they match with farmers’ needs. This paper examines whether and how existing SATs focus on the farmer’s strategic decision-making. The potential of the SATs to direct farmers towards more sustainable management is analysed with a focus on their implementation and the farmers’ decision-making process. Based on the published SAT characteristics and on interviews with the tool developers, we classified 18 SATs in a two-dimensional framework. One axis reflects the overall complexity of the SATs, i.e. time required for the entire assessment process; type of assessment, indicators and data, and thematic coverage. The other axis reflects the steps in the farmer’s strategic decision making process, i.e. assessment, interpretation, development of improvement strategies, their implementation, and monitoring of results. We make three main observations: (1) many SATs lack a focus on the implementation of the assessment’s results and thus provide only a weak link to the farmers’ strategic decision making; (2) over its lifetime, a SAT’s complexity may evolve, causing it to shift to another complexity level; (3) a diversity of goals was found at each level of complexity. These observations allow us to conclude that SATs are gradually becoming more farm or farmer focused, offering more context specificity and flexibility. The farm(er) focus and the support for strategic decision-making play a central role in the adoption of sustainable practices if there is sufficient interaction between farmers, advisors and experts. Future research should therefore focus on integrating support for farmers’ strategic decision-making in (further) development of SATs and in their implementation process.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEcological Indicators
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2020

ID: 8133565