RMIT University researchers are developing a participatory toolkit for establishing local urban sustainability indicators.

The toolkit, Circles of Sustainability, is being developed in partnership with the UN Global Compact Cities Programme, which is based at RMIT.

It brings together city leaders, citizens groups and businesses to identify and debate critical issues and to set targets for progress towards sustainable development.

Developed through pilot projects in cities worldwide, the Circles of Sustainability method has been adopted as part of the UN Global Compact Cities Programme approach to resolving intractable urban development issues.

The pilot projects addressed issues such as sustainable tourism in French cities, sustainable urban planning in Mongolia and infrastructure for clean water in cities in India and the United States.

Professor Paul James, Director of RMIT's Global Cities Research Institute, said the last decade had seen enormous growth in the use of sustainability indicators.

"There are corporate-sustainability indices, city-liveability indices, community-sustainability indices, waste-disposal indices … the list goes on."

He said that developing an adequate indicator set had become a difficult task. The size, scope and number of indicator sets could cause an organisation to lose focus and not use available local resources that could support sustainable practices.

The Circles of Sustainability toolkit supports local communities in developing a means to track sustainable practices in relation to a global framework while encouraging the use of locally relevant quantitative with qualitative measures of sustainability.

It aims to balance economic and environmental sustainability concerns with the political and cultural dimensions of the issue.

When completed in 2013, the toolkit will be an open-access resource for governments, non-government organisations and businesses debating issues and actions required for sustainable urban development.

The Circles of Sustainability project team is led by Professor Paul James and includes contributions by Professor Lin Padgham and Associate Professor James Thom from RMIT's School of Computer Science and Information technology, Professor Hepu Deng from the School of Business IT and Logistics, and Research Fellows Dr Andy Scerri, Dr Liam Magee and Dr Sarah Hickmott.

The project is supported by industry partners FujiXerox Australia, Cambridge International College, Microsoft Australia, Angusta Systems and the City of Melbourne.