Adapting the feed, the animal and the feeding techniques to improve the efficiency and sustainability of monogastric livestock production systems
Adapting the feed, the animal and the feeding techniques to improve the efficiency and sustainability of monogastric livestock production systems

Deliverable D6.1 Report on Delphi Analysis of expert opinion on sustainability indicators

AFZ, CREDA, UPC, IRTA, WUR, Kaposvar University, Newcastle University
Publication date: 
28 June 2017
Full title: 
Deliverable D6.1 Report on Delphi Analysis of expert opinion on sustainability indicators
Publishing information: 
Feed-a-Gene, June 2017


The outputs from the activities described in this deliverable will enable sustainability assessments to be conducted on various technological innovations affecting monogastric livestock developed during the Feed-a-Gene project. Specifically D6.1’s objectives are:

  1. To identify appropriate sustainability indicators for the production systems proposed in the Feed-a-Gene project.
  2. To identify weighting values for the sustainability indicators.

These indicators and weights will be applied in later WP6 tasks in which sustainability assessments will be conducted.


The novel techniques developed during the Feed-a-Gene project are expected to produce a range of positive and negative impacts affecting the natural and social systems within which livestock production is carried out. To compare the sustainability of these novel techniques (and to each other and to a baseline) a common framework should be applied. In studies of sustainability, such a framework consists of a series of indicators selected to encapsulate salient parts of the systems that will potentially be affected by the driver of interest (production technology in this case). Though salient, indicators may not all be equally important in determining sustainability, and may be ascribed different weights. There are no ‘correct’ weighting factors, nor is there a single ‘correct’ set of indicators, as individuals have different views on the relative importance of potential indicators. Consequently an objective method is required to elicit the opinions of knowledgeable informants about appropriate indicators and indicator weights.

The Delphi method is an appropriate method where there is a lack of authoritative objective information, and instead the opinions of experts are sought. This flexible and commonly-used method has been described as a “systematic solicitation and collation of informed judgments on a particular topic“ (Turoff, 1970:149), which encourages the sharing and investigation of various points of view. Consequently, a two-round Delphi study of individuals professionally involved in some aspect of monogastric livestock production was performed to elicit their individual scores on the relative usefulness of a series of parameters for future deployment in sustainability assessments.

A Delphi study involves the administration of a series of questionnaires (or ‘rounds’) to participants. The Round 1 questionnaire for Feed-a-Gene was developed firstly by means of a literature review to identify candidate indicators for use in sustainability evaluation in livestock systems, and therefore of potential use in this study. Next, the survey instrument was tested during a stakeholder workshop in Aarhus, in April 2016, and subsequently refined. The final Delphi instrument consisted almost entirely of closed-choice questions and elicited information about the profession of respondents, knowledge of key areas, and scores relating to the perceived usefulness of a variety of economic, environmental and social indicators for assessing sustainability. A working definition of sustainability as ‘the long term viability of an activity’ was provided in the questionnaire. (See Annex 1.)
The Delphi questionnaire was administered by e-mail in five member states by Feed-a-Gene partners, and the first round achieved a sample size of 137, corresponding to a 36% response rate. The Round 2 questionnaire was very similar to the 1st Round questionnaire. As expected, there was modest attrition of the sample between the first and second rounds, reducing the sample size to 102.

Respondents were asked to rate the usefulness of the three dimensions of sustainability (economic, environmental and social) for evaluating the sustainability of livestock production, and the usefulness of individual indicators related to each domain using a 5-point rating scale (anchored between 1= ‘least useful’ and 5 = ‘most useful’). Mean scores for the usefulness of indicators and indicator groups (dimensions) were calculated. Overall, the highest-ranked dimension of sustainability was the Economic dimension (mean score of 4.51 out of 5), followed by Environmental (4.09) and then Social (3.75). Scores for individual indicators within each dimension were highest for those related to the financial viability of farming activities, reflecting the reality that farming is conducted by businesses, and the use of any technology will not continue in the future if farms cannot achieve profitability with it.

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