Sustainable Development Success Stories

Threshold 21 Project: National Capacity Building for Long-Term Sustainable Development Planning

Location  Malawi.
Responsible Organisation Millennium Institute; United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Malawi.

In 1998 the Malawi government completed its Vision 2020 Report, setting out the country’s official sustainable development goals for 2020. Three strategies were proposed as possible means for reaching these goals: poverty alleviation, social development and long term growth and development. After developing the strategies, Malawi sought an effective way to evaluate their merits in order to choose the option that would most fully meet the goals. The Millennium Institute, UNDP and the Malawi government jointly initiated Threshold 21 Modeling Project. T21 is a computer-based sustainable development analysis tool designed by the Millennium Institute, enabling users to evaluate alternative national strategies in an integrated fashion by linking a country’s environmental, economic and social sectors in a single, customized model. The long-term impacts of alternative strategies are compared, and the most sustainable of the available options are identified. T21 is user-friendly and transparent; it allows for open dialogue on various model assumptions and provides a forum for consensus building.

The Project was initiated in several stages:

  1. The Millennium Institute provided training to government staff members on operating T21, its capabilities and its limitations;

  2. Alternative strategies to be evaluated by the model were identified: the three strategies initially proposed by the government as well as a "combined" strategy, which incorporated elements of each of the initial alternatives;

  3. The group then collected data on key indicators and incorporated them into T21;

  4. Once the data were added, the project team developed a historical model of Malawi’s development, which enabled the team to project a "base-line" scenario to 2050, that predicts development impacts based on the country’s historical and current planning actions. Each of the four alternative strategies was then also projected to 2050 and compared to the base-line scenario and to each other.

Issues Addressed Capacity-Building.
Results Achieved The project team identified key strengths and weaknesses of each strategy proposed for reaching the Vision 2020 goals. While all proposed strategies projected better results than the base-line scenario, the model revealed difficulties in sustainability with each of the three initial alternatives. The combined strategy proved to be the best option for long-term sustainable development. By incorporating integrated investment objectives, the most balanced, sustainable scenario emerged. In addition to the analytical results, the government of Malawi gained the use of a powerful tool for evaluating development planning strategies and the skills to operate it. In Threshold 21, the government also gained an instrument for furthering dialogue on development alternatives and, ultimately, for building consensus on the nation’s long-term goals.
Lessons Learned
  • Cooperation among government, international partners and society is crucial in evaluating long-term development alternatives and in making decisions on sustainable strategies.

  • To understand the complex interrelationships of sustainable development, further improvement to the Threshold 21 model will be necessary, particularly to integrate analysis of transportation, communication, water management, and agriculture.


Kristen Barney
Operations Coordinator
Millennium Institute
2200 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 650
Arlington, Virginia 22201 USA
Phone: (703) 841-0048
Fax: (703) 841-0050
Email: kristenbarney@earthlink.net
Web: http://www.igc.apc.org/millennium