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La vie des chiffres environnementaux

année académique

Titulaire(s) du cours

Wouter ACHTEN (Coordonnateur), Thomas BAULER, Yves DE SMET et Maria MANCILLA GARCIA

Crédits ECTS


Langue(s) d'enseignement


Contenu du cours

This course is telling different stories on the life of environmental numbers, indicators, data, evaluations, assessments, rankings… in order to introduce into the richness of different roles environmental numbers play in decision taking at different governance levels, in environmental changes and in socio-ecological transitions.

Environmental policymaking and decision-making – probably even more so than in other governance sectors – is extremely prone to rely heavily on the generation, discussion and use of all kinds of numbers. A simple number such as 1,5 or 2050 has acquired meaning in a very short time span for many people.

The course starts from the principle that numbers – like any object/subject of governance - have a shelf life; i.e. they are conceived, are born, grow through their crazy years before gaining some maturity and eventually fade away in terms of their importance to policy-making and decision-making. During their entire life, numbers are objects of promises, expectations, fraud, play, deceptions. And the perceptions on the natures and roles of numbers change sometimes drastically from actor to actor in line with the tension of the obvious double life of numbers: 1° a ratio-determined face, and 2° a socio-political face.

To favour our students’ self-learning of this double-sided character of numbers, the course includes a hands-on exercise with a multi-criteria decision-making process where students are generating their own multi-criteria based decision on a self-chosen situation.

The ratio-faced first part of the course will introduce into the classical life cycle of environmental numbers: 1) problem statements, 2) creations of numbers through evaluation methods/assessment methods, 3) further treatments of numbers (e.g. for decision support), 4) the uses of numbers (dissemination, sensibilization, …). In this part the assessment methods discussed previously in the curriculum will be revisited (such as LCA), and other methods and approached will be brought up; decision support methods will be discusses, and different forms of number-use will be shown.

The remainder of the first part will aim to showcase the life of numbers through case-study examples of different ‘quantification methods’ to which the students already got introduced to, but didn’t really see the full story of the life of these numbers. These can be summarized in 4 “subjects”:
-    Modeling and Prediction (climate, resource availability)
-    Eco-system services (values and valuation)
-    ODD and Donut Economy Indicators
-    Alternative practices in number creation: Co-creation, citizen science 

The socio-political second face of numbers will bring us to challenge and critically evaluate this ‘classical life cycle of numbers’: why certain numbers are created and taken into account in decision instances, and others not? how is that decided and by whom? is it decided and intentional? which actions can be really based on which numbers and how do we come from numbers to actions? what is the politics of the numbers, how do politics influence the life cycle of numbers?


  • Classical life cycle of environmental numbers
  • Revisiting MFA, IOA, LCA, PC&I, EIA, SEA, Footprining
  • Other sources of numbers: action research, citizen science, big data, (macro-economic)modelling and prediction, donut and ODD indicators, ecosystem services monetization and optimization
  • Decision support systems, with focus on multicriteria decision taking
  • Use of numbers: sensibilization, dissemination, consumer decisions, industry decisions, …
  • Politics, Sociology and History of environmental numbers

Objectifs (et/ou acquis d'apprentissages spécifiques)

The overall final aim is that the students

  • have an overview on the life cycle of numbers,
  • acquire knowledge on other ways to create numbers
  • acquire knowledge on decision support systems and practical competences on Multi-criteria decision analysis
  • develop a critical thinking around environmental numbers, and the different stages of their life.

Pré-requis et Co-requis

Connaissances et compétences pré-requises ou co-requises

- ENVI F 452
- ENVI F 409

Méthodes d'enseignement et activités d'apprentissages

The course will be a mix of ex cathedra seminars, case studies, interactions, invites speakers and practical work.
The course will be organised in interaction with the cours 'action for change' (ENVI F 004), and will be thought 'in bloc' with few, but intensive (complete mornings or complete after noons) contact moments spread over the semester in order to make the distinction between the classical life of environmental numbers, and the more non-classical life and critical reflexion on environmental numbers, and in order to allow sufficient time for the group work on multi-criteria analysis.

Contribution au profil d'enseignement

This cours will build further on previous course of the curriculum:
- ENVI F 452, ENVI F 438, ENVI F 409;
Will interact with the parallel course on action for change ENVI F 004; and
Could/Should feed into other works of ongoing bloc 2 courses like Projet Interdisciplinaire, QAGE (ENVI F 5001) and the master dissertation.

Support(s) de cours

  • Université virtuelle

Autres renseignements


Wouter Achten & Tom Bauler




Méthode(s) d'évaluation

  • Travail pratique
  • Examen écrit
  • Examen oral
  • Travail de groupe

Travail pratique

Examen écrit

Examen oral

Travail de groupe

The Evaluation will go in 3 steps:

  • Student groups will be asked to make a group work on a multicriteria problem, which they need to solve through the PROMETHEE software of Yves De Smet. This work will need to be submitted by the exam session and will be evaluated by Yves De Smet
  • Student groups will be made and put on one of the four “subjects” of the first bloc of the course. Each group needs to look up and select a specific “environmental number” in this “subject” and to have to write a vulgarizing publication (blog post, tik tok, Instagram, linked in post, infographique, sketchnote …) on this subject and number. The publication would need to cover the classical life of the number (following a similar structure as the structure that we will ask the teachers to structure their talk). Each student group will also be assigned another groups publication to critically discuss and challenge it during the TP sessions. The teachers will also challenge the groups, both on the bloc 1 aspects, as on the bloc 2 aspects (as a kind of ‘introduction’). The evaluation will be both on the submitted/published work, as on the interaction during the presentation and discussion session.
  • In the exam session a role play type of exam will be organized in which the students will be evaluated on both the course on numbers as on the course on action for change.

Construction de la note (en ce compris, la pondération des notes partielles)

Each of the 3 evaluation steps will represent 1/3 of the 20 points.

Langue(s) d'évaluation

  • français
  • (éventuellement anglais )