Indicator development methodology for volunteer tourism in host communities: creating a low-cost, locally applicable, rapid assessment tool
Two prominent critiques of volunteer tourism are that it is a top-down imposed form of development treating host communities as passive recipients of international aid, and that the impacts of volunteer tourism in host communities are not systematically evaluated. To address this we identified a pre-existing participatory methodology for assessing community sustainability (the compass of sustainability) and adapted it as a rapid low-cost indicator tool for volunteer tourism impact evaluation. We created and tested a development methodology that could be applied through local community workshops by local people and sending organizations within each unique host community, and repeated over time. Testing took place in five contrasting communities hosting volunteer tourism in Ecuador and Costa Rica. Each workshop generated and organized numerous indicators of community welfare, categorized into nature, economy, society and personal well-being. Interrelations were identified among the indicators to promote a systemic understanding of community well-being. Indicators were prioritized and strategies for measuring impacts were discussed to encourage the establishment of accomplishable goals. Evaluation of the compass method as a tool for community participation in indicator development is discussed as a potential facilitator for local voices and the construction of “third spaces” in volunteer tourism.