Greater Melbourne
City Portrait

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Making the City Portrait

Detailed methodology

The City Portrait for Greater Melbourne began to take shape in 2021. Since then, Regen Melbourne has collaborated with a monumental range of partners to plot Greater Melbourne against Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics framework. Some of that collaboration is visualised in the below graphic, though it’s worth noting that it isn’t just collaboration that counts here – it’s the quality and depth of our relationships that have led to the City Portrait coming together.

Origins of the Melbourne Doughnut

The Melbourne Doughnut – adapted from Doughnut Economics to reflect Greater Melbourne’s local context – emerged out of a community-led research project that also led to the formation of Regen Melbourne.

Exploring Doughnut Economics in Melbourne

In the midst of the prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, a small group of visionary individuals and organisations came together to ask what this period could mean for Melbourne, and how they, as citizens, could serve our city better.

Acknowledging the significant hardship endured during lockdowns and the profoundly unequal way this was distributed and felt in the community, participants asked: How could this experience act as an accelerator towards a more regenerative, safe and just future for our city?

In order to guide this conversation, and to activate a broader community, organisers decided to embrace Doughnut Economics and the City Portrait methodology for localising this framework, which were gaining traction in other cities around the world. This epic community-based research process explored what a regenerative Melbourne could look like.

Centering lived experience at the outset also allowed for reflection on the Doughnut Economics model itself and how it would need to be adapted to Melbourne’s context should a full, data-centric City Portrait proceed.

As reflected in Regen Melbourne’s foundational 2021 report, Towards a Regenerative Melbourne (p. 16):

“The purpose of the work presented here is threefold. Firstly, it is to explore the appropriateness and adaptability of the Doughnut Economics model to Melbourne’s unique context. Secondly, it is to develop preliminary community insights around a regenerative future for Melbourne. And thirdly, it is to explore the value of a unique network-based collaborative methodology to surface key findings and recommendations for our road ahead.

To achieve the above we have combined the Doughnut Economics City Portrait methodology and a unique community engagement model. Over the past six months we have convened five interactive community forums, undertaken 15 leadership interviews, held six roundtables and conducted countless hours of data analysis. This has involved more than 500 citizens of Melbourne.”

A visual outline of the community research process can be seen below, and a full documentation of the methodology can be found on page 48 of Towards a Regenerative Melbourne.

Methodology from the Towards a Regenerative Melbourne report

This experience, out of which Regen Melbourne was born, generated countless insights on the everyday lived experience of more than 500 Melbournians. Through multiple forms of convening, including a five-week series of virtual workshops that provided many participants with an outlet for connection and expressing hope for the city beyond the long lockdowns, an initial alliance of individuals and organisations emerged, many of whom continue to be involved in Regen Melbourne’s work.

As concluded in Towards a Regenerative Melbourne (p. 8):

“The Doughnut Economics methodology, when downscaled to Melbourne’s context, serves as a powerful new compass for our city. The Doughnut model is highly adaptable and creates the space for impactful community-led conversations about our future. The Doughnut model provided the right framework for the right time as Melbourne emerged from our COVID-19 lockdowns.”

Comparison of the original Doughnut and the Melbourne Doughnut

Shaping the Melbourne Doughnut

While embracing Doughnut Economics as a model, Regen Melbourne and its emergent alliance also adapted the framework slightly to create the ‘Melbourne Doughnut’ to more fully reflect our city’s systems and character.

First, three modifications to Social Foundation dimensions emerged:

  • The ‘Networks’ dimension was divided into ‘Mobility’ and ’Access to Information’ to distinguish between different types of networks based on their purpose and physical characteristics. This seemed particularly important at a time when physical mobility was severely constrained by COVID-19 lockdowns, but digital connectivity and new information sharing channels were rapidly evolving.
  • The scope of ’Gender Equality’ was extended to explore diversity and equality in multiple forms. The Melbourne Doughnut refers to ‘Equality in Diversity,’ which feels important given Greater Melbourne’s cultural diversity and the need to ensure that all people have the opportunity to thrive in our city. This language has also been adopted by the Doughnut Economics Action Lab.
  • Links between arts and culture and Melbourne’s identity were referred to more often than perhaps any other theme throughout the community workshops and interviews. It became clear that a Melbourne Doughnut would be incomplete without an ‘Arts & Culture’ dimension, including a nod to both the sector in a formal sense and the ways in which cultural experiences are baked into Melburnians’ daily lives.

Second, throughout the workshops, it became clear that strong and vibrant communities and interpersonal relationships are part of all dimensions of the Social Foundation. Delivering on each dimension of the Social Foundation in a technical sense, but without strong social connection, won’t guarantee that we will thrive as a society - especially considering the severity of the challenges we currently face and expect to see grow. As such, the Melbourne Doughnut includes ‘Community & Relationships’ as part of what is required to enter the Safe and Just Space for Humanity that the Doughnut seeks to achieve; this is shown on the interior thick green line, forming a threshold between meeting basic needs and entering a truly regenerative space.

Likewise, a strong connection to nature was identified as a precursor to our collective ability to respect the Planetary Boundaries. With this in mind, the Melbourne Doughnut includes ‘Reconnecting to Nature’ on the exterior thick green line, forming an ecological threshold for entering the regenerative space.

Most importantly, an additional element was incorporated into the Melbourne Doughnut, Healing and Reconnecting to Country and Each Other, what some call the ‘jam’ in the Doughnut. This seeks to illustrate the fluid and integrated nature of the framework and the inherent connections between people and planet. It points to the perspectives and fundamental role of First Nations people in shaping the past, present and future of our city, and also extends beyond this to point to the need that we all have to be connected and grounded in place.

As part of the City Portrait platform development in 2022-23, the original Melbourne Doughnut from 2021 was updated and refreshed to reflect evolution in its character.

Social Foundation

The dimensions of the Social Foundation were adapted to a Melbourne context through a groundbreaking six-month collaborative approach drawing on the knowledge of experts from academia, government and industry.


Aligned collective effort and investment to meet basic human needs at global, national and sub-national scales has been a hallmark of international diplomacy and human rights efforts in the 21st century.

Beginning with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, global leaders recognised that we have the resources and responsibility to ensure that all people can live healthy and meaningful lives. Upon their expiration in 2015, the MDGs were replaced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are currently active and set to achieve ambitious targets for humanity by 2030.

More locally, efforts have emerged to support aligned measurement of social outcomes. At a national level, the Australian Government released its Measuring What Matters framework in July 2023. In Melbourne, the City of Melbourne has undertaken a rigorous process to localise the SDGs.

In the original global Doughnut, the Social Foundation dimensions are based on the SDGs to demonstrate alignment with this globally-agreed and familiar framework and to reinforce the importance of these elements. The Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) further defines the dimensions as they are applied in the Doughnut in its tool Doughnut Unrolled: Dimensions of the four lenses.

Social Foundation assessment scoping

The first phase of City Portrait development focused on creating profiles to more deeply describe each dimension of the Social Foundation in the Melbourne Doughnut and to identify associated indicators for quantitative assessment at a local level (the Local-Social lens of a City Portrait).

Localising the Social Foundation dimensions required both the description and assessment associated with each to be appropriate and easily understood in a Melbourne context. For example, in some parts of the world, access to basic services (such as healthcare, water or electricity) may be limited by a lack of physical infrastructure. In Melbourne, physical infrastructure is present but individual access may be constrained by cost. In addition, target-setting for each dimension needed to reflect local, state and national policy settings, among other place-specific factors.

Based on these considerations, Regen Melbourne identified key questions for exploration:

  • How do we understand and experience each dimension in Melbourne in ways that might be different from other parts of the world?
  • How can we describe the dimensions in a way that is meaningful for a broad audience, ranging from sector experts to people unfamiliar with each topic?
  • What are the current and ideal future states related to each dimension in our city?

To test responses to these questions and identify possible framing and measurement for the City Portrait, Regen Melbourne partner Point Advisory undertook a desktop review of potential outcomes and indicators for each dimension. This provided a valuable initial perspective on which dimensions would be more or less straightforward to describe and measure, as well as a repository of relevant data sources.

This initial phase of work to assess the Social Foundation quantitatively focused on Melbourne’s wellbeing at a local level, theLocal-Social lens of a City Portrait. An acknowledgement of the outward-facing, Global-Social lens was also part of the scope and is touched on qualitatively into each dimension profile on the inside of the Melbourne Doughnut. This will be further explored quantitatively in future development.

The outputs of this preliminary investigation phase were:

  • Clear scope of elements to be included in Social Foundation dimension profiles
  • Initial set of potential outcomes and indicators for each dimension based on Point Advisory’s desktop review

Dimension deep-dive workshops

To ensure that the Social Foundation of the City Portrait would be based on deep local knowledge, Regen Melbourne held 13 ‘dimension deep-dive’ workshops between November 2022 and May 2023 (a workshop on Social Equity was not held because this topic was covered directly and indirectly through other sessions). The workshops were held on Zoom and each ran for 60-75 minutes.

Separating the dimensions allowed a specific, detailed exploration of each. It also facilitated targeted participation from sector-specific experts. Regen Melbourne’s Research Council, including representatives from six Melbourne-based universities, extended personal invitations to researchers with expertise on each topic from their respective institutions. Participants were also recruited through the Regen Melbourne alliance and networks and word of mouth.

Dimension deep-dive workshop sequencing

Dozens of people contributed to the City Portrait through these workshops, with attendance upwards of 30 people in some sessions. Participants included leaders from academia, government and industry (including private-sector and community organisations). Each session stimulated challenging, yet motivating, conversations that could have lasted well beyond the dedicated time.

The workshops explored a set of questions to directly inform Social Foundation dimension profiles in the City Portrait. These questions included:

  1. What is the role of the dimension in Melbourne?
  2. What are the values and principles that must underpin the dimension in a regenerative Melbourne?
  3. What are the outcomes / where do we want to be in relation to this dimension?
  4. What are the indicators or metrics that we can apply to measure how we’re doing in relation to the outcomes identified?

Elements of a Social Foundation dimension profile

To make the most of the workshop time available, each question was explored by testing prompts from content that already existed, including:

  • Descriptions of each dimension from Regen Melbourne’s foundational report, Towards a Regenerative Melbourne, which set out a high-level understanding of each dimensions in Melbourne based on the community-based research undertaken in 2021

  • Point Advisory’s desktop review of potential outcomes and indicators

  • The City of Melbourne’s Voluntary Local Review, a detailed localisation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that provided many aligned outcomes, indicators and targets

Miro board with participant inputs from dimension deep-dive workshops

After the workshops, Regen Melbourne synthesised the outputs into first drafts of dimension profiles for the City Portrait and fed these back to participants. Some workshops largely affirmed the initial understanding of a dimension, while others turned it on its head or took it in new directions. For example, the Access to Information workshop identified the need for two-way flows of knowledge, not just distribution of information from decision-makers to the general public.

The dimension profiles were refined based on feedback received from workshop participants and subsequent conversations with participants and additional sector experts. These profiles will continue to evolve over time, just as our relationships with these dimensions in our own lives are always evolving. For the purpose of the City Portrait’s initial release, the threshold for publication was to ask: What feels meaningful and ambitious, offering enough of a stretch to help us see beyond our current systems, without drifting into a realm that feels unimaginable for Melbourne to achieve?

The outputs from this phase included draft Social Foundation dimension profiles containing:

  • Near-final descriptive content, including: dimension descriptions, principles, outcomes and overviews local-to-global connections
  • Proposed indicators to align with this descriptive content, for further investigation

Data collection and target setting

Drawing on the Social Foundation dimension profiles and proposed indicators that emerged through the workshop process, Regen Melbourne then turned to collecting quantitative data. Elements of this phase were supported by a data analyst at the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, two student interns, and a Regen Melbourne volunteer. Multiple follow-up conversations with sector experts who had attended workshops also informed the final set of indicators.

Initially, the structure for measurement was intended to include one indicator per outcome (resulting in one, two or three indicators per dimension, based on the number of outcomes defined for each dimension through the workshop process). While exploring publicly available datasets, however, it quickly became evident that very few outcomes could be fully described by a single indicator; some outcomes would be challenging to measure at all; and securing consistent, current datasets at a Greater Melbourne scale across outcomes / dimensions would be nearly impossible. These findings helped to more feasibly scope the data search to allow for multiple indicators to be applied to a single outcome, and for data at scales beyond Greater Melbourne to be used.

To reflect the limitations and inconsistencies inherent in the data collection process, a data quality assessment was created and applied to each indicator. The assessment can be found in the Social Foundation Dataset and includes:

  • Indicator relevance to the associated outcome
  • Dataset robustness / reputability
  • Geographic scope of data (Greater Melbourne, Victoria or national)
  • Data recency (pre- or post-COVID-19)
  • Ability to update periodically to represent change over time

As suitable datasets and indicators were identified, Regen Melbourne also established targets for dimension to determine the extent of Social Foundation shortfalls. This component of the Melbourne Doughnut is fairly unique among related measurement projects in Australia: aligned work, such as the City of Melbourne’s Voluntary Local Review (localisation of the SDGs) and the Australian Government’s Measuring What Matters initiative, explore similar indicators, but prioritise trends over time and do not set firm quantitative targets. Likewise, some of the targets established in the original global Doughnut (also based on the SDGs) are not suitable to a Melbourne context. In this sense, no clear precedent for target-setting was identified.

The City Portrait applies a 2030 date for all targets to align with the timeframes of many existing strategies and policies, as well as the SDGs. Where possible, the Social Foundation targets for each selected indicator were drawn from relevant government policy goals or sector-specific advocacy goals (such as for poverty and food waste). Where established policy or advocacy targets do not publicly exist, targets were set based on expert guidance and measured perspectives on ambitious but achievable change. Firmer, ‘zero-shortfall’ targets were set for the most critical outcomes, such as poverty, food security and acute homelessness and rough sleeping.

The outputs from this phase included the set of indicators and targets for each Social Foundation dimension.

The final Social Foundation dataset, as represented on the City Portrait platform, is available for download; this includes detailed notes on indicator selection, target setting and data quality.


Visualising Social Foundation shortfall

To calculate shortfalls for each dimension and visualise the data on the Melbourne Doughnut, each indicator was constructed with a 100-point scale; this was straightforward for most indicators, which were designed as percentages or proportions of the population. Non-proportional forms of data were converted to percentages. For example, under Food - Circularity, the current value and target for food waste were sourced in absolute terms (kg of food per capita per year). This was converted to a current value of 100% and a target of 50% to reflect the advocacy goal of 50% reduction in food waste by 2030.

Within the 100-point scale, most indicators were described as aiming to minimise negative outcomes (e.g., minimise food insecurity, chronic disease, etc.), with targets set at or close to 0%. Some indicators, such as those focused on celebrating diversity or job satisfaction, were more suitable to describe as aiming to maximise positive outcomes; targets for these were set at or close to 100%. The form of each indicator was captured in calculations and is described in the profiles for each dimension to make clear whether the goal is to fall below or exceed the target for each respective outcome.

The shortfall for each indicator was then calculated as the difference between the target and the current value. For example, an indicator with a current value of 25% and a goal of reducing the outcome to below 10% would have a shortfall of 15%.

To visualise the shortfall for each dimension, the maximum shortfall value from among the indicators used to measure that dimension was selected. This was to avoid a ‘masking’ effect that could be generated from averaging the shortfalls of all indicators within a dimension, which would suggest that better performance on one indicator could dilute or justify the effects of poor performance on another indicator within the same dimension.

On the Doughnut, 0% shortfall sits on the inner ring, the Social Foundation threshold. A 100% shortfall reaches the centre of the hole in the Doughnut. The maximum shortfall value for each dimension forms the length of the red wedge for that dimension, the distance from the inner ring of the Doughnut.

The output from this phase was the final visualisation of the shortfall for each Social Foundation dimension on the Melbourne Doughnut.

Limitations to the Social Foundation development and assessment

The process for developing the City Portrait’s Social Foundation content - both qualitative and quantitative - was designed to be collaborative and iterative to ensure rigour, relevance and legitimacy for broad audiences. It was ambitiously scoped to centre these principles throughout. Nonetheless, based primarily on Regen Melbourne’s current remit and resourcing, it included up-front decision making and ongoing review about boundaries to what was possible to include in this initial, baseline release of the City Portrait. Many of the resulting limitations point to opportunities for future development.

Limitations to the collaborative process for developing Social Foundation content include:

  • Participant representation - This is a City Portrait for Greater Melbourne, but it cannot be claimed that this release was developed through a democratically representational process. The possibility of broad public engagement across Greater Melbourne was initially explored but was not pursued for the following reasons: First, Regen Melbourne’s remit supports organisational-level collaborations; the team is not resourced to effectively and responsibly undertake meaningful, comprehensive engagement processes at a metropolitan scale. Instead, the process relied on proxy research via organisations and community leaders who have built relationships and safety structures with diverse parts of the community and could reflect on the experiences of these groups in relation to each dimension of the Social Foundation. Second, such an approach would have overlapped with and substantially repeated the community-based research in 2021 that contributed to the creation of the Melbourne Doughnut. While participation in this earlier research was self-selected, and likewise not able to ensure a fully representative sample of people across all of Greater Melbourne, it attracted and involved over 500 individuals with diverse professional interests and backgrounds, ages and cultural identities. The outputs of that process (as identified in Towards a Regenerative Melbourne) therefore formed the starting point for the expert-oriented Social Foundation workshops.
  • Emphasis on technical sector knowledge - As noted above, the process was designed for participation by experts from academia, government and industry and not for broad public engagement. Based on this, the dimension deep-dive workshops were run with the assumption that participants had some level of knowledge about each dimension prior to attending. The sessions were open for anyone to attend, but discussion largely focused on technical understandings of each dimension over knowledge stemming from day-to-day lived experience.
  • Deliberation vs. breadth in engagement - The workshops were scheduled to be 60-75 minutes (depending on the topic) to prioritise higher levels of participation, with the assumption that short sessions would allow for more people to attend and a greater mix of inputs to be provided. There was not an expectation that these workshops would resolve the details about each dimension neatly, and it was also acknowledged that they could raise new questions that would need to be answered afterwards. In addition, the length of the workshops meant that principles, outcomes and indicators were explored concurrently in one session. A more deliberative process might have agreed each part of a dimension profile sequentially, but the time required to work through these elements in succession would have limited how many people could participate in the overall process. Repeating such a process for each of the 14 Social Foundation dimensions was also generally understood to be impractical and not deemed necessary given the volume and richness of content generated in each session. In cases where questions emerged in workshops and needed to be reviewed, they were addressed through follow-up with individual participants.

Limitations to Social Foundation data collection and quantitative analysis include:

  • Measuring the current vs. future state - The dimension deep-dive workshops identified a need to describe a regenerative future state for Greater Melbourne, but current datasets are not constructed to effectively measure in relation to this. As a result, the indicators selected focus on whether Melburnians’ basic needs are being met within existing systems and do not seek to measure against the proposed ‘future state’ described by the principles in each dimension profile.
  • Public data availability - In some cases, datasets known to be held by government departments or requiring payment to access could have provided suitable indicators able to be measured at a Greater Melbourne scale. These were not incorporated, however, due to lack of free public access.
  • Lack of suitable data - It was not possible to secure highly relevant data for all outcomes within the Social Foundation dimensions, even following discussions with sector experts about specific gaps. This demonstrates that some parts of our Social Foundation are not currently measured well, if at all, to support public understanding of them. In some cases, self-reported data would be most valuable in providing a sense of the felt or lived experiences of Melburnians, but is not captured. Some outcomes therefore do not have indicators associated with them, and some include less preferred (but still relevant) indicators.
  • Use of survey data - Multiple survey-based data sources were referenced (such as ABS surveys, the Victorian Population Health Survey and the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey) based on their strong thematic relevance to various Social Foundation dimensions. These survey-based sources are all from reputable academic or government institutions, but there is always some limitation to surveys’ ability to accurately represent the full population (some include a margin of error in their analysis). This becomes more true with smaller sample sizes, such as where data for a smaller cohort of respondents is extracted from a larger dataset. Because the smallest unit of analysis in the City Portrait is the Greater Melbourne total population, the risk of data skew due to a small sample size is limited, but nonetheless worth noting as a limitation inherent to surveys as a form of data collection.
  • Data quality - Ideally, all datasets applied would be current, able to be updated regularly and localised to the same Greater Melbourne boundary. Securing consistent data across all dimensions was not possible, however, meaning that the indicators used cut across geographies and timeframes; this is detailed in the full Social Foundation dataset.

Ecological Ceiling

The dimensions of the Ecological Ceiling were downscaled to a Greater Melbourne context through a partnership between Regen Melbourne and Open Corridor, with research support from the University of Melbourne. This portion of the methodology has been co-authored with Open Corridor, the Planetary Accounting Network and Curtin University.


The idea of planetary limits can be traced back to as early as the 1600s. However, defining planetary limits scientifically is challenging because there is no discrete biophysical law through which to define them. As such, until the 2000s, most attempts to identify planetary limits were based on assumptions and value judgements around population, lifestyle and affluence and technology. In 2009, however, Earth system scientists published the Planetary Boundaries framework; this represented a breakthrough in defining planetary limits because it avoids making any ​​normative assumptions regarding population, lifestyle or technology. Rather, the Planetary Boundaries are identified as a set of interrelated environmental limits derived from first principles, the underlying assumption that we ought to try to maintain a ‘Holocene-like’ state.

The Holocene is the period of time which began approximately 11,500 years ago2. This period has seen unusually stable global temperatures, with average ranges of only ±1 °C. While homo-sapiens evolved approximately 300,000 years ago3, it was only during the Holocene that we evolved from hunter-gatherers to settled societies. The Holocene is the only environmental state of the planet in which we know humanity can thrive. Many scientists now believe that the Holocene is over, however, and that we have entered a new epoch, dubbed the ‘Anthropocene,’ in which human activity is the driving force of environmental change.

As such, Earth system scientists set out to determine the critical global environmental system and corresponding thresholds (such as for climate change, land-system change, and biosphere integrity) within which the Anthropocene can resemble the Holocene (i.e., where the risk of changing the state of the planet is low). These are the Planetary Boundaries, which together make up the Ecological Ceiling of the Doughnut. They are now considered by many to be the non-negotiable, scientifically-determined global limits for the environment. Given that we are currently exceeding six of these limits, however, the risk of fundamentally changing the state of the planet is high.

Scoping Melbourne’s ecological performance assessment

Regen Melbourne partnered with Open Corridor to undertake the ‘downscaling’ of the Planetary Boundaries, the dimensions of the Ecological Ceiling on the outside of the Melbourne Doughnut. Collectively, these represent Greater Melbourne’s impact on the scientifically-determined global limits to the environment. Open Corridor is a not-for-profit focused on scientifically-sound solutions to sustainability, drawing on deep expertise in environmental data science, integrated modelling and impact assessment.

Together, Regen Melbourne and Open Corridor agreed to assess Melbourne’s ecological footprint using the Planetary Accounting approach. The environmental assessment scope covers economy-wide, life-cycle impacts driven by final consumption (of energy, water, food, goods and services, etc.) within Greater Melbourne. This accounting perspective is known as the consumption footprint. It incorporates multiple pressures on the environment generated by our consumption patterns , including:

  • Local pressures within Melbourne’s direct control (scope 1)
  • Local pressures outside Melbourne’s immediate control (scope 2)
  • Upstream pressures occurring along complex global supply chains, driven by imported goods and services consumed within Melbourne (scope 3)

In this approach, each environmental pressure relates to one or more Planetary Quotas. The Planetary Quotas then map back to the Planetary Boundaries as understood at a global scale, while enabling the implementation of science-based targets at a local scale.

A production-based accounting perspective, including regionalised downstream impacts of production-based activities in Melbourne, as well as downstream effects (e.g., end-of-life) related to consumption-based activities within Melbourne are outside the scope of assessment for the initial release of the City Portrait. While this additional context is vital for providing a complete picture of Melbourne’s urban metabolism, given timelines, availability of data and resources, these additional components will be addressed in future development.

Likewise, this initial phase of quantification work focused on Melbourne’s impacts on global environmental limits, the Global-Ecological lens of a City Portrait. The bottom-up, Local-Ecological lens focused on the health of Greater Melbourne’s local ecosystems is touched on qualitatively in each dimension profile on the outside of the Melbourne Doughnut under the headings ‘Global to local connections’, and will be further explored quantitatively in the next phase of work.

Accounting method

Planetary Accounting translates the Planetary Boundaries into metrics and budgets in pressure-based indicators so that they can be easily linked to the scales at which we make decisions. This enables a science-based approach to setting and meeting targets across all of the Planetary Boundaries. Where the Planetary Boundaries are a point-in-time measure of the health of the planet, Planetary Accounting provides a prescription for a healthy planet. It helps to answer the critical question: what should we do?

Planetary Accounting is based on ten environmental pressures that each have a corresponding global limit derived from the Planetary Boundaries. These limits are called Planetary Quotas. Planetary Accounting translates the Planetary Boundaries into measurable and actionable global budgets, relative to their respective Planetary Quotas, in ‘environmental accounts such as water consumption, deforestation rates, carbon emissions, and nitrogen release into waterways. These budgets can then be scaled and compared to support target setting and decision making at any level of human activity.

The ten Planetary Quotas and their mapping to the Planetary Boundaries are as follows:

mapping planetary boundaries to their quotas. details in the spreadsheet.

More detailed descriptions of the Planetary Quotas, are described in full City Portrait Ecological Ceiling Dataset, as well as the publicationThe Planetary Accounting Framework: a novel, quota-based approach to understanding the impacts of any scale of human activity in the context of the Planetary Boundaries by Dr Kate Meyer and Professor Peter Newman

In this approach, the Ocean Acidification Planetary Boundary is not included, and therefore does not appear on the Melbourne Doughnut. This is because Ocean Acidification is considered to be a control variable that is driven by excessive carbon dioxide emissions. The Carbon Emissions Planetary Quota sufficiently addresses this for the purposes of assessing Greater Melbourne’s performance in relation to the Ecological Ceiling.

Allocation method

The method applied for sharing the remaining global environmental budgets for each Planetary Quota is defined on an equal per-capita basis. While there are many normative considerations involved when it comes to defining a ‘fair share’ of resource use (e.g., equality, needs, right to development, sovereignty, capability, responsibility), the per-capita allocation method is a widely-accepted approach for sharing the safe operating space based on principles of basic human rights. Given this approach, all inhabitants of the planet are assumed to have the same right to use its resources, with equal access to remaining environmental budgets. Greater Melbourne is therefore allocated a share of the environmental budgets given its total population.

Data stocktake and outreach

Open Corridor had previously undertaken modelling of Greater Melbourne’s environmental footprint, but updates to the underlying dataset were needed to provide a more current and accurate view.

The team recruited a research associate through the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Cities to lead a data stocktake and collect new data within the boundaries of Greater Mlebourne. To kick-start this work, Open Corridor compiled an ideal list of datasets to pursue, as well as likely owners of them. These included time-series data from 2015-23 on:

  • Energy consumption (electricity and gas)
  • Water consumption and quality
  • Fuel consumption
  • Waste generation
  • Land use
  • Public and road-based transport

Equipped with this list, the team began to reach out first to utilities (energy providers and water authorities / retailers) to introduce the City Portrait project and request data. In some cases, particularly in the water sector, outreach was enabled by existing Regen Melbourne relationships. In other cases, such as with electricity utilities, outreach was through formal data request channels.

In addition, relevant research teams within the University of Melbourne were contacted as possible intermediaries for connecting with specific data holders within utilities. This resulted in new contacts to pursue, including networks in which the University of Melbourne is a partner.

At the same time, Regen Melbourne reached out to the Victorian Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) and a handful of local councils across Greater Melbourne to explore the possibility of securing government-held activity data. This data had the potential to either validate or supplement sources secured directly through utilities.

Most of the initial outreach prompted responses and resulted in meetings to discuss the City Portrait project and data requirements in greater detail. Data holders readily pointed the team to relevant publicly available sources, some of which provided valuable new information. Where data needs still required specific requests from organisations, these were progressed through formal internal approval processes.

Because of long timelines required to work through organisational processes to secure data, many data requests to utilities are still underway at the time of the November 2023 City Portrait release. Continuing to pursue these requests will enable ongoing updates and refinements to the Ecological Ceiling indicators and the story that they tell about Greater Melbourne’s environmental footprint.

Data analysis and modelling

The resulting primary dataset for assessing the environmental footprints of Greater Melbourne is derived from an integrated environmental-economic model compiled by Open Corridor (Environmental Footprints of Greater Melbourne, 2021). The model is compatible with the UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA) and is developed using hybrid life-cycle approaches that integrate data on trade information, Earth observation, and physical accounts – including local datasets secured during the data stocktake process. Primary data sources comprise EXIOBASE MR EE SUT/IOT, ABS Australian National Accounts, ABS State Accounts, and ABS Household Expenditure Survey (HES).

The final Ecological Ceiling dataset, as represented on the City Portrait platform, is available for download; this includes details on the indicators and data sources contributing to analysis.


Limitations to the Ecological Ceiling development and assessment

The process for developing the City Portrait’s Ecological Ceiling content followed a rigorous, science-based methodology that is designed to facilitate practical action on the ground. Nonetheless, based on multiple factors including available time and resourcing, it included up-front decision making and ongoing review about boundaries to what was possible to include in this initial, baseline release of the City Portrait. Many of the resulting limitations point to opportunities for future development.

Limitations to the assessment process for developing Ecological Ceiling content include:

  • Inherent complexity - Complex biophysical interactions occur between regional-scale processes, their associated impacts, and global Earth system processes. These interactions have only been partly captured in this assessment and require further investigation to better assess their combined cumulative effects and the risk of exceeding regional and global biophysical tipping points.
  • Consumption-only scope - This assessment presents a consumption-based perspective of Greater Melbourne’s global footprint. As a resource intensive nation, consideration of Melbourne’s production and export-based footprint is also necessary to fully understand supply-side opportunities for positive change within city boundaries and beyond.
  • Allocation method - The equal-share-per-capita allocation method is a robust starting point for sharing global resources. However, other allocation methods could be applied in the future to explore less obvious trade-offs and normative considerations.
  • Interim targets - This analysis presents Melbourne’s environmental pressures in context to the absolute goal of supporting a stable Earth system state. Forming clear pathways to reach this goal requires setting interim targets through stakeholder engagement, informed by the best available science. This will be an important next step in taking tangible action.
  • Data availability and transparency - Publicly available local activity data is fairly limited, and long timelines are required to secure relevant data at desirable levels of spatial and time-series granularity from utilities and similar data providers. As a result, the assessment was completed without inclusion of all ‘wish list’ datasets from the stocktake. These datasets will continue to be collected to enhance the nuance of the analysis.
  • Water Consumption inclusions - Grey water has not been included in the Water Consumption analysis.
  • Waste disposal inclusions - Only waste generated and disposed within Greater Melbourne has been included. Waste generated during upstream processes (so-called embodied waste) has not been included due to lack of global data.


The City Portrait Stories offer insights into the interconnected pathways – both established and emergent – towards the Doughnut, the regenerative future for our city. They’re our place for envisioning and imagining how each goal could be reached.

The City Portrait Stories were developed for multiple purposes. But first and foremost, because humans are hard-wired for story. Stories are both our primary tool for making sense of the world and our springboard for imagining a world anew.

The stories are written in such a way to pull together the quantitative and the qualitative – they’re visions based on the data we have uncovered over the last three years’ worth of research, workshopping and convening.

The Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) tools for developing a City Portrait include both a quantitative Data Portrait of Place and a qualitative, more conceptual Community Portrait of Place. A starting point for the Greater Melbourne City Portrait was an understanding that a meaningful and holistic picture of our city needs to value both aspects: The data gives us the ‘grammar’ to identify and make sense of current challenges, understand how best to tackle them and decipher if we’re making progress. However, without grounding this data in stories and narrative – the ‘poetry’ – we lose our context, orientation and purpose. As a result, we risk perpetuating narrow perspectives that reproduce the problems we seek to address. The poetry can connect us to meaning and to humanity. The City Portrait Stories form a starting point for this purpose.

The Stories also respond to a common question raised throughout the City Portrait development: How can we connect the current-state data represented through the Melbourne Doughnut with action, optimism and clarity about how to make our way towards the Safe and Just Space for Greater Melbourne? The Stories were developed to address this part of the picture. We knew that describing the state of the city’s social and ecological wellbeing was important, but the City Portrait would be even more potent if we could link it to the actual pathways for change.

Finally, in the course of the Social Foundation workshops, the limitations of thinking about individual dimensions in isolation were made obvious. For example, the Income & Work workshop focused substantially on transport and housing, and the Access to Information session raised issues of diversity and public participation. Social Equity was addressed through other workshops to such an extent that it did not require its own session. These conversations highlighted what is evident in daily life: we experience the city as a whole, a series of interconnected systems. Developing Stories offered a way to represent these connections and describe how different urban systems interact and influence each other in Melbourne.

The Stories were constructed to reflect these three purposes. They incorporate imagery and narrative to help visualise the meaning of a Safe and Just Space for Greater Melbourne. Each story begins by introducing a thematic future scenario that reflects a meaningful shift in how our city works, pointing towards a future that centres human and environmental wellbeing and the relationship between the two.

To support these future aspirations, the stories then highlight pathways to show that they are possible, featuring examples of current or emergent organisations and activities across Greater Melbourne. The examples are not exhaustive; currently, they primarily represent the work of Regen Melbourne and its partners and collaborators. The set of stories in the November 2023 City Portrait release will grow and evolve over time to celebrate new waves of regenerative activity taking hold across Greater Melbourne.

Platform Development

The City Portrait platform has been shaped by multiple collaborations drawing on the diverse expertise and interests across the Regen Melbourne alliance.

Platform design

The digital platform for the City Portrait was created through a partnership between Regen Melbourne and Dr Michael Dunbar, a Lecturer and Industry Fellow in Communication Design at RMIT University’s School of Design.

In February 2023, Dr Dunbar and the Regen Melbourne team began a design-led process to co-develop the City Portrait interactive platform. The purpose was to ensure that content presented through the City Portrait would be accessible and engaging for a wide range of audiences, from viewers with general interest through to deep sector experts.

The iterative process incorporated periodic reflection and shared decision-making about the overall platform look, feel and functionality, including elements such as:

  • The visual language, including the evolution of the Melbourne Doughnut
  • Alignment with/deviation from City Portraits from other cities
  • The representation of Social Foundation and Ecological Ceiling data, including calculation of the shortfalls and overshoots, respectively

This design methodology, lessons from the development process and the potential future replicability of the platform for other place-based doughnuts will be further documented for academic publication.

Learning Partners

Regen Melbourne convened a group of industry partners from its alliance to help to shape the City Portrait platform. The group met bi-monthly throughout 2023 to test and develop the City Portrait’s purpose, audiences and key messages. The sessions provided an opportunity for members of the group to share their organisations’ aligned work and incorporate lessons from it into the City Portrait. In 2024, the Learning Partners will turn to further development of the City Portrait and the dissemination and application of the City Portrait in relevant industry and government settings in Greater Melbourne and beyond.

Learning Partners group members include representatives from:

Narrative development

Fireside Agency contributed in-kind support to the creation of an overarching narrative to underpin the City Portrait. This began with a facilitated session with the City Portrait Learning Partners to identify priority audiences for the platform and begin to shape the overarching tone of messaging to be communicated through it. It was important that the different levels of technical detail described through data were tied together into a cohesive story and message about Melbourne overall.

In August 2023, Fireside led a workshop with the Regen Melbourne team, Dr Dunbar and a student intern contributing to the platform design to develop the overarching narrative for the City Portrait based on what had emerged through the development process and data. This Overview forms the starting point for understanding how Greater Melbourne is faring and what is required for the city to move towards the Safe and Just Space.

Research resources and library

As a tool, the City Portrait is intended to present a clear and succinct entry point to the deep knowledge that exists in Melbourne about individual sectors and their relationships to one another.

To provide linkages to this deeper knowledge, Regen Melbourne partnered with Altiorem, a not-for-profit resource centre that hosts a library of literature on sustainable finance. The publications in Altiorem’s library are summarised to increase their accessibility to a range of audiences and levels of technical expertise.

Altiorem and Regen Melbourne co-hosted two student interns in 2023, one each from Monash University and RMIT University, to develop new research summaries on documents focused on Doughnut Economics and individual Social Foundation dimensions of the Melbourne Doughnut.

Each dimension profile on the City Portrait includes a link to resources in Altiorem’s library relevant to that sector or topic. An opportunity exists to extend Altiorem’s catalogued resources associated with each dimension, and also to explore how this structure can be extended to City Portraits in other cities.

Public testing

The prototype of the City Portrait was tested with multiple audiences prior to completion in November 2023.

In August-September 2023, an interactive installation titled Measuring What Matters: Co-creating a City Portrait for Melbourne invited reflections on the City Portrait prototype as part of RMIT University’s Wild Hope exhibition (an extension of the City of Melbourne’s Now or Never festival). The installation was hosted by RMIT PlaceLab Melbourne and included three workshops inviting public participation on themes relevant to the City Portrait. These were:

  • Measuring the Immeasurables
  • Drawing our City’s Systems
  • Painting a Portrait of Wild Hope

Content generated in these workshops features in the City Portrait Stories, and the broader feedback from the installation informed the final platform design.

In October 2023, Regen Melbourne reviewed the revised, near-complete prototype with a group of key leaders from across relevant sectors in Melbourne. Insights and feedback from this session guided final development.


The City Portrait development process to-date has revealed some key lessons about how the Melbourne Doughnut can be most effectively understood and applied in our city, as well as how we can continue to strengthen the role and value of collective measurement in Melbourne and beyond.

Lessons from the creation of the baseline version of the City Portrait include the following:

  • The boundaries between dimensions are useful for the Doughnut as a framework, but in practice they are, of course, blurred. The Social Foundation workshops made clear that the City Portrait needs to communicate each dimension and how the city works as a system. In some cases, this resulted in taking a broader view of how we define a dimension and its associated outcomes. For example, the Food dimension includes outcomes related to Production, Consumption and Circularity.
  • Describing what it takes for people to thrive at a metropolitan scale can dilute the diverse experiences of individuals with different backgrounds and identities. Understanding our city involves continuously zooming in and out.
  • Stories matter in helping each of us relate to data. Often, they are what we remember most vividly.
  • The Doughnut is a valuable compass, but needs a spatial map to accompany it, particularly because Greater Melbourne is a large city with diverse urban forms and patterns of activity.
  • The process revealed a tension between describing each dimension’s current state versus its regenerative potential. It was generally agreed that we need to acknowledge both where we are as a city and where we want to be.
  • ‘Downscaling’ the Doughnut is more than just resizing. It also requires consideration of how to understand and describe each dimension meaningfully in a local context and how to set up the framework to most effectively inform decision-making and action.

Future City Portrait development

The City Portrait focuses most on the Local-Social and Global-Ecological lenses of the City Portrait, as per the City Portrait methodology. A more detailed, quantitative view of how life in Melbourne influences social outcomes globally (the Global-Social lens) and environmental outcomes locally (the Local-Ecological lens) will be further developed in 2024.

In addition, over the course of the City Portrait’s development, many opportunities to advance its content and functionality through more sophisticated collective measurement work emerged:

  • Inclusion of time series data to capture trends on how we’re tracking in relation to each dimension of the Social Foundation and Ecological Ceiling
  • Inclusion of spatial data at a Greater Melbourne scale, where available, to provide a more nuanced picture of social and ecological wellbeing across Greater Melbourne
  • Spatialisation of regional and global environmental impacts to better understand how shifts in resource demand could benefit both local residents and people globally
  • Collection of new data on dimensions with limited or lower-quality available sources, including self-reported data where it can offer a more suitable understanding of Melburnians’ experiences and perceptions
  • Development of a production-based view of the Ecological Ceiling dimensions to expand on the current consumption-based assessment
  • Disaggregation of environmental pressures, including linking pressures to their drivers to map and identify potential responses to areas of concern
  • Explicit identification and assessment of positive contributions to environmental footprints, such as carbon sequestration, waste treatment and resource recovery, which are only indirectly captured in the current assessment
  • Coordination with data ‘owners’ to release relevant data that is in the public interest but currently held through government or private entities

These opportunities can all enhance the City Portrait’s role in guiding decision-making and action across Greater Melbourne, including strengthening linkages to other aligned platforms and deep research.