Monday, 6 October 2014

What's new in this year's Global AgeWatch Index?

This post by the Jane Scobie, Director of Communication and Advocacy at Help Age International provides an overview of the 2014 Global AgeWatch Index. This blog is part of the Wikiprogress series on ‘Engaging Citizens with Well-being Statistics’.

What happens to people when they get to 60?

It's a little discussed subject. Data broken down by age is limited, but bringing together what is available from the UN, World Bank and Gallup gives us a snapshot of what is happening to older people now and how we can change things for the better.

The Global AgeWatch Index brings together data on income, health, employment, social connections and personal security into one number and ranks countries accordingly. The ranking is accompanied by a global report - this year focusing on income security in old age - and country report cards that highlight innovative responses by government, growing citizen action and some frightening gaps in policy.

 New questions and insights

  • What makes China and Bangladesh rank higher than India? How do people fare in the lowest ranked countries - Afghanistan, West Bank and Gaza and Malawi?
  • Why does Bolivia do so well in comparison? Why is Turkey, a country with high economic growth, so far behind Mexico?
  • What are the emerging issues facing governments at the top of the Index, Norway, Finland, Ireland and Argentina, where populations aged 60 plus make up between 15% and 26% of the total?

These are some of the questions the Index explores.
Two new features of the 2014 Global AgeWatch Index help explain the issues behind the figures.

Included in our country report cards are radar charts that benchmark individual countries against regional averages. And 34 of the report cards include detailed commentaries, written by in-country experts, adding a richness to the data.

Living without a pension
The 2014 Index report points out that 150 million people aged 65 or over in Index countries live without a pension of any kind - For example only 29% of older Indians receive a pension, 4% of older Malawians and barely anyone in Myanmar. However 95% of older Bolivians get a social pension which not only helps them individually but is also credited with reducing household poverty by 13.5%. And 74% of older Chinese now have a pension - that is 130 million people.

The 2014 Index report shows that pension coverage is rising, particularly in Latin America, but adequacy is still a major issue. For example in Kyrgyzstan the pension is worth US$98 a month, US$6 below the subsistence level of US$104. Research shows that heating and other bills eat up to 70% of this income. The situation is compounded by low economic activity amongst older people in Central Asia compared to other regions.

The Index measures older people's capabilities through economic activity and educational status. Some 22% of people aged 80-plus are looking for a job in Indonesia, and 92% of people aged 55-64 in Tanzania work. Many people in Colombia aged 60 and over want or need to go on working but face age discrimination. Job adverts routinely specify young applicants, for example.

Global postcode lottery

It is not only which you country you live in that determines your wellbeing in older age. Reports from individual countries show that provincial responsibility for services means that these are often very different in rural and urban areas, depending on local government providers.

For example, supplementary health services in Canada, access to day care centres in Colombia and ambulances services in Kyrgyzstan, vary greatly between different parts of the country.

Rising issues

Caregiver burnout and the demand for individual care and community services to enable people to stay in their own homes in their later years are issues of concern for civil society, governments and professionals the world over.

The transition into old age is inevitable, but it is not adequately being addressed. We hope the Global AgeWatch Index will stimulate demand for better data and debate.

We invite you to explore the report and website to find out more.

This blog first appeared on the Global AgeWatch Index site, here. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Counting Pennies: A new PISA report compares students’ financial know-how

This blog is written by Wikichild co-ordinator Melinda Deleuze. The post presents findings from the latest PISA report, highlighting the links between students' financial literacy levels and their socio-economic background. It is a part of the Wikiprogress spotlight on Education and Skills.

The importance of financial literacy among young people is growing, as more adolescents have access to financial services, have their own bank accounts, make independent financial decisions, and are often in paid employment as well as school. More than ever, the ability of students to manage their finances is central to their immediate and future well-being. Furthermore, rising tuition costs, and the increasing burden of student debt, is a major issue in countries around the world. Earlier this year in Chile, an activist burnt student debt papers worth $500 million in protest of widespread student poverty. Financial literacy is therefore of key importance, not just at the individual level, in terms of enabling young people to avoid or minimise debt or to plan for a more financially-secure future, but also at the societal level.

Queen Maxima of the Netherlands
at the PISA launch
On Wednesday, the OECD launched Volume VI of the PISA 2012 results entitled “Students and Money: Financial Literacy Skills for the 21st Century.” This part of the PISA survey, the first ever cross-national evaluation of financial literacy among young people, involved 29,000 students from 18 countries. The 15 year-olds are asked questions with 5 different levels of questions, from recognising the purpose of an invoice (Level 1) to identifying which loan is the best offer.
(You can take the test here!)
Average scores in all participating countries

Across the 18 countries, students show a wide range of financial skills and knowledge. Shanghai-China students had the strongest performance with a mean score of 603 points, while Colombian students averaged the lowest mean score of 379 points. A majority of the countries are in a tighter point span, ranging from 520 to 480, such as the United States (492 points) and France (486 points). 
Distribution of differences in scores

However, even within countries students demonstrate varying levels of financial literacy. In New Zealand, the top 5% of students score around 700 score points, while the bottom 5% score around 300 points. This 400-point difference equates to about 10 years of schooling.

In addition to providing results on students’ financial literacy levels, the report also explores the relationships between financial literacy and other factors (including gender, rural vs. urban, immigration, mathematics performance, attitudes and socio-economic background). The relationship between socio-economic status and financial literacy comes across as especially important to acknowledge, as it shows a system’s ability to break vicious cycles of inequality and promote truly inclusive growth. In a successful system, students would obtain higher levels of financial literacy regardless of the parents’ level of education, income or wealth. Also, a system which does not rely on parents to transmit financial literacy has greater chances of reducing inequalities in household wealth in the long-term.

Across the 13 participating OECD countries, financial literacy performance increases by 41 score points with every one-unit increase in the PISA index of socio-economic status (ESCS). This score gap represents the equivalent to about one extra year of schooling for students who have above-average family wealth and additional educational resources at home The difference between the students in the top quarter and bottom quarter of socio-economic index amounts to 91 score points (over two years of schooling). A students’ socio-economic status, therefore, explains a large proportion of the variation in financial literacy in OECD countries, more so than gender or immigrant background. 

% variation explained by socio-economic status
Estonia appears to be the champion of breaking socio-economic boundaries in this field, with only a 53-point difference between the students in the top quarter and the bottom quarter of socio-economic status. It is the only country whose students overall have an above-average financial literacy performance, and that has a weak association between financial literacy performance and socio-economic status. It achieves high performance without leaving behind the disadvantaged students.  

Parents’ life decisions also impact students’ financial know-how. Both parents’ occupation and their level of education are strongly related to students’ financial literacy performance in the OECD countries. The financial literacy performance of students with at least one parent with tertiary education differs by an average of 40 score points in comparison to those whose parents do not have a higher education degree. Again, that corresponds to one year of schooling. There is a large range among the countries’ average differences, from Israel’s 79-point difference to Italy’s 9-point difference.

In all countries, the students with at least one parent in a skilled occupation, such as a manager or professional, have a higher financial literacy score than students whose parents work in semi-skilled or low-skilled occupations. The average difference in financial literacy performance between these student groups is 54 points. However, the variation among countries for parents’ occupation is not as stark as it is for parents’ education. Israel has a 75-point difference, while both Italy and the Russian Federation show the smallest differences with 34 points each. Overall, these results show that home-related factors do impact a student’s performance and financially literate parents could make a difference of a year of schooling.

Fortunately, governments are already taking this important issue to heart, with over 50 countries implementing a national strategy for financial education, compared to 10 countries in 2008. The next assessment of students’ financial literacy will to be taken in 2015, allowing for the first comparison of change over time. Fingers-crossed for more good examples like Estonia by then!

*The graphs used in this post were presented at the report's launch on 9 July, 2014.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Going Beyond GDP: Making the leap from measurement to policy

This blog is by Alistair Whitby, Senior Policy Officer at the World Future Council one of the 7 partners of the BRAINPOol project. The post discusses some of the project's recent conclusions on how to broaden the measures of progress in societies. 

Turn on the news on any given day and you would be forgiven for thinking that market growth was the answer to all our problems. At a time of economic fragility it is perhaps unsurprising that the minds of policy makers tend to return frequently to the question of kick-starting growth. But the opposite perspective, that the objectives that have dominated economic policy for the last 40 years – maximising Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and market efficiency – are not only inadequate goals for society but might even be part of the problem, is becoming increasingly mainstream.

But how can this emerging realisation that we need broader methods of measuring the progress of our societies start to have an impact in shaping politics and policy? It was to tackle this question that the BRAINPOoL project was set up two and a half years ago and some of its recent conclusions seem to be gaining traction:

People Power

One problem we encountered frequently in the project was the current disconnect between the Beyond GDP movement and the general public. While there is great demand from parts of civil society for positive social and environmental change, people tend not to think in terms of indicators, and thus the measurement debate has so far often been left to experts. This needs to change. If we are going to deal seriously with the issue of ‘what really matters’, we are going to have to make much better efforts at actually asking people what matters to them. Beyond GDP concepts need to be rooted in processes, goals and targets that have legitimacy. Citizens should be involved in selecting political priorities.

The good news is that there are positive signs of change. A diverse array of people from social scientists and citizens groups to NGOs and psychologists are now actively engaged in the alternative indicators debate. Furthermore, whether ‘what matters’ to the public turns out to be job security, health, quality of life, environmental sustainability, social cohesion or overall well-being, all of these things can now be more accurately measured, providing policymakers with robust options for new policy objectives. As noted in the conclusions of last week’s EESC event ‘Let’s Talk Happiness’, these developments mean Beyond GDP can act as an instrument promoting democratic renewal, enabling citizens to make informed, democratic choices with greater proximity to the policy making process.

A New Story of Progress

A key element to winning public support will be communicating a compelling Beyond GDP narrative that provides an alternative story to the current growth-at-all-costs mantra, showing the real differences that the use of alternative indicators will make to policies and outcomes. To be successful indicators must connect with things that have impact on people’s lives (good jobs, equality, security and happiness) highlighting problems and pointing towards solutions. This beyond GDP narrative needs to be able to win votes if it is to become mainstream, and it needs to explain in a consistent way how the world is. Articulating a more holistic vision of progress which strongly resonates with the public should not prove too problematic, however, as the broad themes of this agenda match the public’s preferences to a far greater degree than growth pure and simple. International surveys consistently support this impression.

The advent of big data, wearable devices and mobile technology are converging to allow the creation of new, more timely Beyond GDP indicators that can give us real-time impressions of health, well-being, environmental and social trends, providing a readily available alternative picture to the regular quarterly economic data. Daily air pollution updates are already available in many cities, while apps that track the happiness levels of wearers throughout the day are providing valuable new insights on the foundations of human well-being.

New Ways of Making Policy

All this innovation does pose challenges for policy however. We found a number of barriers to ‘going beyond GDP’ that relate to the particular difficulties for policy-making of adopting a more holistic, multi-dimensional view of progress. Innovation and experimentation will be needed (for example considering combinations of policies that have not been tried before). This shift will require the ability to manage the greater complexities of the world outside of economic statistics, and without falling back on the standard economic thinking and models. This will not be easy, but is both necessary and possible.

One of the exciting aspects of the BRAINPOoL project’s Final Conference was to hear experienced policy makers from France, the UK, Finland and Italy confirm that the adoption of B-GDP indicators can really change the priorities of political action. Imagine what labour market policy could look like if explicitly driven by the aim of maximising well-being: A “living” minimum wage? Flexible or shorter working week? Generous provision of parental leave? The positive benefits for society resulting from a Beyond GDP shift are becoming abundantly clear.

- Alistair Whitby

To read more about the BRAINPOoL project’s results please see or read our short summary of results and recommendations here.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Increasing Youth Involvement in the Data Revolution

There is a lively online discussion happening right now on Wikiprogress aboutMaking data more accessible for society at large”. This blog, by Wikichild Coordinator Melinda Deleuze, will discuss how children and youth could become more involved in the open data world as data users, storytellers and producers. 

A result of an open data society is that data will inevitably become more freely available for young people to download, use, and share. This means that we need to train children and youth to become more data savvy, so they can interpret the increasing amounts of raw data and visualisations. There are already several free courses and tutorials available online about how to analyse data (e.g.;;, which could prove useful for older youth and teachers. There are also online learning tools geared towards a younger audience, such as these data handling games for children as young at 5 years old. Another great initiative mentioned on the online discussion by Big Idea is their Joint Consultation Workshop in Tanzania back in March. The workshop trained young people from Ghana, Nepal and Tanzania to analyse data and present it to a younger audience, which brings me to my next point...

If data is going to be more easily understandable for youth, then it should be other young people telling the stories. The European Youth Press (EYP) has begun training young journalists to use more data in their work. In 2013, EYP launched the “FlagIt!” project which trained 48 young journalists from 4 continents on how to use digital visualisation tools in open source. The project will soon publish an online handbook available to anyone who would like to use these tools. This September, EYP will be hosting a conference for young European journalists (18 to 26 years old) on data-driven journalism, which will also include participation in the M100 Sanssouci Colloquium on media in the era of big data. Finally, EYP provides a free online course “Doing Journalism with Data,” open to anyone with an internet connection. 

Finally, more interactive technology tools should be geared towards youth as data producers, so that their voices can be heard. The Global Partnership on Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda (#GPY2015) is working on an interactive crowdsourcing initiative to identify youth priorities, building on the results of young voters in the MyWorld2015 survey: Education; Employment and Entrepreneurship; Health; Good Governance; Peace and Stability. Citizen Science for Youth’s webinar last October is another example of an initiative aimed at engaging youth in crowdsourcing data. 

Do you know of other initiatives that include child and youth in the data revolution? Feel free to leave a comment in the online discussion!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Data-Pop Alliance: a global alliance and call for a people-centered Big Data revolution

This May 2014 launch blog by Data-Pop Alliance’s leadership: Emmanuel Letouzé, Claire Melamed, Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, Phuong Pham, Emma Samman and Patrick Vinck explains why they started this alliance. This post is part of the Wikiprogress discussion on "Making data more accessible to society at large".
As our lives have become increasingly digital, the amount and variety of data that the world’s population generates every day is growing exponentially, as are our capacities to extract ‘insights’ from them. The potential of ‘Big Data’ for human development and humanitarian action has stirred a great deal of both excitement and skepticism since the concept became mainstream at the dawn of the decade. But simply opposing the ‘promise and perils’ of Big Data is a dead end; recognizing their co-existence a mere starting point.
Looking a generation ahead, observing the persistent prevalence of absolute poverty, the rise of global inequality, and the many walls and ceilings impeding well-being, we wondered: what will it take for Big Data to have by then served the cause of human progress to the best of its ability and ours, as part of the larger “data revolution”? Our answer—our contribution—is the creation of the Data-Pop Alliance.

There is no shortage of valuable publications and conferences, initiatives and working groups, proofs of concepts and lab projects, in the fast expanding universe of ‘Big Data for social good’. But we are frustrated by its high level of institutional fragmentation and corresponding lack of a coherent intellectual direction—especially in relation to the context and concerns of poor developing countries. Individual projects and research do not sufficiently build upon or learn from each other, and movement beyond the project and pilot stage towards the use of Big Data at scale will thus be difficult and probably inefficient. Too many discussions are rooted in ideologies and assumptions rather than in solid empirical findings and a clear theory of social change.

"Big Data must increase and not reduce the power of citizens"

What we saw and see as missing is ‘something’—a player or a group of players—serving as a connecting hub, sounding board, and driving force, with the credibility and agility, the intent and capacity, to promote the kind of ‘Big Data revolution’ we feel is needed. What brought us and our organizations together is the conviction that Big Data must increase and not reduce the power of citizens: that the kinds of low granularity, high frequency, digital personal data (these digital "breadcrumbs") passively emitted by humans ought to be leveraged to impact policies and politics for the benefit of people.  We want to see Big Data amplify the voice and knowledge of the emitters of data, not just improve the insights and means of surveillance of corporations and governments. This will require a better informed, more empowered, global citizenry, and a deeper understanding of the appropriate balance between individual, social, governmental, and commercial interests—with the overarching ethical dimensions and implications.
This is why we created the Data-Pop Alliance: to spur a ‘humanistic’, people-centered, Big Data revolution, cautiously, humbly but resolutely, by providing an enabling environment for learning, information sharing, experimentation, evaluation and capacity building; to catalyze and coordinate developments and innovations in the use of Big Data to help serve the cause of human progress.
Data-Pop Alliance will be a place for the exchange of ideas and information and a broker and implementer of projects.  We believe that structural impact will only come about through a range of connected activities, rather than through a single big initiative or a myriad of disjointed projects. We don’t know yet how Big Data can be best used for human development and social progress. Answers will come from a combination of opportunistic and strategic decisions and actions both on the supply and demand sides of the field. But these should be taken with an eye on the main prize: a future where Big Data improves lives and reduces inequalities, rather than one characterized by a new and widening digital divide.
It is only by linking and leveraging skills, perspectives, and resources in an inter-disciplinary, systematic, and collegial manner that we will collectively be able to make the most of the tremendous potential offered by Big Data to create more agile and more accountable sociopolitical ecosystems, while avoiding its main traps and pitfalls. In this, we are fortunate enough to be joined by an incredible number of institutional and individual partners in a wide range of fields and sectors, from computer science to humanitarian assistance, official statistics to statistical machine-learning, working in small non-governmental organizations and large international institutions, official bodies and academic establishments.
Of course, differences of views are and will be represented in Data-Pop Alliance—along, and at times at odds with, ‘expected’ political lines and economic interests. An obviously contentious question is: in a post-Snowden era, how much, how, by and for whom, when and for what purpose, should cell-phone data be collected, shared and analyzed? Addressing that question—and many others—won’t be easy. But our conviction, based on the lessons of past revolutions and our own experiences, is that the confrontation of competing perspectives coupled with the constant recall of our common objectives is the best and indeed only way to create constructive change.
And so this ‘launch blog post’ is also a call to action and connection to everyone willing to contribute to our mission statement: promoting a people-centered Big Data revolution for development and social progress.
Find out more about the Wikiprogress discussion on:

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Democratising data: the need to make statistics more accessible to everyone

The world of statistics is changing: traditionally the domain of experts alone, new technologies and methods of communication have the potential to open up a range of different data to new audiences, and to make statistics more accessible to everyone. From 11-24 June, Wikiprogress is hosting an online discussion on the role of open data, communication and technology in making data more accessible for society at large. This blog, by Kate Scrivens, Wikiprogress Project Manager, sets out some of the key issues for the discussion.

Data of the people, by the people and for the people

For centuries, the primary purpose of government data, from the Domesday Book to the present day, has been to inform decision-making at the very highest levels. However, the last decade or so has seen an increasing movement towards ‘democratising data’, and making statistics available that are more relevant to a broader public. The shift towards a ‘beyond GDP’ mind-set, focusing on developing better and broader measures of people’s well-being, is an essential step in developing statistics that are more relevant to people’s lives. But democratising data is also about ensuring that relevant statistics are more easily accessible to a wider public.

Thanks to the internet and other innovative technologies, people can engage with data in an increasing number of ways: not only as consumers of new types of information, but also as interpreters, communicators and even producers of data.

People as data interpreters: the power of Open Data

Open data are data that people are ‘free to use, re-use and redistribute — without any legal, technological or social restriction’, according to the Open Knowledge Foundation.  By opening up previously restricted data – from government and other sources – for universal use, citizens have the chance to be much more directly involved in decision-making, and to be better informed about issues that affect their own well-being. For example, people looking to move to a new town, can compare data on air quality, schools, hospitals, or other factors that matter most to them in order to select the best place to live. They can also use the same data to shine a spotlight on areas where improvement is needed, thereby strengthening the accountability of government and other institutions.

Opening up access to data can be empowering, but not everyone has the necessary skills or patience to make the most of raw data. Open Data has the biggest impact when they are made available in an easily accessible format by people acting as ‘data interpreters’, with the necessary analytical and technical skills to re-use the data in innovative, new ways, such as creating mobile apps and other technologies. For example,, showcases a large selection of apps created using European public data, from an app to monitor carbon monoxide emissions across Europe, to one helping road users identify traffic accident hotspots. For the power of Open Data to be evenly shared across society, however, capacity-building is crucial. Organisations such as the School of Data, exist for exactly this purpose: to provide engaged citizens with the skills they need to make the most of data. For many, this kind of power shift is the true meaning of the “data revolution” (read more here and here).

People as data communicators: visualisation and storytelling

Creating mobile apps is just one way of re-using data. An equally powerful way of making statistics more accessible to a broader audience is through the use of storytelling to convey the underlying meaning of the data. This can be done by the data producers themselves (such as government or statistical agencies) or by intermediaries such as data journalists, civil society organisations or anyone with an interest in finding the best way to communicate the key messages of datasets. Stories can be told in the traditional way, through narrative text, or they can be conveyed in a more visual manner - through infographics and charts that organise the data in such a way that the meaning is immediately apparent. Data visualisations can be incredibly beautiful, but their importance goes beyond aesthetics: they provide a unique means of highlighting new patterns in statistics and looking at the world in a different way. Visualisations can be static, or they can be interactive and dynamic, such as the animated trends from, which visualise the evolution in development indicators such as child mortality and HIV prevalence to gain new insight.
Telling a story around statistics, either through words or visualisations, is not without its pitfalls and data communicators need to be responsible storytellers, not misrepresenting the data to meet their own needs.  Data visualisation as a mass communication tool is a relatively new discipline and a better understanding of best practice and good examples would be a helpful resource for data communicators.

People as data producers: crowdsourcing statistics through digital technology

Finally, digital technologies mean that members of the public can have greater access to statistics by participating themselves as data producers. The prevalence of accessible yet sophisticated mapping technology through mobile platforms provides a means to crowdsource data from members of the public. While this is a new area, there are a number of examples of crowdsourced data related to progress and well-being statistics such as Mappiness - an app to monitor levels of subjective well-being in the UK, Open Elm Map – which uses community-generated data to track Dutch Elm Disease, Harrassmap – which uses crowdsourced data to highlight sexual harassment hotspots in Egypt, and the Ushadi platform, which was originally used to track political violence in Kenya and which now encompasses a number of open-source platforms. Crowdsourced data is perhaps the ultimate in democratising data: empowering people to be producers as well as consumers of data.

Best practices and good examples

It is clear that making data more accessible to society at large covers a broad range of issues. Technological advances provide a huge potential for democratising data, but many of these areas are new or evolving quickly. There is a need to identify best practices and good examples in the areas of Open Data, visualisation, and crowdsourcing technologies in order to provide guidance to those interested in making data more accessible.

This online discussion is an opportunity for the Wikiprogress community to hear from individuals and organisations with experience in these areas. In particular we’d like answers to the following questions:

  • What role can Open Data play to increase citizen’s engagement with well-being and progress statistics?
  • How can data visualisation and storytelling be used to increase our understanding of data? What are the best examples of data visualisation?
  • What are the best examples of crowd-sourced data related to well-being and progress?

We look forward to hearing from you in the discussion!