Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Thank you to all Prog Blog readers

Dear readers,

We would like to thank you for following the Prog Blog this year. We will be taking a little break until January.

Some of the things I will be reading over the holidays are “The Spirit Level, why equal societies almost always do better” and also “Difference, how the power of diversity creates better groups, firms, schools and societies”. Ok, I do admit that I am totally addicted to this Millennium series so I must plow through “The Girl Who Played with Fire”.
It has been a really good year for measuring progress in 2010. We were just talking about how the Community Portal in late 2009 had maybe 1 or 2 articles per week on measuring progress mentioned in the media. Now, we have over 50 articles in the news each week about governments, communities and researchers measuring progress. Check it out in 2011 as we will try to make sure that our media review is even more comprehensive. If you see anything that we have missed or think we should highlight, please do contact us (or add it to the wiki yourself!).

We are also playing with this new tool from Google which searches the frequency of words in Google books over time. Prog Blogger Chris Garroway sent this around to our group this morning. See below the search that Chris did on social cohesion, social exclusion, social capital, social mobility.

Talk of social capital took off in the early 90's.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season from all the Prog bloggers.

We look forward to blogging with you in 2011.


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Turning Statistics into Knowledge - seminar report by Trevor Fletcher

For the last three days I’ve been attending the seminar on “Innovative Approaches to Turn Statistics into Knowledge” held in the wonderful city of Cape Town. The seminar, co-hosted by Statistics South Africa, the OECD and World Bank, has provided a platform for international organisations, statistical agencies, research institutes and companies to showcase their software for visualising data to make it more easily understandable and interesting to a wider audience and we’ve seen some very, very interesting new developments. And as well as seeing the new tools, I learned several new terms for my vocabulary that I shall definitely use at my next cocktail party. These include “informavore”, “informationally obese”, “Homo Statisticus” to quote but a few…

The seminar opened with a session devoted to the use of maps to visualise data that featured, for instance, the combination of Geographic Information System techniques with Neural Network Prediction in an Automated Valuation Model: you heard it here first! There were also other impressive uses of dynamic mapping interfaces such as using the web-based mapping revolutionary era to turn African statistics into knowledge.

Next up was the session on “How to get the most of data with Discovery and Analysis software”. Some highlights were the OECD Development Centre’s presentation (and I’m not being biased here, promise!) on “How IT tools can help support the global partnership for development” that had some very snappy animations, and “Making statistics matter – improved access to Pacific regional information” that showed a very innovative system for users to enter their own data very simply into a very lively web-based graphics tool.

The session on storytelling covered a very broad range of topics which featured a “Children’s HIV and AIDS Scorecard” from South African research institute the Yezingane Network, a presentation of a very comprehensive storytelling software package from NcomVA of Sweden and a personal favourite of mine, the “Statistical Self Portrait” from Statistics Korea.

There were other excellent presentations too numerous to mention that demonstrated that data storytelling software is very much a growth industry.

And to reinforce this fact, the seminar was treated to a premier of the BBC programme “The Joy of Stats” featuring Hans Rosling (who presented his Gapminder software at previous seminars) showing some cutting-edge tools for presenting statistics that fitted perfectly on the agenda of our seminar. So thanks to Hans and the BBC!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Educated in the School of Life: Education through a Well-being Lens

This week the OECD has released another round of PISA results. PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, is one of the Organisation’s greatest success stories. It has had a profound influence on education policy in many countries and now captures headlines around the world when the latest data are released. Clear proof that measurements matter and can drive change.

PISA surveys 15 year olds in more than 70 countries to assess their performance in mathematics, science and reading. By producing comparable outcome measures of student performance in each area it has allowed countries to compare their education systems with those of their peers. And this has been a powerful motivator for reform.

But how do you judge if an education system is performing well? To answer that you must know what you are trying to achieve with an education system in the first place. And the more I think about this, the more I realise it is not such an easy question to answer.

Unless education systems are just glorified day care to help working parents, schools must surely be trying to ensure that the kids that come out of the other end are going to have better lives (or greater well-being) than if they hadn’t gone into the system in the first place. So a system is performing well if it somehow optimises the amount of well-being it can create for the resources (money and time) it uses. Of course, having a job and a pay packet is a key part of well-being for most of us, but it is not all that matters.

So far, so good. But how do you define ‘better lives’ or ‘greater well-being’ and how do you know what education contributes? This is where it becomes more complicated. There are some economists who argue that educational attainment (particularly at higher levels) is important primarily as a signalling tool to help employers hire smart people. In other words they argue, it doesn’t really matter what you learned in your degree but the fact you passed with a first class distinction means you are going to be a better choice at interview than the other guy who scraped a pass. If this is true, a degree seems quite an expensive IQ test.

Other economists try to quantify the value of education through looking at the higher income it can generate over a lifetime. The so called ‘lifetime labour income approach’ treats education as an investment, the return on which is higher income later in life. This approach has many merits, but ultimately it is quite depressing for anyone who sees education as valuable for reasons other than as a path to a bigger pay cheque.

Meanwhile, the OECD’s PISA aims to assess how well students have acquired “some of the knowledge and skills essential for full participation in society”. This is a less mercenary approach and seems much more closely allied to well-being.

However, I still prefer the idea of viewing education as a means to greater well-being. Looking at education through a well-being lens might one day significantly change the way we think about our schools and what they teach and how it is taught. But, while this is fine in theory, it is not so easy to operationalise for two reasons. First, we don’t have a very good understanding of how education contributes to well-being because (and this is the second reason) … because in part we don’t have much of an understanding of what well-being is.

We know already that education contributes to many aspects of well-being but we don’t know quite why. Another fascinating piece of OECD research – the Social Outcomes of Learning – investigated just this. It looked at whether and how education contributes to other social ‘goods’. And the answers were interesting though really only scraped the surface. Educated people are healthier and not just because they are richer, but also because they are better able to assess risks and live healthier lifestyles. And there are intergenerational effects too. Educated parents can look after their kids better.

Education also goes hand in hand with increased civic and social engagement. Here the relationship appeared to be not just about what is learned, but also (partly) to do with the amount of time students spend in education.

Imagine if we had a clear understanding of the way in which education contributed to all the key aspects of well-being. And imagine if we decided to organise our education systems so as to maximise people’s lifetime well-being. Now imagine just how different the education systems of the future might be, and the extent to which resources might be reallocated (with schools taking a slice of the health and social cohesion budgets too).

Of course similar arguments could apply to other areas of policy when seen through a well-being lens. These are big questions, and they are unlikely to be answered any time soon. But they are fascinating and important. And they are proof, to my mind at least, that thinking about government through a well-being lens will, sooner or later, revolutionise public policy making. And then, and only then, might we truly have joined-up government.

Jon Hall

Thursday, 2 December 2010

10 years later and still no peace and security for women

Karen Barnes, Gender Project Coordinator at the OECD Development Centre, writes on the occasion 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Despite the fanfare in New York and around the world surrounding the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, is there anything worth celebrating? In short, the answer is “Yes, but…”

On 31 October 2010, the international community marked the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This landmark resolution adopted in October 2000 was the first time that the UN specifically addressed the issue of women in situations of armed conflict.

The most important contribution of the research, advocacy and programming around SCR 1325 to date has been in highlighting the commitment, innovation and energy of women around the world who are building peace in their communities, countries, and through networks that reach across the globe.

Join the conversation

The problem is that too often these activities are invisible and marginalised in the informal sphere. That’s why we want to hear from you:

  • What is the situation in your country with respect to SCR 1325?
  • Do you think that the resolutions have made any difference in the struggle against gender-based violence? If not, what could be done to improve the situation?
  • How can we engage men more effectively in our efforts to implement SCR 1325?
  • Do you think that women and girls in conflict-affected countries are better off than they were 10 years ago?
  • Can you share any examples of where women have been able to make a difference in peace negotiations, peacekeeping missions or post-conflict reconstruction?

Women as agents of change

War affects men and women in different ways, and they also have different needs during the post-conflict phase. Importantly, it is now widely acknowledged that women are not just victims of conflict, but that they can be peacebuilders and key agents for change in their communities, as well as perpetrators or instigators of violence. Recognising this is essential for the sustainability and inclusiveness of peacebuilding processes, and the Security Council resolutions, the many National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security, and the countless other policies and frameworks that have been developed over the past ten years reaffirm this. But is this all empty rhetoric?


Since 2000, there have been some steps forward:

  • The UN has appointed a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict;
  • A Civil Society Advisory Group on the implementation of SCR 1325 has been established;
  • A set of proposed indicators for monitoring SCR 1325 have been drafted;
  • The number of women appointed to head UN peacekeeping missions is slowly rising;
  • Rwanda, a post-conflict country that experienced sexual violence on an unprecedented scale, now boasts the highest proportion of women in parliament at 56%.


But while these issues are on the table in a way that was unthinkable ten years ago, the full protection and participation of women in peace and security processes is still a long way off:

  • In a sample of 24 major peace processes since 1992, less than 3% of signatories have been women;
  • Women make up only 3% of uniformed peacekeepers and 8% of UN police;
  • In August 2010, more than 300 women and children were raped in Walikale, DRC, only a few kilometers from a UN peacekeeping base;
  • An analysis of Post-Conflict Needs Assessments in six countries found that less than 5% of activities and only 2.9% of budget lines were found to mention women’s needs and issues

Why are these resolutions not being implemented?

In the run-up to October 2010, a number of reports, articles and books were published in an attempt to take stock, highlight progress and identify gaps in the implementation of SCR 1325. According to a report released just before the 10th anniversary surveying women’s opinions in six countries, “bureaucratic inertia, leadership vacuums, empty rhetoric and fundamental misunderstanding about this agenda” are some of the main reasons.

A new book assessing the implementation of SCR 1325 through 8 country and 4 regional case studies finds that the lack of accountability and monitoring mechanisms, the limited financial resources and the failure to build on the community-based initiatives of women’s organisations are three key obstacles to the successful implementation of the resolution. It is this latter point that may hold the key for ensuring more gender-sensitive approaches to peace and security over the next decade.

Therefore, the real question that needs to be answered is whether or not there has been any concrete impact on the ground. Are the needs of women and girls living in conflict-affected regions being addressed? Are they empowered to participate and engage in peacebuilding and recovery processes? In short, is there now more peace and security for women than there was 10 years ago?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Growth and development - for whom?

Today’s post is from Stephen Groff, Deputy Director of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate.

UNDP’s Human Development Report, launched on Friday at OECD headquarters in Paris, stresses that today’s development challenges require a new outlook. There are no silver bullets or magic potions for human development. Rather than trying to replicate past experience, we need to focus on new opportunities. Rather than attempting to apply policy prescriptions, we need to adapt general principles and guidelines to the local context. And we must address major new challenges - in particular, climate change - and build democratically accountable global institutions to deal with them. Our analysis must go deeper, and we must consider carefully the multidimensionality of development objectives.

The Human Development Index was one of the first serious attempts to broaden the debate around just how we measure development. Over time, the development community has moved from an initial, rather simplistic stance of increased GDP as synonymous with development, to an array of indicators for ranking how countries and people are faring. In recent years, the debate has become much more pronounced with the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi commission and the OECD’s work on measuring the progress of societies.

At OECD we recognise how important measurements are; they are, quite simply, our means of defining success. And, as such, we feel that it is vital to consider development outcomes in their multiple facets—not just poverty or income growth levels. Growth is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. The Human Development Report confirms this central truth, and also makes it clear that there is no single pathway to success. Each country must have the ownership, capacity and resources to find their own solutions to their own development challenges.

In this respect, it is very positive to see the G20’s growing focus on development. Having just attended the G20 Summit in Seoul, I was fortunate to witness global leaders confirming the challenge of closing development gaps as a core element of their economic co-operation.

This is good news for at least two reasons. First, the G20 countries are the largest global economies and major partners of low-income countries (LICs), and what they do matters a lot for LICs’ growth. Second, G20 countries bring to the development debate new perspectives and fresh ideas—in particular, they bring their own development experiences and skills, enriching the menu of options available to LICs for the design of their development strategies and policies.

In Seoul, the G20 adopted the Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth and an action plan comprising nine pillars to promote LICs’ growth. The G20 is uniquely placed to provide leadership in advancing the international development agenda and achieving the MDGs. They can do this by: improving their own policies; sharing their development experiences; providing assistance to build capacity; and offering strategic guidance to international organisations, thereby enhancing the effectiveness of the multilateral system. It is essential that all these work together toward the ultimate objective of improving the impact of G20 policies on LICs’ growth.

The OECD, like the G20, takes a comprehensive approach to development and to knowledge sharing, cross-fertilisation and policy coherence, placing development at the core of our work and engaging our full range of policy communities. With decades of experience in development, we are pleased to be mandated by the G20 to work closely with the UN, the World Bank and other international organisations to contribute to implementing the action plan. We believe that our contributions will help the G20 to identify what works when promoting growth and poverty reduction, to better assess the impact of G20’s own policies on LIC growth, and to find ways of maximizing positive impacts.

The G20 approach to development is underpinned by a fundamental belief in the core importance of growth. This is the right perspective as growth is a necessary component of development but it is also important to remember that the rate of poverty reduction depends on the pattern, and not only the pace, of growth. One of the key messages of the HDR—and one that I know the G20 will heed—is that growth does not automatically equate to other aspects of development. Nor is there a minimum threshold of growth required for countries to develop.

At OECD, we are keen to share our experience regarding what makes growth benefit the poor—something we have been exploring for years in the DAC and its Network on Poverty Reduction. More generally, we will continue to put a strong emphasis on measuring the progress of societies, because people, as the HDR says, are the real wealth of nations.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Mashed-up Indexes: nonsense or enlightenment?

Today we present an ongoing debate between Chris and Johannes over the past couple of weeks. It’s become more intense and fun since Martin Ravallion, Director of the World Bank's Development Research Group, put out a Working Paper highlighting the various difficulties, shortcomings and flaws of a growing industry of "mash-up" development indexes. Whereas Chris is pleased someone has voiced his own concerns about the value of these indexes in a systematic and rigorous way, Johannes is much less convinced about the overall negative assessment of composite indicators. He feels criticism of the many development-related composite indicators ignores their main strength, which is to put otherwise ignored development issues on the table for discussion by policy makers, rather than relegating them to academic discussions in peer-reviewed journals.

Witness the following imaginative coffee talk between them both:

JOHANNES: Hey Chris, have you seen this?! Finally, somebody – and not just anybody, but the head of research at the World Bank –put down on paper some of your reservations about all these increasingly popular composite indicators, such as the Multidimensional Poverty Index, the World Gender Gap Index, the Human Development Index, etc – you must be quite pleased, aren’t you?

CHRIS: Well, Johannes, as you're an admitted fan of these "mash-up" indexes, I am surprised to hear about this from you, but sure, I think it’s not only great but also timely. UNDP just launched last week its HDR report using Foster and Alkire’s new methodology for measuring international poverty and yes, I must say, I have problems with it. For sure, development doesn't depend on economic growth alone, so a single measure like GDP isn't sufficient to measure progress. But what use are development indexes or composite indicators at all, like the UN's Human Development Index , when we can’t even keep track of development progress along a few commonly agreed dimensions of progress, such as the eight goals that make up the internationally agreed upon Millennium Development Goals?

JOHANNES: Well, Chris, good point. I think we agree that measuring development is a messy business. As you know there are literally hundreds of measures used by international organizations, such as the UN, the World Bank, and the OECD to compare and benchmark countries along different dimensions of development. For example, the MDGs try to boil down progress on development into 8 simple measurable objectives. Eight goals seem easy enough to handle, right? But, if you dig a little deeper into the official UN documentation on the MDGs, you realize that the 8 goals are actually only the tip of the iceberg. Each goal is associated with up to six related targets. Each of these targets then is associated with up to seven related indicators. All in all, that means that to measure development using the MDGs, you need to keep track of eight goals, 21 targets, and 60 indicators! See link

Try explaining that to the average person in the street-- let alone, to a president or prime minister!

Thus the need for composite indicators. They allow different dimensions of development to be combined into one measure that is simple to understand and explain. And what's more and often forgot, is that these development indexes aren't made to please ivory tower Harvard PhD researchers; instead their main aim is to alert policy makers to important issues. Countries are ranked according to these indexes, which kicks off a healthy debate about issues that otherwise would not even be noticed. The media likes them so much that you can even get them interested in such boring topics as the time it takes to open up a business! Do you know that probably the most influential "mash-up" index in recent memory was IFC's Doing Business index? It's had real success in getting countries to pay attention to the concerns and importance of small businesses.

CHRIS: Ugh! Don't me remind me of the dark ages! Actually, I am surprised that you defend the Doing Business indicators so much as they clearly show how ideology can drive the composition of these indexes. In 2008, for example, the World Bank’s own Independent Evaluation Group criticized the indicators as being overly biased towards deregulation and having no statistically significant relationship with economic growth and development. I suspect this is why you can sometimes draw bizarre conclusions from these indexes, like the fact that according to the ease of starting a business indicator, Liberia ranks higher than Germany , where many would argue that the dynamism of its small business sector has helped make the country one of the strongest exporters worldwide.

JOHANNES: Okay, Chris, good point. Paying too much attention to the index ranking can miss the point. And ranking countries can be harmful if they focus debate on the ranking, rather than on the issue itself. What is really important is why the data makes one country score better than another in a given dimension. But the value of ranking as an advocacy tool shouldn't be underestimated. Countries don't like to see themselves ranked low on an index or composite indicator. Often it can be perceived as bad for business and investment in a country. In this way, index rankings can help policymakers focus on an issue of concern and try to build political will for reform to improve their country's ranking. This is where composite indicators can be particularly valuable by combining related measures so that an important issue, like, for example, gender inequality, is tackled holistically by policymakers and is confronted as a cross-cutting problem.

CHRIS: But doesn't it all depend on how the data is combined in a composite measure? Aggregation of only loosely related components in these indexes and the use of arbitrary weighting can make these indexes troublesome as well – you risk adding up apples, oranges, and cherries. If, for example, your index is based on the average of GDP per capita, educational attainment, and life expectancy, you are assuming that lack of economic growth can be compensated for by increases in education or increases in life expectancy. Not everyone would agree on such strong assumptions! How a composite indicator combines and weights its constituent parts is an important issue. Ideally, the weighting and combination of various indicators should be grounded in a theory of how the various parts work together. Put simply, you should only combine apples and oranges if you are interested in fruits as a whole! Establishing how a composite indicator should be weighted is therefore open to debate in a large number of cases (e.g., some people think fruit as whole is interesting, while others only find discussion of citrus fruits to be valuable!).

JOHANNES: Interestingly enough, there is increasing openness to discussion of the weightings and assumptions underlying composite indicators. For example, the Human Development Report 2010, has introduced new methodologies for examining the holistic nature of human development and poverty through it's new IHDI and MPI measures. One way to address these concerns is actually related to the word "mash-up" used in the title of Ravallion's working paper , which was borrowed from the web 2.0 jargon.

How to use today's technology to permit this greater openness is demonstrated by a web application used on the OECD’s Social Insitution and Gender Index’s “Build My Own Gender Index” website. Rather than rely solely on the weighting provided by the authors of the index, the site allows users to both drop and add as well as change components of the index and observe how the rankings change in real time. Users can also drill down into the underlying data for each country and see the qualitative research that informed the quantitative data.

CHRIS: I totally agree about the value of these online tools for making indexes more transparent, Johannes. The latest developments in these technologies will be the focus of a joint seminar organized by the OECD, World Bank and Statistics South Africa in Cape Town in December. Although the seminar is called "Turning statistics into knowledge", I think it will also be a good chance to discuss turning knowledge into "implementation and action”!

CG and JJ

Friday, 12 November 2010

Linking Migration and Development: What Comes after Puerto Vallarta?

The 4th Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, 8-11 of November, has been the opportunity for representatives from the civil society and governments to share and discuss on the migration-development nexus. But it is not sure that the vivid debates that have taken place since the beginning of the meeting really contribute to changing the preconceived thoughts that each delegate had previously to her arrival. As a matter of fact, the 2010 Global Forum has confirmed that we are still far from a global consensus on migration issues.

The non-binding nature of the GFMD

Since 2007, the GFMD has gathered representatives from the countries of origin, transit and destination to discuss best practices. It is not meant, however, to produce agreements or normative decisions. The non-binding nature of the Forum is by itself a point of disagreement between those who consider the flexibility of the process as a chance to move forward on such a sensitive issue as migration, and those who see it as an obstacle to concrete actions towards a more co-operative governance framework.

The role of the civil society

Even though Mexico decided to create a Common Space, where representatives from the civil society and governments have been able to share specific concerns, it is striking that the GFMD remains divided into two consecutive events: the Civil Society days (8 and 9 of November) and the Government days (10 and 11 of November). The fact that delegates from the two sectors barely meet is significant of the many discrepancies between them, in particular as regard the role of migrants, as well as their status and position in the society. In general, the delegates of the civil society complain that their recommendations are not really taken into account by governments.

The protection of the rights of the migrants

Mexico has decided to put the emphasis on the protection of the rights of migrants. But this is rather controversial. Indeed, most countries of immigration consider that migrants who try to irregularly cross borders violate immigration laws, and therefore cannot blame states for the difficulties they face doing so. By contrast, countries of origin, as well as most representatives from the civil society, reckon that by raising increasingly restrictive migration policies, countries of destination are responsible – even indirectly – for the violations of human rights that affect migrants.

The direction of the link between migration and development

In theory, sending and receiving countries share the same interest for migration and development issues. In this respect, the GFMD enables all parties to coordinate their policies to maximise the benefits associated with international mobility. However, in practice, there is a discrepancy on the direction of the link between migration and development. Indeed, while industrialised countries see development as a way to contain immigration, developing countries tend to consider emigration as an instrument for development.

The lack of discussions on the regulation of migration flows

The Global Forum, as its name itself denotes, focuses on the link between migration and development, but does not contemplate the regulation of migration flows. However, migration policies have been at the centre of many discussions, at least implicitly. Indeed, it is difficult to mainstream migration into development strategies while putting a brake on international mobility.

So, what should be the priorities of the next GFMDs and more generally of international discussions on migration and development?

· The dialogue between the representatives from the civil society and governments should be strengthened, by making the entire Forum a common space where NGOs, trade unions, employers and public authorities could share their experiences and work together towards a better governance of migration.

· It is time to stop disconnecting discussions on the link between migration and development and those on the regulation of migration flows. This implies a more co-operative framework, with binding negotiations on migration issues.

· Industrialised countries should acknowledge that they need foreign labour (not only qualified, but also unskilled and low-skilled workers), in particular to answer the challenge of population ageing. In this respect, political leaders need to explain the role and importance of immigration instead of playing with public’s opinion fears.

· As migration flows are mainly caused by public policy failures both in industrialised and developing countries, discussions on migration and development should be oriented towards a co-responsibility framework, which implies that public authorities take into account the spillover effects of migration policies on other countries.

· A governance framework based on co-responsibility should be centred around five main priorities: the protection of migrants, the accumulation of human capital, the promotion of financial democracy, the transfer of technology, and the strengthening of social cohesion.

A position paper on Linking Migration and Development: The Need for a Co-responsibility Framework will be soon available on the OECD Development Centre website.

David Khoudour-Castéras

Please feel free to comment below or contact me directly...

Thursday, 4 November 2010

What has the wiki team jumping for joy ?

Over the last year Wikiprogress has been monitoring the media coverage of the ‘measuring progress’ movement. Each month, news articles and blogs reporting on: dimensions of progress, new indexes, the limitations of GDP etc. are gathered in the Wikiprogress community portal. Last month there was an incredible amount of media coverage and we thought we’d share a few of the highlights with you:

The community portal is home to more than just media coverage. Have a look at a few new sections that were added last month:

If you come across a news article or anything you feel is community portal worthy, please add it by editing the Community Portal- remember you must be signed in to edit and if you add an external link you must answer a simple maths question after saving.

Lets see if we can make November better than October !


Monday, 25 October 2010

Measuring Peace in the Media

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) and Media Tenor released a fact-based report today on ‘Measuring Peace in the Media’. The first study of its kind, the report brings into question the accuracy of how international television networks have been covering peace and conflict over the last four years.

The report is based on 37 TV news and current affairs programmes from 23 networks in 15 countries being cross-referenced with the Global Peace Index.

An overall theme of the report shows that the breadth of the subject matter covered by international media has a significant impact on how well audiences understand the culture of the country being covered. This is particularly interesting in the case of Afghanistan.

The report goes into significant detail on Afghanistan and finds that there is a disproportionate amount of coverage focusing on crime and defence, while crucial factors such as the functioning of government, distribution of resources and the business environment are neglected. Such factors are crucial to help build sustainable peace.

Over-reporting on violence is impeding peace in Afghanistan, as Roland Schatz, CEO of Media Tenor states ‘Informing the public on what will build long term peace and sustainability is vital to the war on terrorism’.

The report goes beyond the case study of Afghanistan and gives a detailed account of who’s reporting on who, focusing on different patterns of coverage from European, Middle Eastern and US broadcasters. The most interesting finding of this section shows that Middle Eastern broadcasters are more positive than European and US outlets.

Here is a snapshot of some other interesting facts that might surprise you…

- US TV networks broadcast more violence than other countries

- The 10 TV programmes reporting the most violence dedicate an average of 48% of their total coverage to violence

- The 10 TV programmes reporting the least violence dedicate an average of 24% of their coverage to violence

- Positive peace stories are just 1.6% of the total number of stories examined in this report

- Middle Eastern broadcasters are more positive than European and US outlets

The report beings to light the difference found between media networks, and lets just say the BBC deserves its good reputation. In terms of breadth and coverage, the BBC reports on almost twice as many countries as the average level of coverage.

You can find the full report here along with interviews on the subject with Amre Moussa, the Secretary General of the League of Arab States and the World Bank’s Nick van Praag. I strongly suggest taking time out and having a read. I look forward to many discussions to come on measuring peace in the media.


- See wikiprogress article on the Global Peace Index and find the data on Wikiprogress.Stat

Monday, 18 October 2010

Stats update from Trevor

Hello again to all our wikiprogress fans out there - its been a while since the last update and a lot has been happening in the wikiprogress world since I posted back in July.

For a start we now have a new interface in place that allows you to load your own progress related data into the wikiprogress database. The wiki-loader walks you through the steps involved in uploading data and metadata files. See for yourself just how simple it is to do. We already have 96 data sets in the system and we want yours as well... so get uploading people!

The most recent data set to be uploaded is called "Is life Getting Better" and includes 32 indicators of progress. It was uploaded by the Global Social Change Research Project and covers a diverse range of subjects such as climate, poverty, human rights, life expectancy - check it out.

We're also adding new features to the eXplorer data visualisation software with the help of our friends at NComVA thanks to Professor Mikael Jern and his team. 

And last but not least, 20/10 2010 is the first World Statistics day - there will be a lot of exciting events happening all over the globe to mark the event - check the official web site to find out what is happening near you! Also, have a look at how we plan to celebrate and support Wikiprogress by sharing this poster with your colleagues and friends.

Until next time... Trevor.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Interview with Sue Taylor

Interview with Sue Taylor from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on the electronic publication Measures of Australia's Progress 2010. This interview took place at the NatStats 2010 conference held last month in Sydney.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Australians are becoming healthier, wealthier and wiser

The recent release of the electronic publication Measures of Australia’s Progress 2010 (MAP2010) caused quite a stir at the National Statistics conference held in Sydney last week (NatStats 2010).

MAP2010 looks at a range of progress indicators over the last decade and aims to answers the question- is life in Australia getting better?

So… is it? The overall answer is yes. We can add a few years onto life expectancy, drop a few percentage points on unemployment rates, see attainment of vocational or higher education qualifications soar and watch the dollar rise for both national income and household economic wellbeing.

On the downside? The environment. Australia has regressed in the areas of biodiversity and atmosphere… and quite significantly I might add.

We’ve known for a while that Australia has generally been progressing in overall wellbeing and prosperity, and that it also has environmental issues that need to be addressed, so why the big fuss over MAP2010?

It’s not just about the fact that MAP have expanded their indicators, or that key indicators can be measured over 10 years giving us a real sense of progress/regress or even the overwhelming joy of the Australians at the conference knowing that they are more or less on the right track. It is about the fact that anyone can access the publication and see at a glace where Australia is going well and where they need to improve. And best of all, you don’t need to be a statistician (or a rocket scientist) to understand it!

MAP2010 uses a traffic-light system to indicate dimensions of progress that have improved (green light), dimensions that have regressed (red light) and dimensions that have neither progress or regressed over the last 10 years (amber).

The publication includes a snapshot of data and text to explain what impact these measurements have on the lives of Australians. Further and quite detailed information is available for each indicator for those who are interested, but for those who just want to see where Australia stands and how far it has come- the snapshot provides just the right amount of information.

This echoes a common theme that has come out of NatStats2010 conference, that is a call to not only continue developing measures of progress, but to ensure these measures are communicated and understood by those they most effect- the general public. I am thrilled to say that I think MAP2010 has achieved this.

Stayed tuned for a video interview with Sue Taylor on MAP2010...


Friday, 10 September 2010


Is this not a much more effective slogan than the long-widened technocratic Millennium Development Goals Agenda? This provocative question wa asked by David Hulme, Professor at the Chronic Poverty Researc Centre, Manchester, in his key note addressing some 500 delegates at a big development conference “Ten Years of Wars Against Poverty”, in which I am currently participating. David’s assessment of MDG progress is rather gloomy: much has been promised, little achieved. David’s critic of too much technocratics (planning, managing and executing aid programs for poverty reduction) and not enough focus on political process, structural change and communication is refreshing. The large public certainly has no clue what the MDG’s are, why we have them and how we are doing in achieving them. You can try it out with your friends. So, again, we learn that good ideas – and I believe the MDG’s are quite useful to frame a debate on poverty reduction and development – needs adequate accompanying communication to relate to a broader public and to shape agendas.

But what is really striking in this conference is the absence so far of debating the tectonic shift in power relations that will shape also our capacity to address global poverty issues. We should take note that the majority of the poor are now living in middle income countries who are still poor but in per capita terms but have an enormous weight in the world economy and driving global growth. This shifting wealth phenomenon leads to two important questions: How are we dealing with global and local poverty in this new area? It is not at all clear that the elites of the emerging giants sign up to our western agendas and approaches to deal with poverty and development. Secondly, how can we effectively put poverty reduction, social protection and in general social cohesion on the agenda of the emerging and poor countries, where there is still often a believe that social protection will be a drag on productivity and growth. Certainly one element of the answer will be to provide evidence that indeed fighting social exclusion, enhancing social capital and promoting social mobility is not only helping societies to become more human but also are an ingredient for a stronger and fairer economy.

Things are already on the move. Take China: The Lewis labour surplus model of development seems to come to an end, with an increasing shortage of labourers, rising wages and an increasing demand for conflict resolution mechanisms to solve labor disputes. In response to these trends and in view of the policy objective to create an harmonious society, the Chinese government has actually started a couple of iniatives such as the Labor Contract Law signed in 2008 and the upcoming Social Insurance Law by end of this year. All this will hopefully lead to a change to the better for millions of Chinese. But there is a bigger point to it: China moves slowly but steadily from an export led growth model to more income led growth, with implications for the world economy as a whole. Maybe we can hope that the upcoming G20 will put more emphasis on structural issues related to bad jobs, informal employment and providing social protection in countries with only developing institutions and limited capacity.

Finally, we heard about the importance of addressing discriminating social institutions to fight poverty. Rightly so! This is probably the most under-researched area in development with the most bang for the buck. A better understanding of determinants and relations is needed but the real challenge lies in identifying good practices on how to overcome and change persisting practices. More needs to be done in this field.

Stop children dying now would be a useful slogan to remind all of us that non-action is not an option.


Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Sustainable Society Index

This is a comment from Geurt van de Kerk in response to Jon Hall's last blog post titled From homo economicus to homo edoctus: evolution in the information age. We thought the comment was so interesting we would publish it as a new post.

You have written an appealing and challenging blog, Jon. It provokes me to write a reaction. You have posed a question about measuring and I happen to know the answer to that question. But first of all, what do you want to measure? Success? Progress? Progress to what? Happiness? Or ‘just’ to replace GDP by a better measure?

Of course we can measure everything that is important or at least interesting. But should our main concern not be about progress to sustainability? Without living within the ecological limits imposed by our planet and the social limits set by the community of mankind, life cannot be continued. Happiness is less important than sustainability. If we are talking about progress, it should be about progress on the way towards sustainability.

We can use the famous Brundtland definition for expressing what we mean by sustainability and add a third sentence to this definition to make explicitly clear that Environmental wellbeing and Human wellbeing are both included. The extended Brundtland definition may run as follows:
A sustainable society is a society

  • that meets the needs of the present generation,
  • that does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,
  • in which each human being has the opportunity to develop itself in freedom, within a well-balanced society and in harmony with its surroundings.

There is overwhelming proof of the risks we run by the ever increasing GHG emissions, by the social inequalities worldwide, by the loss of biodiversity, by damaging our environment. Let’s not quarrel about the question which indicator or set of indicators is best. Any set of indicators that covers the main aspects of sustainability and is built upon reliable data is OK.

Let’s not fool ourselves by measuring things like happiness. Of course, it is awfully nice if everybody is happy. Apart from the question how to measure happiness, what does it tell us? What does it mean in the long run?

Allow me a sideline. You say that you’re “pretty sure that enforcing a massive cut in CO2 emissions, would make most Westerners decidedly less happy at the moment”. I am not pretty sure, but absolutely sure that this is not necessary. Will you be less happy if your electricity is produced by solar or wind energy than by fossil fuels? Will you be less happy if you buy local or regional food, having travelled less kilometres before it ends up in your stomach? Will you be less happy if you live in an well insulated house, requiring only some quart (or less) of the present energy consumption? I am sure your answers will be negative. And if we turn it round, how can you be happy if temperature rise will pass the tipping point and will cause yet unknown environmental and social damage? For the sake of happiness, we’ll have to cut the GHG emissions.

I admire Bhutan for having replaced the GDP by their own index, the Gross National Happiness. It is an audacious step. It would be even better to replace GDP by a set of indicators that measures the conditions for the possibility of being happy, not only today, but also on the long run. That is a set that measures the main aspects of sustainability in its broad sense, as expressed by the extended Brundtland definition. And for those who prefer a single figure, the scores of all indicators may be aggregated into one overall figure.

Oh sorry, I nearly forgot to answer your question about measuring. One of the possible solutions may be the Sustainable Society Index (SSI), a set of 24 indicators, covering all main aspects of Human, Environmental and Economic Wellbeing. And showing one overall score for sustainability as well as the scores of each indicator separately. So it’s up to you which one you prefer.

Let’s act. It requires all our efforts to prevent mankind to evolve from homo sapiens to homo stupidus.

Geurt van de Kerk