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?