The Social Progress Index, first released in 2014 building on a beta version previewed in 2013, measures a comprehensive array of components of social and environmental performance and aggregates them into an overall framework. The Index was developed based on extensive discussions with stakeholders around the world about what has been missed when policymakers focus on GDP to the exclusion of social performance. Our work was influenced by the seminal contributions of Amartya Sen on social development, as well as by the recent call for action in the report "Mismeasuring Our Lives" by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress.

The Social Progress Index incorporates four key design principles:

  1. Exclusively social and environmental indicators: our aim is to measure social progress directly, rather than utilize economic proxies. By excluding economic indicators, we can, for the first time, rigorously and systematically analyze the relationship between economic development (measured for example by GDP per capita) and social development. Prior efforts to move “beyond GDP” have comingled social and economic indicators, making it difficult to disentangle cause and effect.
  2. Outcomes not inputs: our aim is to measure the outcomes that matter to the lives of real people, not the inputs. For example, we want to measure a country’s health and wellness achieved, not how much effort is expended nor how much the country spends on healthcare.
  3. Holistic and relevant to all countries: our aim is to create a holistic measure of social progress that encompasses the many aspects of health of societies. Most previous efforts have focused on the poorest countries, for understandable reasons. But knowing what constitutes a healthy society for any country, including higher-income countries, is indispensable in charting a course for less-prosperous societies to get there.
  4. Actionable: the Index aims to be a practical tool that will help leaders and practitioners in government, business and civil society to implement policies and programs that will drive faster social progress. To achieve that goal, we measure outcomes in a granular way that focuses on specific areas that can be implemented directly. The Index is structured around 12 components and 52 distinct indicators. The framework allows us to not only provide an aggregate country score and ranking, but also to allow granular analyses of specific areas of strength and weakness. Transparency of measurement using a comprehensive framework allows change-makers to identify and act upon the most pressing issues in their societies.

These design principles are the foundation for our conceptual framework. We define social progress in a comprehensive and inclusive way. Social progress is the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential.

This definition reflects an extensive and critical review and synthesis of both the academic and practitioner literature in a wide range of development topics. The Social Progress Index framework focuses on three distinct (though related) questions:

  1. Does a country provide for its people’s most essential needs?
  2. Are the building blocks in place for individuals and communities to enhance and sustain wellbeing?
  3. Is there opportunity for all individuals to reach their full potential?

These three questions define the three dimensions of Social Progress: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity.

Click the image below to explore the 2015 Social Progress Index.

2014 Index Component Level Screenshot

To evaluate country performance on each of these dimensions, we must decompose them further into specific actionable components (see figure above). The first dimension, Basic Human Needs, assesses how well a country provides for its people’s essential needs by measuring access to nutrition and basic medical care, if they have access to safe drinking water, if they have access to adequate housing with basic utilities, and if society is safe and secure.

Foundations of Wellbeing measures whether citizens have access to basic education, can access information and knowledge from both inside and outside their country, and if there are the conditions for living healthy lives. Foundations of Wellbeing also measures a country’s protection of its natural environment: air, water, and land, which are critical for current and future wellbeing.

The final dimension, Opportunity, measures the degree to which a country’s citizens have personal rights and freedoms and are able to make their own personal decisions as well as whether prejudices or hostilities within a society prohibit individuals from reaching their potential. Opportunity also includes the degree to which advanced forms of education are accessible to those in a country who wish to further their knowledge and skills, creating the potential for wide-ranging personal opportunity.

One of the distinguishing features of the Social Progress Index framework is that it encompasses Opportunity, an aspect of human wellbeing that is often overlooked or separated in thinking about social progress from more foundational and material needs such as nutrition and healthcare.

Each component of the framework comprises between three and five specific outcome indicators. The included indicators are selected because they are measured appropriately, with a consistent methodology, by the same organization, and across all (or essentially all) of the countries in our sample.

Together, this framework aims to capture a broad range of interrelated factors revealed by the scholarly literature and practitioner experience as underpinning social progress.

The overall Social Progress Index score is a simple average of the three dimensions. Each dimension, in turn, is the simple average of its four components. We discuss the reasons to weight each component equally, and the alternatives considered, in the 2015 Methodological Report.

To translate a set of indicators into a component, we use principal component factor analysis to determine the weights of the indicators within each component. This avoids problems of double counting, where two or more indicators within a component may overlap in what they measure. Using this process we found that factor analysis weighted many indicators very near to equal within components, which signals a good selection of indicators to measure the concept of the component. Appendix 2 of the Methodological Report shows the 2015 weights.

Social Progress Index scores at the overall level, dimension level, and component level are all based on a 0-100 scale. This scale is determined by identifying the best and worst absolute global performance on each indicator recorded by any country since 2004, and using these actual performance levels to set the maximum (100) and minimum (0) bounds. Thus Social Progress Index scores reflect realistic performance rather than abstract measures. This scaling also allows us to track absolute, not just relative, performance of countries over time on each component of the model.