Methodology

SOCIAL PROGRESS PRINCIPLES

The Social Progress Index is the result of a two-year process guided by a team of scholars and policy experts. It synthesizes a huge body of research to identify the dimensions of social and environmental performance of societies. The 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, analyze the relationship between economic development (measured for example by GDP per capita) and social development rigorously and systematically. Prior efforts to move “beyond GDP” have commingled social and economic indicators, making it more 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. For example, we want to measure the health and wellness achieved by a country, not how much effort is expended nor how much the country spends on healthcare.

3. Actionability: 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 links to practice. The Index has been structured around 12 components and 54 distinct indicators. The framework allows us to not only provide an aggregate country score and ranking, but also supports granular analyses of specific areas of strength and weakness. Transparency of measurement using a comprehensive framework helps change-makers identify and act upon the most pressing issues in their societies.

4. Relevance to all countries: our aim is to create a holistic measure of social progress that encompasses the health of societies. Most previous efforts have focused on the poorest countries, for understandable reasons. But knowing what constitutes a healthy society for higher-income countries is indispensable in charting a course to get there.

These design principles are the foundation for our conceptual framework that defines social progress in an inclusive and comprehensive way. We define social progress as 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 academic and practitioner literature in a wide range of development topics.

THREE DIMENSIONS OF THE SOCIAL PROGRESS INDEX

The Social Progress Index framework, as this definition suggests, 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.

Figure 1: The Social Progress Index with its components: (click to open in new window)

Framework Component Buttons

To evaluate each of these dimensions, we must decompose them further into specific components that, taken together, allow one to measure success (see Figure 1). The first dimension, Basic Human Needs, assesses how well a country provides for its people’s essential needs by measuring whether people have enough food to eat and are receiving basic medical care, if they have access to safe drinking water, if they have access to adequate housing with basic utilities, and if they are safe and secure.

Foundations of Wellbeing measures whether a population has access to basic education, ideas and information from both inside and outside their own country, and if they have more than basic healthcare and can live healthy lives. This dimension also measures a country’s protection of air, water, and land, resources critical for current and future wellbeing.

The final dimension, Opportunity, measures the degree to which a country’s population is free of restrictions on its rights and its people are able to make their own personal decisions, and whether prejudices or hostilities within a society prohibit individuals from reaching their potential. This dimension also includes the degree to which advanced education is accessible to all those in a country who wish to further their knowledge and skills. Advanced education unlocks almost unlimited personal opportunity. One of the distinguishing features of the Social Progress Index framework is that it integrates Opportunity, an aspect of human wellbeing that is often ignored or kept separate from more foundational and material needs such as nutrition and healthcare, into the definition of social progress.

Together, this framework aims to capture an interrelated set of factors that combine to produce a given level of social progress.

COUNTRY SCORES

The overall Social Progress Index score is a simple average of the three social progress dimensions. Each dimension, in turn, is the simple average of the four components of each dimension.

Each component is made of between three and six indicators. The included indicators are selected because they are measured well, with consistent methodology, by the same organization, and across all (or essentially all) of the countries in our sample. To meet our goals of transparency and independent replication, each indicator must also be freely available to the public. Based on available data we were able to include 132 countries in the Social Progress Index 2014.

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. Through 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.

Social Progress Index scores at the overall, dimension, and component levels are all based on a 0-100 scale. This scale is determined by identifying the best and worst global performance on each indicator by any country in the last 10 years, using these to set the maximum (100) and minimum (0) bounds. This allows Social Progress Index scores to benchmark against realistic rather than abstract measures. The scaling allows us to track absolute, not just relative, performance of countries over time on each component of the model.

For more detailed treatment of the methodology used to create the Social Progress Index, please see the Social Progress Index 2014 Methodological Report.