A Tool That Improves Over Time
The Social Progress Index embodies a large body of research on moving “beyond GDP” and has identified the social and environmental elements of the performance of countries. We have combined the concepts stressed in such research along with moral philosophies dating back to Aristotle to compose the underpinning framework of the Social Progress Index. Specifically, we consider social progress in a systematic and comprehensive way, with a framework that comprises three elements: dimensions, components, and indicators.
Social Progress Index
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.
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.
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.
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 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 which allows change-makers to identify and act upon the most pressing issues in their societies.
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?
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.
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.
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.
To evaluate country performance on each of these dimensions, we must decompose them further into specific actionable components.
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.
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 2016 Methodological Report.