Index of indexes

Development Policy09 Jun 2009Frans Bieckmann

A nice list always sells. Ask an editor of a magazine, newspaper, or look at pulp television channels: it is full of ‘the 10 best …’, ‘the 25 most disgusting …’, ‘the 50 hottest …’. And, if an editor wants to be clever, he chooses a less obvious amount: 11 most interesting….

In international development and global politics there are many such lists, called ‘indexes’, because they present a scientifically based ranking of usually countries, but also NGOs, or companies. Some of them are famous: the Human Development Index for example. Others are well known in countries that score well, like the Commitment to Development Index.

There are indexes about all kinds of things: global peace (see also the article in The Broker about the Global Peace Index), global philantrophy, failed states, trade&development, or humanitarian efforts, which Thea Hilhorst wrote about in her recent blog. To name just a few.

But what is behind all these indexes? What do they show and what do we learn from them? Most of the indexes are quite open about the data they use and the methods and the statistics that underpin their rankings are being discussed. See for example this brief discussion about which index (on Global Philanthrophy or Commitment to Development) has a better indicator for the contribution of migration (policies) to development. Or this one in the Freakonomics blog of the New York Times, about the Human Development Index, which states that the ranking would have been the same when only measuring GDP. Or this equally critical (to HDI) blog of Richard Posner. These are either quite ideological debates, which mainly focus on the most popular indexes that are out there, or they are between experts, about methods, statistics, data, like the Masalai blog about the Global Peace Index.

It would be interesting to be able to compare the different indexes, because many of them compose their rankings with different elements, that overlap. They use social, economic, political or security indicators, but often do that on the basis of different premises; they are biased toward this or that underlying theory.

We, at the editorial team of The Broker, clever journalists as we are, have this idea in mind: can’t we create an index of indexes? Or better: an overview of indexes, not ranked from good to bad, but compared: what do they show? What do they hide? Why is country X so high in Index Y, and quite low in Index Z?

We are working on this, and will let you know once we are ready to kick off the project. In the meantime, we would really appreciate your ideas and suggestions. Please let us know if you have noticed a new (or old) index, if you have seen an interesting debate or blog about it, or have other thoughts that would be of use.