What is the evidence for evidence-based policy making? Pretty thin, actually.

February 28, 2013

If we can’t prove that speculation drives food prices, should we regulate it anyway?

February 28, 2013

At last, a sensible suggestion for post2015

February 28, 2013
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After my ‘bah humbug’ paper on post2015, I’ve been largely avoiding the subject as a monumental timesuck. However, a combination of Sabina ‘multidimensional’ Alkire and Andy ‘bottom billion’ Sumner is an unstoppable force, so I’m making an exception for their new paper, Multidimensional Poverty and the Post-2015 MDGs, which is worth a skim.

What Sabina and Andy do is use her previous work for UNDP on multidimensional poverty indicators (MPIs) to square an important circle. They suggest building an ‘MPI 2.0’ based on whatever combination of issues is finally agreed in the post2015 discussion. This would produce a single number that summarizes a country’s overall progress towards the post2015 goals.

That in turn would allow the post2015 process to generate more traction on national governments (the lack of which is the subject of my paper) through league tables. Imagine if every year, all countries (including the rich ones) are ranked on a comprehensive human development table that (unlike the Human Development Index and other similar efforts) has buy in and recognition from across the international community. Each annual report would pick out the countries that have risen/fallen relative to the others. Regional tables could compare India and Bangladesh, or Peru and Bolivia, to generate extra public interest and pressure on decision makers. Within countries, an MPI could highlight regional disparities (see map).

subnational MPI in Africa

A particular advantage of the approach is speedy feedback for policy makers: The MPI reflects effective social policy interventions immediately. With measures of income poverty, a positive social change – for example in schooling or clean water – may not be reflected for a number of years.

One of the lasting institutional legacies of the MDG process is the investment in better quality data needed to assess progress – this proposal would build on that.

One suggestion though – MPI 2.0 is a dreadful name. Why don’t we just call it ‘poverty’ and argue that it should replace $1.25 a day as the international standard?

And here’s me at a recent IDS seminar explaining why I’m so underwhelmed by the general post2015 debate.

7 comments

  1. How sad that the purpose of the MDGs seem to have become to hold accountable (often elected) governments to aid agencies – who are not accountable to the citizenry? MDGs should be about development – which is a process as much as an end. And it needs to be shaped and achieved in a country by its people. What can the aid community do to foster that?

  2. Multi-dimensional poverty indexes provide little help in poverty reduction. What we need for addressing poverty is data that tells us who is facing deprivation and (if possible) what form it takes. For all their limitations, some of the MDGs tried to do this (although they got income poverty disastrously wrong by using the dollar/$1.25 a day measure which is so unrealistic in relation to the costs of food and non food needs in many places).

  3. To be successful with Post 2015 is to have committed people and committed government to deliver on their promises and commitments with a strong will in a sustainable manner with no grid,selfishness and corruption which are killing the whole globe.

  4. My friend Duncan,I agree that we need international targets to tell us what to do but the reason why am emphasizing that we should try to avoid greed,selfishness and corruption and be committed to fulfill our promises;

    Think tank,researchers and scientists have come up with good policies, facts and figures findings to guide governments and the people how they can help their citizens come out of poverty and how resources can be generated in a sustainable manner to help them deliver,many have ignored or turned deaf ear and then fight for their own ends.

  5. I am definitely in the Sabina and Andy fan club. But I disagree on this. I think composite indicators like the MPI, or the HDI, are great for some things. But if you went down that route for the next global development agreement, you’d risk losing one of the main ways that the MDGs have had traction on national governments.

    Say the MPI 2.0, or whatever you called it, went up, or down, in a given country. You’d need an extra layer of data analysis – always fatal as that’s the point you lose people’s attention – to know why. It could be that health outcomes got a lot better, but education outcomes got a bit worse, and so the overall MPI score went up a bit. This would neither be helpful for policy makers, nor tell you much about what people think is important, and it would all be much too complicated to generate any campaigning or political energy anyway.
    The beauty of having eight discrete goals is that campaigning and advocacy groups can choose to focus on those which are the highest priority in their country, or where the government is doing the least. This is one of the ways that individual MDGs, at least, have had some traction on national governments, which as we all know is the key to actually making things happen. Hiding all the different parts in one indicator would make this much harder.

    We already have an HDI and by all accounts some governments do pay attention to how they fare relative to others. I’m not sure there’s much point in having another composite index, which would do more or less the same thing. If it’s to be worth having at all, a post-2015 agreement should fill a gap in the global agreements we already have, not duplicate them.

  6. Great exchange. Can I add a bit:

    First, the MPI 2.0 doesn’t replace discrete indicators for those who love them. But it does give a quick overview

    Sure, an indicator needs to be unpacked. And with infographics and animations it’s easy to make the MPI digestible.

    In contrast, a dashboard of even 10 indicators is sort of hard to take in all in one gulp. So what happens is you ignore some, and focus on others. The MPI gives an explicit overview instead.

    But there’s one more thing that in my view is really key:

    A MDG dashboard misses something vital. No one – I mean, no one – knows who is deprived in several things at the same time – malnutrition, unsafe water, no schooling, few assets.

    The MPI brings this into view. That’s how it improves on HDI (besides being a poverty indicator – HDI measures well-being and includes billionaires). And that’s how MPI informs policy – because when people’s disadvantages are inter-connected, they have to be addressed together too.

    So I see your point, but I honestly think MPI will add firepower, not distract. At least, I hope so.

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