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Benchmarking Sustainable Development: A Synthetic Meta-index Approach


  • Laurens Cherchye

    (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium)

  • & Timo Kuosmanen

    (Wageningen University, The Netherlands)


The need for monitoring countries’ overall performance in Sustainable Development (SD) is widely recognized, but the methods for aggregating vast amounts of empirical data remain rather crude. This paper examines the so-called ‘benefit-of-the-doubt’ weighting method as a tool for identifying benchmarks without imposing strong normative judgement about SD priorities. The weighting method involves linear optimization techniques, and allows countries to emphasize and prioritize those SD aspects for which they perform relatively well. Using this method, we construct a meta-index of SD (MISD), which combines 14 existing aggregate SD indices (developed by well-established organizations and/or expert teams) into a single synthesizing overall SD index. Within a sample of 154 countries, our index identifies 6 benchmark countries (3 high-income countries and 3 upper-middle-income countries), but also a number of seriously under-performing countries. We view this approach as a first step towards more systematic international comparisons, aimed at facilitating diffusion of the best practices and policies from the benchmark countries to the less developed world.

Suggested Citation

  • Laurens Cherchye & & Timo Kuosmanen, 2002. "Benchmarking Sustainable Development: A Synthetic Meta-index Approach," Others 0210001, EconWPA, revised 04 Dec 2002.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpot:0210001
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Timo Kuosmanen, 2002. "Modeling Blank Data Entries in Data Envelopment Analysis," Econometrics 0210001, EconWPA.
    2. William D. Nordhaus & James Tobin, 1973. "Is Growth Obsolete?," NBER Chapters,in: The Measurement of Economic and Social Performance, pages 509-564 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    7. Carrington, Roger & Coelli, Tim & Groom, Eric, 2002. "International Benchmarking for Monopoly Price Regulation: The Case of Australian Gas Distribution," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 21(2), pages 191-216, March.
    8. Gerlagh, Reyer & Dellink, Rob & Hofkes, Marjan & Verbruggen, Harmen, 2002. "A measure of sustainable national income for the Netherlands," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 157-174, April.
    9. M. Qizilbash, 2001. "Sustainable Development: Concepts and Rankings," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 37(3), pages 134-161.
    10. Laurens Cherchye, 2001. "Using data envelopment analysis to assess macroeconomic policy performance," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 33(3), pages 407-416.
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    Cited by:

    1. Valeria Costantini & Salvatore Monni, 2005. "Measuring Human Development and Environmental Sustainability in European Countries," QA - Rivista dell'Associazione Rossi-Doria, Associazione Rossi Doria, issue 2, May.
    2. Cherchye, Laurens & Knox Lovell, C.A. & Moesen, Wim & Van Puyenbroeck, Tom, 2007. "One market, one number? A composite indicator assessment of EU internal market dynamics," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 51(3), pages 749-779, April.
    3. Laurens Cherchye & Willem Moesen & Nicky Rogge & Tom Puyenbroeck, 2007. "An Introduction to ‘Benefit of the Doubt’ Composite Indicators," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 82(1), pages 111-145, May.
    4. Mónica Domínguez-Serrano & Francisco Blancas, 2011. "A Gender Wellbeing Composite Indicator: The Best-Worst Global Evaluation Approach," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 102(3), pages 477-496, July.
    5. Rogge, Nicky, 2009. "Granting teachers the 'benefit of the doubt' in performance evaluations," Working Papers 2009/17, Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel, Faculteit Economie en Management.
    6. Rogge, Nicky, 2009. "Robust benevolent evaluations of teaching performance," Working Papers 2009/21, Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel, Faculteit Economie en Management.
    7. Laurens CHERCHYE & Willem MOESEN & Nicky ROGGE & Tom VAN PUYENBROECK, 2009. "Constructing a knowledge economy composite indicator with imprecise data," Working Papers Department of Economics ces09.15, KU Leuven, Faculty of Economics and Business, Department of Economics.
    8. repec:pal:jorsoc:v:59:y:2008:i:2:d:10.1057_palgrave.jors.2602445 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Kuosmanen, Timo & Cherchye, Laurens & Sipilainen, Timo, 2006. "The law of one price in data envelopment analysis: Restricting weight flexibility across firms," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 170(3), pages 735-757, May.
    10. Rogge, Nicky & De Witte, Kristof, 2009. "To publish or not to publish? On the aggregation and drivers of research performance," Working Papers 2009/42, Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel, Faculteit Economie en Management.
    11. repec:spr:soinre:v:134:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11205-016-1466-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Hatefi, S.M. & Torabi, S.A., 2010. "A common weight MCDA-DEA approach to construct composite indicators," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 114-120, November.
    13. L Cherchye & W Moesen & N Rogge & T Van Puyenbroeck & M Saisana & A Saltelli & R Liska & S Tarantola, 2008. "Creating composite indicators with DEA and robustness analysis: the case of the Technology Achievement Index," Journal of the Operational Research Society, Palgrave Macmillan;The OR Society, vol. 59(2), pages 239-251, February.
    14. Timo Kuosmanen, 2002. "Modeling Blank Data Entries in Data Envelopment Analysis," Econometrics 0210001, EconWPA.
    15. Helfer, Helena, 2015. "Social market economy: Towards a comprehensive composite index," CIW Discussion Papers 6/2015, University of Münster, Center for Interdisciplinary Economics (CIW).
    16. Koen Decancq & Luc Van Ootegem & Elsy Verhofstadt, 2013. "What If We Voted on the Weights of a Multidimensional Well‐Being Index? An Illustration with Flemish Data," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 34, pages 315-332, September.
    17. Laurens Cherchye & Wim Moesen & Tom Puyenbroeck, 2004. "Legitimately Diverse, yet Comparable: On Synthesizing Social Inclusion Performance in the EU," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 42(5), pages 919-955, December.
    18. Hideyuki Mizobuchi, 2017. "Incorporating Sustainability Concerns in the Better Life Index: Application of Corrected Convex Non-parametric Least Squares Method," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 131(3), pages 947-971, April.
    19. Gerdessen, Johanna C. & Pascucci, Stefano, 2013. "Data Envelopment Analysis of sustainability indicators of European agricultural systems at regional level," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 78-90.
    20. Kortelainen, Mika, 2008. "Dynamic environmental performance analysis: A Malmquist index approach," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(4), pages 701-715, February.
    21. Noelia Somarriba & Bernardo Pena, 2009. "Synthetic Indicators of Quality of Life in Europe," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 94(1), pages 115-133, October.
    22. Hassen Gaaloul & Soulef Khalfallah, 2014. "Application of the “Benefit-Of-the-Doubt” Approach for the Construction of a Digital Access Indicator: A Revaluation of the “Digital Access Index”," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 118(1), pages 45-56, August.
    23. Serrao, Amilcar, 2008. "Measuring Eco-efficiency of Agricultural Activity in European Countries: A Malmquist Index Analysis," 2008 Annual Meeting, July 27-29, 2008, Orlando, Florida 6152, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    24. Jad Chaaban, 2009. "Measuring Youth Development: A Nonparametric Cross-Country ‘Youth Welfare Index’," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 93(2), pages 351-358, September.
    25. Mika Kortelainen & Timo Kuosmanen, 2004. "Measuring Eco-efficiency of Production: A Frontier Approach," Econometrics 0411006, EconWPA.

    More about this item


    Sustainable Development; Integrated Assessment; Benchmarking; benefit of the doubt weighting; Data Envelopment Analysis;

    JEL classification:

    • O57 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Comparative Studies of Countries
    • C43 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods: Special Topics - - - Index Numbers and Aggregation
    • C61 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Mathematical Methods; Programming Models; Mathematical and Simulation Modeling - - - Optimization Techniques; Programming Models; Dynamic Analysis

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