Benchmarking Sustainable Development: A Synthetic Meta-index Approach
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.
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