, Volume 81, Issue 1, pp 65-77
Date: 19 Sep 2006

Composite Indicators between Analysis and Advocacy

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We explore to what extent composite indicators, capable of aggregating multi-dimensional processes into simplified, stylised concepts, are up to the task of underpinning the development of data-based narratives for political advocacy. A recent OECD working paper (Nardo et al., 2005, Handbook on constructing composite indicators: methodology and user guide, OECD statistics working paper, STD/DOC(2005)3) offering ‘recommended practices’ for the construction of composite indicators is briefly illustrated, together with ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ associated with the use of aggregated statistical information. An attempt is made to summarise the terms of the controversy surrounding the use of composite indicators with practical and applied examples, as well as the mostly advocacy-driven spread of these measures in recent years. As an example, we focus on desirable narratives in support of the so-called Lisbon strategy and its ongoing revision, following one of the recommendations of a recent EU study [Kok: 2004, The High Level Group on Lisbon Strategy chaired by Wim Kok, Facing the Challenge, European Communities, Luxembourg, 2004 on how to streamline and reinvigorate the EU’s Lisbon Agenda. Finally we try to establish a link between the use of composite, even for analytic purposes, and the development of a robust culture of evaluation of policies based on information [Messerlin: 2005, 35th Wincott Lecture, October 3, 2005]. Of these, we try to offer stylised examples – also from the recent literature [Sapir: 2005, Globalisation and the Reform of European Social Models, 2005, http://www.bruegel.org/] where composite indicators are used.