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1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/09/2010   
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About MAP


"Statistical indicators are the structural DNA codes of nations. They reflect a society's values and goals and become the key drivers of economic and technological choices"
Hazel Henderson, initiator and co-sponser of the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators.

Statistical indicators

Statistical indicators encapsulate major features of aspects of Australian life. For example, life expectancy is a statistic that gives a quick indication of the state of the population's health. Indicators, however, are just an "indication" - a pointer - that observers can use to gain insight into a topic. Generally, a suite of indicators is needed to really understand the context, dynamics and interrelationships occurring within an area.

For example, the ABS publication Australian Social Trends presents a suite of social indicators that together give a very detailed picture of Australian life. The ABS also publishes Key National Indicators which brings together a range of main economic indicators from the National Accounts (e.g. Gross Domestic Product and the Consumer Price Index) as well as demographic and labour force information in the form of key indicators (e.g. the estimated resident population (ERP) and the unemployment rate).

Ideally, one advantage of statistical indicators is that they represent key aspects of a complex reality in an informative way. The data can then be used to give direction to community activity, government policy, or further research.

A good statistical indicator will generally meet the following criteria:

  • be relevant to the particular area of life in question
  • be summary in nature
  • be supported by timely data of good quality
  • be capable of disaggregation by, say, geography or population group
  • be intelligible and easily interpreted by the general reader.
Progress indicators

Progress indicators are summary statistics that reflect a central idea in a given aspect of life, but they are specially chosen because they demonstrate clear positive or negative movement over time. That is, when the data points are plotted on a graph showing change over time, observers can see the aspect of life is moving clearly in a 'good' direction (signalling progress), clearly in a 'bad' direction (signalling regress) or there is no significant movement. In particular, progress indicators are chosen on the basis that most Australians would agree that the change they show can be unambiguously associated with progress or regress.

Progress indicators also need to be statistics that relate to outcomes rather than inputs. For example, life expectancy is a progress indicator, because it meets the above criteria, but also relates to a health outcome: longer or shorter life spans. An example of an input indicator for the area of health is the number of General Practitioners per capita. This kind of indicator shows a factor that contributes to health outcomes, but does not directly tell us whether people are getting healthier. For a full suite of input as well as outcome measures in the area of health, go to Australian Social Trends.

MAP also focuses on indicators of progress that can be objectively measured, such as life expectancy and educational qualifications. We have tended to avoid indicators that are intrinsically subjective (for example, statistical measures of happiness). We have also avoided areas that do not at present have generally agreed measures (for example, political freedom). These aspects of life are clearly important to Australians, but statisticians and other experts have not yet completed the work needed to ensure these concepts can be captured numerically in a meaningful way.

For example, happiness can be understood in so many different ways that it is difficult to develop a set of survey questions that capture people's experience in a reliable, repeatable way. It requires extensive cognitive and field testing, and methods will improve only after many trials of this kind have been undertaken.

Go to our blog to tell us your views on MAP's progress indicators


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