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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

WHAT MAKES A GOOD PROGRESS INDICATOR?

"To estimate the value of Newton's discoveries, or the delight communicated by Shakespeare and Milton, by the price at which their works have sold, would be but a poor measure of the degree in which they have elevated and enchanted their country"
Thomas Malthus, 1766-1834.

When deciding which statistical indicators should be used to encapsulate each aspect of Australian life, we did not always have a comprehensive or longstanding body of advice to rely upon. For some aspects – health, crime, income, productivity and air quality, for example – there is already broad consensus regarding effective indicators of progress. But for other aspects – social capital, knowledge and innovation, inland waters and waste, for example – the effort to develop statistical indicators is more recent, and stakeholder agreement has not always been reached.

As a result, during the development of the first edition of MAP, the ABS undertook wide-ranging consultation with experts and the general community of users regarding indicators that would be ideal for each aspect of Australian life and, where these were not available, what indicators would provide the best approximations to those ideal indicators.

Our first step was to take each dimension of progress in turn, and to ask ‘Why is this dimension particularly important to Australia's progress? What are the key facets of progress in that dimension that a headline indicator should seek to express?’

In developing the MAP headline indicators, we determined that a good headline progress indicator should meet all the criteria outlined above for statistical indicators generally, but also some others relating particularly to the concept of progress. That is, a good progress indicator must generally:

  • be relevant to the particular area of life in question - in this case to the dimension of progress
  • 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
but it should also:
  • be available as a time series of data over an appropriate time period (in the case of MAP, ten years)
  • where possible, focus on outcomes for the dimension of progress (rather than on say, the inputs or processes used to produce outcomes)
  • show a 'good' direction of movement (signalling progress) and 'bad' direction (signalling regress) - at least when the indicator is considered alone, with all other dimensions of progress kept equal
  • be sensitive to changes in the underlying phenomena captured by the dimension of progress
A small set of headline progress indicators cannot paint a full picture of progress, and so supplementary progress indicators were included. Supplementary indicators give more information about the dimension of progress in question. We applied similar criteria when choosing the supplementary indicators but did not require that every supplementary indicator show unambiguously 'good' or 'bad' direction of movement or have an outcome focus.

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