social progress index

Data, action, and impact. That is how Advance OC is working to help Orange County communities thrive. We believe the first step to systemic change is to establish a common baseline. By utilizing data and measuring the real things that matter to real people, we can bring together community stakeholders to deploy targeted and innovative solutions to improve outcomes across all facets of life in Orange County.

social
progress
index

Data, action, and impact. That is how Advance OC is working to help Orange County communities thrive. We believe the first step to systemic change is to establish a common baseline. By utilizing data and measuring the real things that matter to real people, we can bring together community stakeholders to deploy targeted and innovative solutions to improve outcomes across all facets of life in Orange County.

Key design principles

Exclusively social and environmental indicators:

Our aim is to create a holistic measure of social progress that encompasses the multi-dimensional aspects of community health. By excluding economic indicators, we can, for the first time, rigorously and systematically analyze the relationship between economic development (measured for example by GDP per capita) and social development. Prior efforts to move “beyond GDP” have commingled social and economic indicators, making it difficult to disentangle cause and effect.

Outcomes not inputs:

Our aim is to measure the outcomes that matter to the lives of real people, not the inputs. For example, we want to measure a county’s health and wellness achievements, not how much effort is expended nor how much the county spends on healthcare.

Holistic and relevant to all countries:

Our aim is to create a holistic measure of social progress that encompasses the many aspects of the health of societies. Most previous efforts have focused on the poorest communities, for understandable reasons. But knowing what constitutes a healthy society for any community, including those of higher-incomes, is indispensable in charting a course for less-prosperous societies to get there.

Actionable:

The index aims to be a practical tool that helps leaders and practitioners in government, business and civil society to implement policies and programs that will drive faster social progress. To achieve that goal, we measure outcomes in a granular way that focuses on specific areas that can be implemented directly. The framework allows us to provide not only an aggregate county score and ranking, but also granular analyses of specific areas of strength and weakness which allow change-makers to identify and act upon the most pressing issues in their communities.

Conceptual framework

We define social progress in a comprehensive and inclusive way. Social progress is the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential.

This definition reflects an extensive and critical review and synthesis of both the academic and practitioner literature in a wide range of development topics. The Social Progress Index framework focuses on three distinct (though related) questions:

  1. Does a society provide for its people’s most essential needs?
  2. Are the building blocks in place for individuals and communities to enhance and sustain wellbeing?
  3. Is there opportunity for all individuals to reach their full potential?

Dimensions of the Social Progress Index

▮ Basic Human Needs Assesses how well a society provides for its people’s essential needs by measuring access to nutrition and basic medical care, if they have access to safe drinking water, if they have access to adequate housing with basic utilities, and if society is safe and secure.▮ Foundations of Wellbeing Measures whether residents have access to basic education, can access information and knowledge, and if there are the conditions for living healthy lives. Foundations of Wellbeing also measures a society’s protection of its natural environment: air, water, and land, which are critical for current and future wellbeing.▮ Opportunity Measures the degree to which a society’s citizens have personal rights and freedoms and are able to make their own personal decisions as well as whether prejudices or hostilities within a society prohibit individuals from reaching their potential. Opportunity also includes the degree to which advanced forms of education are accessible to those in a society who wish to further their knowledge and skills, creating the potential for wide-ranging personal opportunity. One of the distinguishing features of the Social Progress Index framework is that it encompasses Opportunity, an aspect of human wellbeing that is often overlooked or separated in thinking about social progress from more foundational and material needs such as nutrition and healthcare.

Components

To evaluate county performance on each of these dimensions, we must decompose them further into specific actionable components.Each component of the framework comprises between three and five specific outcome indicators. The included indicators are selected because they are measured appropriately, with a consistent methodology, by the same organization, and across all (or essentially all) of the counties in our sample.The overall Social Progress Index score is a simple average of the three dimensions. Each dimension, in turn, is the simple average of its four components. Social Progress Imperative discusses the reasons to weight each component equally, and the alternatives considered, in the 2018 Methodology Report The Methodological Note for the Social Progress Index for California Counties contains an overview of the adaptation of the Social Progress Index framework to the Californian context.

How the Social Progress Index can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ambitious commitment by the world’s leaders to improve the wellbeing of all people and ensure environmental sustainability by 2030. The Social Progress Index (SPI) captures outcomes related to all 17 SDGs in a simple but rigorous framework, making the implementation of the SDGs a tangible reality for social innovators all over the world.