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Submitted by Ugo Gentilini on
Dear Shanta, I really enjoyed the debate – as a policy adviser, I tend to concur that composite indicators are often less informative than individual ones. The arbitrary selection of indicators (and their weights), for example, is challenging to defend given the ample availability of relevant measures. And the overall costs (especially from missing information) that stem from merging multiple indicators often largely outweigh the benefits. Yet, they remain highly attractive to the broad public and rapidly capture media visibility. I have to confess, however, that I’m not entirely anti-composite indexes. For instance, Prof. Patrick Webb and I published a paper a couple of years ago (Food Policy 33(6): 521-532) on tracking progress on MDG-1 on poverty and hunger. We did so by presenting an indicator we called Poverty and Hunger Index (PHI) and analyzed it over time and against its single components. The PHI illustrated country performance in attaining MDG-1 in a single number, while at the same time showing that progress in one dimension (e.g. income poverty) didn’t automatically translate into improvements in others (e.g. children underweight), and vice versa. Differently from other composite indicators, however, we didn’t really engage in a process of index selection – we simply picked the five poverty and hunger measures agreed by the UN members in 2000. (Yet, one could question the reasons for which the UN selected those five indexes…). The PHI, of course, maintains the pros and cons of all multidimensional indices, but since the MDG summit in September is approaching thought it was useful to share. Thanks again for the great debate! Ugo