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ASI WORK IN PROGRESS:
Arctic Social Indicators
This document constitutes a project description for a proposed follow-up activity to the Arctic Human Development Report (AHDR) which was launched at the Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in November 2004. This project description is a proposal for the establishment of a working group to develop Arctic social indicators which will facilitate the tracking and monitoring of human development in the Arctic over time.
The (AHDR) presents a broad overview of the state of human development or social well-being in the circumpolar Arctic as of the early years of the 21st century. It is unique in the sense that it treats the Arctic as a single, integrated region, despite the fact that this region encompasses lands and marine areas under the jurisdiction of eight states as well as marine areas that extend beyond the jurisdiction of any individual state. The result is a profile of the Arctic as a distinct region that makes it possible to compare and contrast the Arctic and other regions in terms of a host of factors ranging from demographic conditions through cultural, economic, political, and legal systems and on to matters of education, human health, and gender. The scope and significance of this achievement have been recognized and widely praised both among those concerned with Arctic affairs and among those who deal with human development in the world at large.
While the AHDR constitutes a unique resource in these terms, however, it does not provide a well-developed longitudinal perspective on human development in the Arctic. With a few exceptions, it offers a snapshot of the region at a particular point in time – the early years of the 21st century. The resultant portrait of the region is not only of great value in its own right, it also provides a baseline or a starting point from which to measure changes over time in the state of human development in the circumpolar world. Those wishing to track developments relating to the status of Arctic cultures, the evolution of indigenous rights, or the growth of the region’s economy, for example, can take the picture presented in the AHDR as a point of departure and compare developments at various temporal intervals in order to get a handle on changes over time in human development or social welfare in the Arctic.
What the AHDR does not do, however, is to provide time series data regarding the various elements of human development in the Arctic. Nor does it present a suite of quantifiable indicators suitable for use on the part of those seeking to monitor or track changes in human development in the Arctic. Although the development of a suite of indicators of this sort was a part of the original vision of those who articulated the rationale for the development of the AHDR, it became obvious early on that the project would have neither the time nor the material resources needed to produce a high quality product of this type. While the AHDR is a major achievement it is apparent that the development of some means of monitoring trends in human development in the Arctic would be extremely helpful from the perspective of those involved in the policy process.
Goals and Objectives: The goal of this project is to move toward filling this gap. In brief, the objective is to devise a limited set of indicators that reflect key aspects of human development in the Arctic, that are tractable in terms of measurement, and that can be monitored over time at a reasonable cost in terms of labor and material resources. The pursuit of this goal will encompass several distinct steps, starting with a workshop focusing on the design of indicators suitable for use in the Arctic and moving on to the development of procedures needed to measure and monitor these indicators on a regular basis.
2. Social Indicators
An indicator is a measure used as a gauge of the state of some factor of interest to policymakers and analysts; it is not an operationalization of the factor itself. Body temperature, for example, is an indicator of human health; it is not a measure of health as such. GDP and productivity are indicators of economic development; they are not simply operationalizations of development per se. Similar observations are in order regarding the use of compliance as an indicator of the effectiveness of management regimes.
To be useful, indicators should be (i) generalizable and stable, (ii) easy to measure in a broadly accepted manner, and (iii) suitable for use in longitudinal analyses. In settings where members of the relevant communities differ in their underlying views regarding the nature of human development or change their perspectives on social welfare from time to time, it is difficult to devise useful indicators. If some think of well-being in terms of availability of and access to material goods and services while others focus more on cultural development and continuity, for instance, it will be hard to create a common indicator of human development. Similarly, where members of the community are experiencing change in their perspectives on well-being, it will be challenging to devise indicators that are useful in tracking trends in well-being over time.
Ease of (preferably quantitative) measurement is another critical factor. Indicators like GDP and longevity are appealing precisely for this reason. Everyone understands the limitations of these measures. GDP, for example, rewards pollution. Whereas the damages arising from pollution normally do not appear in calculations of GDP, the production and use of technologies designed to clean up pollution after the fact actually increase GDP. Even so, GDP per capita has lasting appeal as an indicator of economic development because we have devised procedures for calculating the value of this indicator that are more or less comparable in spatial terms and stable over time.
The need for stability over time places a premium on developing suitable indicators at the outset. Changes in the procedures used to compute an indicator call into question efforts to monitor changes in relevant factors over time. For this reason, there are strong and growing pressures to avoid or minimize shifts in measurement practices once they are established and develop a track record. Even though we are aware of the problems with GDP per capita as an indicator of economic development, changing the measurement procedures for this indicator in mid-stream would cause serious problems for longitudinal assessments of economic development. This is a major obstacle facing those who call for the introduction of full-cost accounting to reflect both the benefits of environmental services and the costs of pollution and the degradation of natural resources.
All efforts to develop indicators must strike a balance between the analytic attractions of relying on a single indicator and the temptation to introduce a large number of indicators in the interests of developing an accurate picture of complex and multi-dimensional phenomena. Tempting as it is analytically, the use of a single indicator such as GDP per capita as an indicator of economic development is problematic in addressing any complex phenomenon. This would certainly be the case with regard to something as multi-dimensional as human development. But going to the other extreme and ending up with dozens of indicators in the interests of capturing all the dimensions of a complex phenomenon is equally problematic. Not only does this create major measurement problems; it also leads in many cases to a jumble of disparate measures that are difficult to interpret. Efforts to devise multiple measures of sustainable development illustrate this problem.
Ideally, then, it is desirable to develop a small suite (say 3-5) of indicators that capture the essential features of the phenomenon in question and that can be measured empirically in a simple and intuitively appealing manner. Finding ways to normalize and aggregate these measures into a single index is naturally appealing. It allows for simple rankings among members of the relevant universe of cases (e.g. cultures, communities, individual health). But it is certainly not necessary. It may turn out that the use of several indicators (e.g. GDP per capita, productivity, inflation, and interest rates as measures of economic performance) is perfectly acceptable. The critical step is to devise a small suite of measures that do a good job of capturing the essential features of the phenomenon in question.
Arctic Social Indicators
In preparing the AHDR, the HDI constituted an important point of departure. Yet lengthy discussions led eventually to the conclusion that the HDI is not a good indicator of human development in the Arctic and for several reasons. GDP per capita typically fails to take into account many goods and services enjoyed by those who participate in subsistence economies or even the mixed economies that are widespread in the Arctic today. Conventional measures of literacy/education omit the production and transfer of knowledge and skills that constitute important features of traditional cultures and societies. Even longevity is an ambiguous measure. As the incidence of suicide and accidental death in many Arctic communities suggests, those who experience anomie resulting from the effects of rapid social change often suffer severely in terms of well-being, even when they have access to abundant material goods and services.
Accordingly, the AHDR’s Report Steering Committee concluded that a simple process of computing the HDI on a regional basis would not suffice. Members of the team then proposed three elements of human development that seem particularly prominent in the Arctic: (i) fate control or the ability to guide one’s own destiny, (ii) cultural integrity or belonging to a viable local culture, and (iii) contact with nature or interacting closely with the natural world. But they did not succeed in devising indicators to measure and monitor these elements of human development. Despite the fact that this formulation has proven appealing to many readers, therefore, we are not at this stage in a position to measure these factors and to monitor them in a manner that allows for an assessment of trends over time.
It may make sense, under the circumstances, to start with an examination of fate control, cultural integrity, and contact with nature in order to determine whether we can create usable indicators of these facets of human development. While success in this effort would constitute a major accomplishment, it would be a mistake to confine the search for indicators to these factors.
Other approaches might turn to different aspects of human development, including measures of community viability, human health, and gender relations. We know, for examples, that there are major differences among individual Arctic communities – even those that resemble each other in many ways – in terms of the well-being of their residents. But we do not currently have an indicator or a small suite of indicators suitable for use in measuring these differences and monitoring them over time.
In sum, there is a clear need for the development of indicators of human development in the Arctic. With this project description we propose to establish a working group to take up this task as follow-up to the AHDR, with the objective to devise a limited set of indicators that reflect key aspects of human development, and that can be monitored over time at a reasonable cost.
The goal of the proposed follow-up to the AHDR is to weigh the relative merits of a range of proposed indicators of human development in the Arctic, to select a number of indicators that seem most likely to prove successful in this context, to “test" or "calibrate" indicators with existing data and in discussions with representatives from various Arctic communities , and to recommend a particular course of action in this realm to the Arctic Council and its Working Group on Sustainable Development. As such, the project covers the developmental stage in a long-term effort to measure and monitor human development on an integrated basis in the circumpolar Arctic.
The first step in pursuing the goal of developing Arctic social indicators will be the establishment of a working group that will be given the task of constructing a set of clearly defined indicators suitable for measuring change in terms of human development in the Arctic.
The next step in pursuing the goal will be the organization of a workshop, to take place in the summer of 2006, involving approximately 25 participants, several of whom have been involved in the production of the AHDR, and including representatives from a wide selection of Arctic communities as well as social scientists who are knowledgeable about the Arctic and who have a good understanding of the nature and uses of social indicators. The set of participants in this initial workshop will include representatives of the UN Development Programme – the agency responsible for calculating the HDI – and individual scientists with experience in the creation and application of social indicators in other settings as well as a number of experts on conditions prevailing in the Arctic. The goal of this meeting will be to devise a number of candidate indicators suitable for testing during the second stage of the project. Participants will bring draft work on indicators to this meeting.
A second workshop will be planned for the summer of year 2007, the purpose of this follow-up workshop being to gather the working group to continue scientific collaboration and discuss progress so far.
A third meeting of the working group will take place at the Sixth International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences (ICASS IV) in Nuuk, Greenland, summer 2008, during the International Polar Year (IPY). The goal is to have the set of indicators completed in time for presentation and discussion at the 2008 ICASS conference. Subsequent to ICASS, the report on Arctic Social Indicators will be finalized, with webification by summer, 2008.
Assessment will include a peer review process, involving social scientists who are experts in the subject matters, with these reviewers being identified later in the project.
In year 2007 the working group will "test" or "calibrate" indicators with existing data and in discussions with representatives from various Arctic communities. Community and indigenous feedback on the indicators will be a critical part of the evaluation process. The process for feedback from indigenous people and Arctic communities will be formulated after the working group has been formally established. The working group will also invite feedback from members of the Sustainable Development Working Group of the Arctic Council. Additional components of the evaluation process will be formulated in conjunction with the working group once established.
The development of the AHDR was a timely initiative. The scope and significance of the report have been recognized and widely praised both among those concerned with Arctic affairs and among those who deal with human development in the world at large. The report is currently being translated into both Russian and Finnish, with translation into Sámi language in the planning stages - a reflection of the importance of this work in science, as well as policy and educational settings. The proposed follow-up to the AHDR - the development of a suite of Arctic social indicators - is an equally important initiative. It is a task that is long overdue, and which promises to fill a critical gap in knowledge, specifically the establishment of a tool for tracking and monitoring change in human development in the Arctic over time. The creation of indicators can benefit a wide range of stakeholders, including those involved in Arctic policy making processes, residents of the North, as well as those engaged in the Arctic social sciences.