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Measuring well-being - different approaches, their implications and an illustration

Research reports

Written by Emma Samman

​This Project Note examines three methods of measuring progress that allow us to compare the performance of different countries. It argues that the methods we employ to measure progress matter, illustrating the diverse results that are generated in a comparison of performance in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The note summarises how the findings inform the measurement component of ODI’s Development Progress Project.

Key messages:

  • For some time, many people have argued that we must look at more than economic growth when measuring progress. But there has been less attention on how to measure progress and to compare the performance of different countries. This note provides an overview of the Development Progress project’s measurement component.
  • The measurement work seeks to examine which countries have progressed, underlining the difference that measurement makes. It compares three ways of measuring performance: absolute change, relative change and ‘deviation from fit’.
  • A comparison of a small number of Asian ‘tigers’ in the 1970s and African ‘lions’ in the 2000s uses these methods illustrate interesting results. It shows that a small number of African countries are performing better across several indicators than Asian ‘tigers’ did during their first decade of rapid economic development, broadly in contrast to current pessimism towards Africa’s development trajectory.

An updated version of ‘Project Note 3: Measuring Wellbeing – different approaches, their implications and an illustration’ was uploaded on 1 May 2013. Substantive changes from the first draft include an update to the columns in Table 2, and additional descriptive content added to paragraph 2 of the second column on page 4.

Emma Samman