This blog, written by Professor Pavle Sicherl, discusses the importance of transparent and easily understood statistical measures and presents the Time Distance as an appropriate measuring method. The blog is an update of a previous publication in The Guardian and is part of the Wikiprogress Post-2015 Series.
On July 1 UNDP issued in New York the new MDG Report 2013. The new Report brings two positive messages: it has new additional data and a brighter picture. For additional understanding, we present the MDG implementation in the time distance perspective (using data from this Report) that could be useful also for the post-2015 agenda.
While setting sensible goals and providing data about implementation are both necessary preconditions for any post-2015 interventions, we also need statistical measures that are transparent and easily understood by everyone. Time distance is a novel statistical measure that complements rather than replaces other methods, useful especially as descriptive measure for benchmarking and monitoring. Measuring implementation with time distance has the advantage that it is intuitively understandable to policymakers, civil society, experts, media, and the general public.
UNDP Report 2013 in the two page summary overview started the first sentence on the first indicator: ‘The world reached the poverty reduction target five years ahead of schedule.’ The first row of the Gaptimer MDG Progress Chart also shows that the 2015 poverty reduction targets have already been achieved even earlier in three world regions (also China was an excellent performer with time lead of even 13 years, reaching the 2015 target in 2002). This is an update of the publication in The Guardian based on the older data from the 2012 MDG report.
Gaptimer Progress Chart of MDG implementation for world regions
Are we on the track, ahead or behind in time measured by S-time-distance in years
(+ time lag, – time lead) comparing with the line to the 2015 MDG targets around 2011
Source: Own calculations based on data from UN, The Millennium Development Report 2013, New York
© P. Sicherl, 2013
Monitoring implementation with time distance deviation is like comparing train or bus arrivals with the respective timetables. In the context of the MDGs, it amounts to comparing the time of actual implementation with the time stipulated by the schedule to the 2015 target. We are therefore measuring the gap in time. For time distance methodology see my working paper on OECD Statistics Directorate publication. The Gaptimer statistical chart above uses the same identifiers as Formula 1 on TV: minus at time distance and green colour signify that one is ahead in time, and plus at time distance with red colour that one is lagging in time at the chosen point. The point is to ascertain if the developing world is on track, ahead, or behind schedule to achieving MDG goals.
In general the Gaptimer MDG Progress Chart presents in a single table at a glance results for 100 cases across 10 MDG indicators and 10 units (7 world regions, Developing Regions, China, and India) expressed in time lead or time lag providing stories of the situation from the novel time perspective. There are many green colour fields indicating cases where targets have been reached or indicators are ahead of the line to target, to show the many positive developments in the developing countries. The situation differs among the world regions, but the overall situation shows that the number of cases ahead of the line to target (21+15) is exceeding the number of cases behind (18+14). In absolute terms progress has been made in all selected indicators and in all world regions (though it has been quite uneven across regions as well as across countries within the regions). Furthermore, for countries with delays the application of the overall MDG targets at the regional and national cases may be unrealistic. With respect to the percentage of available country cases when the 2015 target was already achieved the values are very similar: 48% of countries cases of 5 selected indicators from all 8 MDG areas were ahead of the line to target. In about 7% of available cases no progress was registered.
Summary of country results for 5 indicators over developing regions around 2011
Source: Own calculations based on data from UN, http://mdgs.un.org, 2013, New York
© P. Sicherl, 2013
For more detailed analysis, below we provide Excel files of results of time distances in which time lead or time lag from the line to the respective MDG 2015 targets are shown for 112-137 developing countries respectively for the five selected indicators. This monitoring method can be applied much more widely. Firstly, world regions can be exchanged with countries, regions within countries, or socio-economic groups, sectors, etc. Secondly, units could be products of an enterprise, budget activities or operational projects, etc., and with e.g. relevant KPIs as horizontal entries.
EXCEL FILES of S-time-distances for selected developing countries:
The telling power of the time distance is very relevant to see the reality better. There is a strong case that in the post-2015 agenda we will need in addition to some overall targets also targets at the national levels in selected fields, and with the extension to national level importance of the time distance method will grow significantly. Easily understandable time distance measure helps to interpret information at many macro and micro levels for decision making, strengthening the capacity of decision-makers to understand what is really happening and to encourage broader participation.
Pavle Sicherl is Founder of Sicenter (Socio-economic Indicators Center) and professor of economics at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.