About the Index

Q: What’s all this about, then?

A: The Good Country Index tries to measure how much each country on earth contributes to the planet and to the human race.

Q: Why?

A: Because the biggest challenges facing humanity today are global and borderless: climate change, economic crisis, terrorism, drug trafficking, slavery, pandemics, poverty and inequality, population growth, food and water shortages, energy, species loss, human rights, migration ... the list goes on. All of these problems stretch across national borders, so the only way they can be properly tackled is through international efforts. The trouble is, most countries carry on behaving as if they were islands, focusing on developing domestic solutions to domestic problems. We’ll never get anywhere unless we start to change this habit.

The Good Country Index isn’t interested in how well countries are doing, it’s interested in how much they are doing.

Q: But there are so many indexes and surveys that measure how countries behave. Surely we don’t need another one?

A: Almost all of them measure country performance in isolation: whether it’s economic growth, stability, justice, transparency, good governance, productivity, democracy, freedom, or even happiness, it’s always measured per country. The Good Country Index tries to measure the global impacts of policies and behaviours: what they contribute to the “global commons”, and what they take away. This forms a truer and more realistic global balance-sheet than one which carries on pretending that each country sits on its own private planet. The concept of the “Good Country” is all about encouraging populations and their governments to be more outward looking, and to consider the international consequences of their national behaviour.

Q: What do you mean, “good”? Surely all countries are partly good and partly bad?

A: Try thinking of “good” as a measure of how much a country contributes to the common good. So in this context “good” means the opposite of “selfish”, not the opposite of “bad”. The Good Country Index isn’t trying to make any moral judgments: it just measures, as objectively as possible, what each country contributes to the common good, and what it takes away.

Q: What do you expect people to do with these results?

A: To urge their governments to look at the total impact of their policies. It’s no longer enough to provide prosperity, growth, justice and peace to one population alone: the international consequences of every action must be considered. Economic growth is a good thing, but not if it’s at the cost of the environment or the wellbeing of another country or species. Competition between nations is increasingly looking like a dangerous idea. It’s up to us to tell these things to our politicians, and the Good Country Index can help get the message across.

Q: Who’s behind this?

A: The 'Good Country' concept and the Good Country Index were developed by Simon Anholt. The Index was built by Dr Robert Govers with support from several other organisations, and funded by Simon Anholt.

How the Index is Compiled

Q: How is the Good Country Index compiled?

A: We have used 35 reliable datasets which track the way that most countries on earth behave: there are five of these in each of seven categories, covering the big issues like education, science, war and peace, trade, culture, health, censorship, the environment, freedom, etc. Most of these datasets are produced by the United Nations and other international agencies, and a few by NGOs and other organisations.

These datasets are combined into a common measure which gives an overall ranking, a ranking in each of the seven categories, and a balance-sheet for each country that shows at a glance how much it contributes to the world and how much it takes away.

More technically, countries receive scores on each indicator as a fractional rank (0=top rank, 1=lowest) relative to all countries for which data is available. The category rankings are based on the mean fractional ranks on the 5 indicators per category (subject to maximum 2 missing values per category). The overall rank is based on the average of the category ranks.

Q: Some of these indicators seem a bit arbitrary. How did you choose them?

A: Although more and more reliable data about countries is collected every year, it’s still patchy. So we have to be pretty clever about using the good, robust, available data as ‘tokens’ for the qualities we’re looking for. Most of the indicators we use are very direct measurements of world-friendly or world-unfriendly behaviour (such as signing of international treaties, pollution, acts of terrorism, wars, etc) and some are rather indirect (such as Nobel prizes, exports of scientific journals, etc), but they add up to a pretty good picture of whether each country is basically a net creditor to the rest of humanity in each of the seven categories, or whether it’s a free-rider on the global system and ought to be recognised as such.

Q: Surely some of the behaviours you include have more impact than others. How do you allow for this?

A: At the moment we don’t, because it’s largely a matter of opinion whether, for example, emitting CO2 does more harm to humanity than invading another country. For this reason, all the data is weighted equally when calculating the final results. Something we’re considering for later editions is a feature that allows people to input their own views on which global issues are most important, so that the website will then produce a ‘personalised’ GCI ranking based on those parameters.

Q: This is surely a very incomplete picture of the world. You can’t possibly reduce a country’s entire contribution to humanity and the planet down to 35 indicators.

A: We know, we know. But it’s a start, and we welcome constructive contributions. It will probably never be possible to give a complete answer on any of these issues, but it’s surely better to get the debate going than to keep silent.

Countries Included

Q: It’s not fair to penalise poor countries by ranking them low in the Good Country Index: they would give more to the world if they had the money, time, skills, education, peace, health, etc.

A: For most indicators, each country’s score in the Good Country Index is divided by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) so that smaller and poorer countries aren’t unduly penalised in the ranking for their limited ability to ‘make a difference’ in the world.

Having said this, the Good Country Index isn’t passing any kind of judgment on countries, nor is it commenting on the reasons behind any country’s scores. It is certainly true that countries which need to focus on severe domestic challenges tend to be more concerned about their own populations and their own stability than those of other countries. Maybe this is right, and maybe it’s not: one for further discussion.

Q: Did you try other normalisations such as GNI or per capita?

A: Yes. As it happens, the ranking is not hugely sensitive to different normalisations. A per capita normalisation is equally legitimate but it does tend to punish impoverished countries, which is something we wanted to avoid.

Q: You’ve included several territories in the list which aren’t sovereign states. Why is this?

A: We include any territory that reports enough accurate data for it to be ranked in the Good Country Index. No judgment is implied about the sovereign status, or otherwise, of any territory included in the list: these are all places that behave like countries to the extent of measuring and reporting their behaviour to the United Nations and other international agencies as if they were countries, and that’s good enough for us.

Q: You’ve left out a number of territories/nations. Why is this?

A: See the previous FAQ. Territories are included or excluded from the Index purely on the basis of the available data. Countries with missing data on more than 2 out of 5 indicators on any category are excluded. The two exceptions to this rule are Iceland and Georgia, which both have 3 missing values on the “Planet and Climate” category, but only 4 and 5 missing values overall.

In total, 125 countries are included in the Index. Even though Lesotho, Libya and Laos report a total number of 11 missing values, they are still included since their missing values are spread across a number of categories. 8 countries with 6 missing values are included; 20 with 5; and 94 with fewer than 5 missing values (only 15 countries have no missing values). Since the rankings are based on mean scores per category and missing values are ignored, the countries included in the Index are neither rewarded nor punished for any non-reporting.

The indicators where more complete global coverage would be useful are as follows:

  • Hazardous waste exports: see the Basel Convention, www.basel.int
  • Fairtrade market size: please contact Fairtrade International, www.fairtrade.net
  • Aid (development assistance): please contact Development Gateway, who operate www.aiddata.org in collaboration with www.aidtransparency.net, and Development Initiatives, www.devinit.org
  • Q: Nation-states are in decline anyway. In the future, it’ll be cities that influence how the world works.

    A: This may be true, but for the time being, it’s national laws that fundamentally shape the behaviour of the seven billion people on the planet; and it’s only nations that measure and report on their behaviours in a way that can feed into a study like this. A Good City Index is being considered, but everything depends on the availability and the reliability of the data we can obtain.

Timing

Q: What year does the Good Country Index refer to?

A: Because the data in the 35 indicators which make up the Good Country Index are collected in different forms and at different times for different reasons, it’s impossible to focus the Index on any single year – some indicators report on things which have happened during the previous year, a few of them are constantly updated, and some of them relate to behaviours which may have taken place up to a decade earlier. For this reason, we’ve used mostly 2010 data (with the exception of 5 indicators as shown in the data presentation) to provide a baseline for the first Good Country Index. It’s as close as the available data allows to a complete portrait of the world today.

Q: Is the Good Country Index going to be annual?

A: Let’s see. At the moment our intention is to update it on a continuous basis – quarterly or perhaps more often – as the source data is updated. But we’ll see how it goes.

Q: What about the recent scandal/invasion/attack/war/policy/election in country x? Surely they should be at the bottom of the Good Country Index because of that?

A: The Good Country Index doesn’t react to specific events because there’s usually no objective way of measuring their impact on the world. Many behaviours – such as wars, for example – will, in time, be reflected in the data sources that the Good Country Index is based on (the UCDP-PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset in the case of wars) and so they will be accounted for in future updates. But as yet we have no reliable mechanism for reacting to one-off episodes. We’re working on this, and suggestions are gratefully received.

Balance

Q: This isn’t fair. You’re blaming entire countries for something their government is responsible for, and rewarding governments for things their population have done without state help.

A: The Good Country Index doesn’t attempt to distinguish between different actors in each country, which in many cases would be impossible anyway. We treat each country as a whole and simply measure what, as a whole, its impact is on the world. Others are welcome to debate how the praise or blame should be apportioned to government, civil society, individuals or companies.

Q: This is culturally biased. The values you’ve chosen as ‘good for humanity / good for the planet’ are based on a liberal, Western, capitalist view of the world.

A: They try to be as universal as possible. This isn’t rocket-science: in the end it’s pretty obvious that starting wars or polluting the atmosphere is doing no favours to the world, and most people from most cultural backgrounds would agree with that. And we aren’t proposing any complete or definitive answer to what constitutes a Good Country: this index hopes to be the beginning of a global debate which might one day lead to such an understanding.

Categories and Methodology

Q: Why did you choose these particular categories?

A: Actually, they kind of chose themselves. Once we’d identified the 35 datasets which were suitable for producing the Index, they fell quite naturally into these seven categories (which, quite by coincidence, closely mirror the components of the United Nations Charter, so we seem to be on the right track).

Q: How sensitive is your method to the choice of ranking algorithm?

A: We tried a number of alternative ranking algorithms for these data. Our method is simple to understand and something that was relatively insensitive to outliers. Frankly the precise position of a country in a table does not matter that much. What matters much more is each country’s balance sheet and the gross positions in the table. Countries in the top twenty are doing a lot for the common good. Those in the bottom twenty are hindering the common good, or at least are free-riders on other countries. Countries in the middle are doing something in between.

We hope that people can see not only how well their county is contributing to the common good but also how they are doing it – note, for example, how the way that Finland contributes is different from the way New Zealand does.

Q: I’m surprised to see countries like Egypt and Nigeria among the best performers in the peace and security category. Why is this?

A: On the whole, the countries that score well in this category do not export arms; they are not directly involved in international violent conflicts (except in some cases as peacekeepers); they tend to have tight cyber-security, and may contribute significantly to UN peacekeeping missions with troops and/or funds. Of course, several of them have a great deal to worry about at home, including violent conflicts within their own borders, and their contribution to international peace and security is often a largely passive one: they do very little harm overseas, rather than doing a lot of good. Still, the net effect is positive and this is what earns them their high ranking in this particular category – even if, in many cases, their overall contribution to the common good is let down by lower scores in other categories.

It’s important to emphasize again that the Good Country Index only measures the international impacts of countries; what they do at home is well documented in many other studies and surveys. The fact that domestic behaviour isn’t included in the Good Country Index of course doesn’t mean we excuse, condone, minimise or overlook it in any way: it’s simply not the thing that we’re measuring.

Remember that when we talk about a ‘good country’ we’re not attempting to judge its overall moral standing: we’re measuring its impact on the rest of the world, its contribution to the common good. You can’t get a complete picture of any country without considering both domestic and international factors, and we would always encourage people to consider the Good Country Index scores alongside some reliable measures of domestic behaviour.

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