How is the Good Country Index compiled?

We have used 35 reliable datasets which measure how countries affect the world outside their own borders: 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 system 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. The performance indicators are measured per GDP dollar, to correct for the size of each country’s economy, and create a level playing field. 

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.

Don’t you know about all the helpful things my country does around the world?

Ranked indexes like the Good Country Index are driven exclusively by numbers: not by observations, opinions or episodes. The rankings are calculated from each country’s individual ranking in each of the 35 datasets that drive the Index: it’s a simple arithmetical process. 

For this reason, it is impossible to reflect individual, one-off or unmeasured events in the Index, because they have no numerical value. 

If a country develops a new technology that gets used to help development in other countries, or if it builds institutions that support international peace or wellbeing, those are definitely Good Country behaviours, but it’s impossible for us to assign them a numerical value, and therefore they cannot be included in the Index. (And even if it were possible to account for such behaviours, it would be unfair to include them because we’d be penalising all the other countries in the index for the fact that they didn’t happen to do the same thing that year).

In conclusion: the Good Country Index neither claims nor attempts to account for everything that countries contribute to or detract from the wellbeing of humanity and the planet. That would be impossible. All it can do is shine a torch in the corner of a very large, very dark field: but that’s surely better than leaving it totally dark. 

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

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.

Some of the behaviours you include have more impact than others. How do you allow for this?

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.

This is an incomplete picture of the world: you can’t reduce a country’s entire contribution to 35 indicators.

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.