What year does the Good Country Index refer to?

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. 

Also, the big datasets produced by United Nations agencies and other international bodies typically take several years to compile, analyse and publish, which is not surprising if you’re collecting large amounts of complex data from nearly two hundred countries. 

For these reasons, we’ve used mostly 2016 data to provide a baseline for the latest edition of the Good Country Index (Edition 1.3). It’s as close as the available data allows to a complete portrait of the world at any point in time. For the earlier editions (Editions 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2) we used mostly 2010, 2011 and and 2012 data, respectively, so we are beginning to close the gap between the fieldwork and the published results.

What changes have been made to the Good Country Index since the first edition?

In each new edition of the Good Country Index the methodology remains the same but we are always looking for better and more relevant data sources. 

In the latest edition (1.3), 3 indicators changed: Environmental Agreements Compliance (2015), Renewable Energy Share (2015), Remittance Cost. Two other indicators are based on data years other than 2016: Ecological Footprint (2014) and Creative Goods Exports (2015). The total number of countries included in the ranking has changed from 163 to 153 because of insufficient data.

Between editions 1.1 and 1.2 we had to look for alternative data sources for the following three indicators:

  • International publications
  • Creative services exports
  • Development assistance

For the Food Aid indicator, we changed the measurement unit from wheat tonnes equivalent” to dollar value”.

In the previous edition (1.1), we replaced seven of the thirty-five original datasets with ones that did a better job of measuring each country’s global impact:

1. In the Peace and Security category, we used a new dataset to measure Internet Security.

2. In the World Order category, we replaced Population Growth with Birth Rate.

3. In the Planet and Climate category, we replaced four out of the five indicators: 

o Ecological Footprint (per GDP$) replaced Biocapacity Reserve 

o Reforestation Since 1992 replaced Hazardous Waste Exports 

o Hazardous Pesticides Exports replaced Water Pollution 

o Consumption of Ozone-Depleting Substances replaced Other Greenhouse gas emissions 

4. In the Health and Wellbeing category, International Health Regulations Compliance replaced Drug Seizures. 

For these reasons, any changes in a country’s ranking in the affected categories since the previous edition of the Good Country Index may be wholly or partly the result of these modifications, rather than any change in the country’s real performance.

In future editions of the Good Country Index, we will continue to include better data whenever we find it, which means that direct comparisons between one edition and another won’t be straightforward: but we feel that this is a worthwhile price to pay for a constantly improving study. 

Will the Good Country Index always be annual?

Each annual edition of the Good Country Index is given a version number rather than a year, since we’re focused as much on continuing to improve the approach as updating the data. 

In this latest edition, some indicators have been replaced and it is based largely on 2016 data (you can find out why we use old” data for the survey in this FAQ).

The aim is to update the Good Country Index each year for the time being, although this can’t be guaranteed as we rely on a good deal of unpaid help to produce each edition (the Good Country project has no external funding). One day we might be able to update it even more regularly. 

How can you rank Germany/​Russia/​UK/​USA so high? Have you ever even HEARD of Hitler/​Stalin/​the British Empire/​Hiroshima?

The Good Country Index cannot be, and does not attempt to be, a historical overview of each country’s contribution to humanity and the planet. It can only focus on a single point in time, or else the data becomes overwhelming. Consider: it took a small team of volunteer statisticians and researchers two years to collect, verify and process the 2010 data for 125 countries which underpins the first edition of the Good Country Index. If we had also included 2009, that might easily have taken another two years. To include 2008 would have taken us six years … and so on. 

And good global statistics of the kind we’re using only go back a couple of decades anyway, so to examine, measure and account for the roots and causes and origins of today’s world would be a 99% subjective exercise. 

Of course, understanding a country also means understanding its history: as George Santayana said, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But how would we even begin to put a reliable numerical score on the past actions of 163 countries, no matter how strong our feelings and opinions about them might be? 

Exactly how many points should we take away from the Germans of today for the Holocaust, two generations after the crimes of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents? And why go back a mere eighty years, and randomly draw the line there? Does the fact that older crimes have faded from our memory somehow also mean that their moral significance has faded? I don’t think so. How many points should we deduct from Britain for the British Empire, or from India for its own Chola Empire six hundred years earlier? How many points should we give the Greeks for their country’s contribution to human wisdom two thousand years ago, and is it right that present-day Iran should take all the credit for what the Persians achieved five thousand years ago? Do we give more points to the Italians for the poetry of Virgil or deduct more points for the crucifixion of Christ by the Romans? Shouldn’t we penalise the entire Western world for slavery? Is it right to mark down the whole South African nation for the crime of apartheid? 

Wherever and whenever we draw the line, we would be guilty of making a subjective choice, and showing prejudice towards some group, nation or individual whose deeds lie just on the other side of that line. 

The simple fact is that Man (and I use the term advisedly) is capable of great cruelty, and has demonstrated this over and over again throughout history. Some nations — and to be more fair and more precise — some regimes and some individuals, have done so in particularly egregious ways that humanity cannot and should not forget (but must try to forgive, or else we simply cannot move forwards). Much of that history has already been written, usually from many viewpoints, and if people are interested in finding out about it, the history books are the best starting-point. 

These are all discussions which are well worth having, but they can’t ever be resolved, and especially not by a relatively simple, entirely unfunded, data-driven index. The Good Country Index can only try to provide a partial answer to one simple question about countries: what are they doing for humanity now? Having an answer to that question is a useful contribution to the discussion, but it certainly doesn’t intend to resolve it. 

But because that answer is unavoidably incomplete, it’s worth asking, as many do: wouldn’t it be better not to try to answer at all? Should one indeed refuse to publish any study until and unless it provides a complete account of what it’s trying to measure? 

Personally, I don’t think so. I prefer the approach of publishing something avowedly imperfect, with proper humility, in order to stimulate a discussion, to seek other views, to invite suggestions: in short, to try and improve the index through public debate, rather than try and make it perfect before sharing it. This is why I always answer every communication I receive about the index, and the project has benefited enormously from people’s suggestions and criticisms over the past five years. 

Those comments and criticisms aren’t always as courteous or as well-informed as one might like, but they are always freely given and I work on the assumption that each one may contain useful advice for a better index in the future. 

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?

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.