Pros and Cons of a Social Index

Heather Krause writes one of my favorite newsletter. She works at Datassist, a company working with NGOs and data journalists.

Recently, she wrote about social indices:

A social index is a summary of a complex issue (or issues). Generally, social indexes take a large number of variables related to a specific topic or situation and combine them to get one number. It’s often a single number, but can also be a rank (#1 country out of 180) or a category (“high performing”).

Heather Krause

Pros of social indices:

  • attract public interest
  • allow comparisons over time
  • provide a big picture
  • „reduce vast amounts of information to a manageable size“


  • „disguise a massive amount of inequality in the data“
  • simplistic interpretations
  • hide emerging problems of some variables

So, should we use them?

Krause says, „yes“, but …

If we’re using an index to understand a trend or situation, we also need to look at the individual elements that make up that index.

Datassist published a list with various indicators here.

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