Many of the discussions at organizations such as ours that are driven by the need to influence policy through research, center on indicators. We need to be able to communicate quickly and effectively how things have changed for the better or for worse, ideally in comparison with benchmarks. The best way to do this is through an indicator. In academic settings, it is common to bemoan the incompleteness of various indicators, when those same academics are faced with the task of communicating their research to policy makers or the general public, they fall back on one or at most two indicators to tell their story. One thing I say about indicators is that they are all imperfect.
We work with data, so we see the evidence: more people have phones, more houses have permanent roofs, more homes have refrigerators, and so on. Yet, the everyday conversations harp on the failures. We too talk about them, because we must, but we do so in the form of “what could have been better” rather than failure. Charles Kenny, an economist whose work we have been following for some time, has written a new book called Getting Better, dealing with this problem. Here is an excerpt from the review: Among the seven major regions into which the World Bank divides the planet, life expectancy has grown more since 1980 in the Middle East and North Africa than anywhere else (12.