At last, a sensible suggestion for post2015

February 28, 2013

     By Duncan Green     

After my ‘bah humbug’ paper on post2015, I’ve been largely avoiding the subject as a monumental timesuck. However, a combination of Sabina ‘multidimensional’ Alkire and Andy ‘bottom billion’ Sumner is an unstoppable force, so I’m making an exception for their new paper, Multidimensional Poverty and the Post-2015 MDGs, which is worth a skim.

What Sabina and Andy do is use her previous work for UNDP on multidimensional poverty indicators (MPIs) to square an important circle. They suggest building an ‘MPI 2.0’ based on whatever combination of issues is finally agreed in the post2015 discussion. This would produce a single number that summarizes a country’s overall progress towards the post2015 goals.

That in turn would allow the post2015 process to generate more traction on national governments (the lack of which is the subject of my paper) through league tables. Imagine if every year, all countries (including the rich ones) are ranked on a comprehensive human development table that (unlike the Human Development Index and other similar efforts) has buy in and recognition from across the international community. Each annual report would pick out the countries that have risen/fallen relative to the others. Regional tables could compare India and Bangladesh, or Peru and Bolivia, to generate extra public interest and pressure on decision makers. Within countries, an MPI could highlight regional disparities (see map).

subnational MPI in Africa

A particular advantage of the approach is speedy feedback for policy makers: The MPI reflects effective social policy interventions immediately. With measures of income poverty, a positive social change – for example in schooling or clean water – may not be reflected for a number of years.

One of the lasting institutional legacies of the MDG process is the investment in better quality data needed to assess progress – this proposal would build on that.

One suggestion though – MPI 2.0 is a dreadful name. Why don’t we just call it ‘poverty’ and argue that it should replace $1.25 a day as the international standard?

And here’s me at a recent IDS seminar explaining why I’m so underwhelmed by the general post2015 debate.

February 28, 2013
Duncan Green