The number of composite indices that are constructed and used internationally is growing very fast; but whilst the complexity of quantitative techniques has increased dramatically, the education and training in this area has been dragging and lagging behind. As a consequence, these simple numbers, expected to synthesize quite complex issues, are often presented to the public and used in the political debate without proper emphasis on their intrinsic limitations and correct interpretations.
In this course on global statistics, offered by the University of Geneva jointly with the ETH Zürich KOF, you will learn the general approach of constructing composite indices and some of resulting problems. We will discuss the technical properties, the internal structure (like aggregation, weighting, stability of time series), the primary data used and the variable selection methods. These concepts will be illustrated using a sample of the most popular composite indices. We will try to address not only statistical questions but also focus on the distinction between policy-, media- and paradigm-driven indicators.
Welcome to the first module of this course. In this welcome module, you will be introduced with the Professors that will take part in this course on composites indices. We explain the rationale for composite indices (CIs) and show how they can be of interest. This course is open to NGO members, politicians, journalists, students and all persons interested in understanding, creating and/or interpreting CIs. By the end of this first module, you will have an overview of the content of the course week by week.
Some introductory issues
This module contains four lessons. The first lesson is an introduction to CIs. It defines what a CI is, introduces their mathematical notation and reviews some core historical aspects of their development, the need and use of CIs. The second lesson focuses on the demand for CIs while the third lesson develops a qualitative framework for the construction of CIs. More specifically, the intrinsic quality of CIs is discussed by reviewing their pros and cons. Finally, the last lesson of this introductory module sketches the steps involved in the construction of a CI.
Learning outcomes: by the end of this module you will have a clear idea what a CI is (definition, ingredients, history, objective), know why it is needed and where it is used (needs and demand), be familiar with the quality requirements and have a first idea steps involved in the construction of a CI.
The steps of constructing a composite index
This module is organized along four lessons. The objective of this module is to familiarize you with the key steps to undertake when constructing a CI. The first lesson will develop a theoretical framework to support CIs’ construction. Notably, it will cover topics such as variables selection and data issues. The second lesson will introduce a unifying approach to construct CI by discussing aspects related to transformation functions and the elasticity of substitution. The entire third lesson will be devoted to an essential aspect in the construction of a CI: the choice of weights. Finally, the module will conclude by addressing questions arising after the construction of a CI. For instance, lesson four will discuss how to assess the robustness of the resulting CI. By the end of this module you will be familiar with all the most important technical (or say statistical) steps involved in constructing CIs.
Export Potential Assessment (ITC)
This module focuses on trade indices developed by the International Trade Centre, the Export Potential Index (EDI) and the Product Diversification index (PDI).
Frictions often create a gap between what a country could export and what it does export to markets around the world. Trade advisers could better address these frictions and help firms realize greater exports if they knew exactly which products and markets offer best chances. During this week, you will learn about the Export Potential Assessment (EPI and PDI), which indicates products, sectors and markets for trade development activities for over 200 countries and 4,000 products. Based upon an assessment of the exporting country’s supply capacity, the target market’s demand and tariff conditions as well as the bilateral links between the exporting country and the target market, it provides a ranking of untapped opportunities.
Liner shipping connectivity indices (UNCTAD) and Human development index (UNDP)
During this week you will be exploring two indices. The first index, the Liner Shipping (Bilateral) Connectivity Index (LSCI/LSBCI) computed each year by UNCTAD since 2004. It provides an overall indicator of a country maritime connectivity related to liner shipping. Throughout this lesson, we give some insights on why the LSCI and LSBCI were developed. We also cover the methodology to build both indices. We then discuss some stylized facts.
The second index presented this week is the Human Development Index (HDI) developed by UNDP. During this lesson, you will be slightly introduced with the history of the HDI. We explain the steps of constructing the HDI, i.e. choosing the three dimensions (health, education and living conditions) composing the HDI and their respective indicators, normalizing the indicators and aggregating the indicators and dimensional sub-indices using different methods. Then, we use a practical example to calculate the HDI for one country. At the end, we discuss some limitations of the HDI and give some elements for future improvement.