Are people connected and empowered through the diversity of traditional and modern means of information exchange? Do they have access to each other in person (freedom of association), by telephone, and the Internet? Do they have access to uncensored, unbiased and effective people-centric (rather than self-centric) information through printed, broadcast, and Internet sources?
In some countries, the philosophy is for “freedom of speech” including freedom of association and religion. In other countries, it is for “freedom of expression” (both to espouse and receive views) including freedom to chose media sources (including Internet service provider, etc.). HumanSecurityIndex.org considers that both of these concepts are vital to people.
People currently communicate in-person, or via (fixed and mobile) telephone, (postal or electronic) mail, and the Internet. The latter was formerly dominated by one-way communication from server to client, but now is two-way through blogs, wikis, discussion forums, virtual community and file sharing media on the Web. Access to such media, and the freedom of such media from propaganda, censorship, intentional or unintentional bias (which limits rather than stimulates perspective) are vital to a social fabric.
The HSI component on Information Empowerment combines data on fixed and mobile telephone lines and Internet users (as a percentage of inhabitants – to indicate users of such media) with an indicator of press freedom. The main sources are:
- Information and Communication indicators from the International Telecommunication Union’s ICT Eye supplemented by other sources to cover gaps in the ITU data – as described in the United Nations release publication on the HSI.
- The Press Freedom Index of Reporters Sans Frontieres.
An indicator which characterizes the amount of access by individuals and communities to information, which is empowering of the people rather than of an elite, is an important component of social fabric and human security. This might include an enumeration of the number of people accessing various types of communications/media (not just phones and the Internet as in the case of the Connection Index).
In addition, there is the concern that consolidations (and budgetary reductions) of several traditional news media outlets into giant holding companies, arguably more driven by profit motive than by journalistic excellence, is reducing journalistic effectiveness, and thus human security. So, an indicator of Press Effectiveness (including freedom of journalists from official harassment but also freedom and effectiveness of journalists at delivering investigative journalism to empower readers) would be valuable to have.
Do people feel safe that human security is a focus of government leaders, and that businesses are customer- focused? Although businesses may be entitled to a fair profit, are corporate leaders getting platinum packages while the average person gets mud? Are bribes and lobbying co-opting decision- makers away from public service and toward individual interests of a few?
People feel more secure when government’s focus is on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Traditionally, one might attribute subterfuge or co-option by special interests against such focus to corruption.
Anything which un- levels the playing field in favour of insiders or an “oligarchy” which costs the people as a whole, contributes to reduced human security. (If you can think of an exception, please comment on it below.) Though corruption is often thought of as associated with abuse (e.g. bribery and influence peddling) by individuals who may use situations or positions for inappropriate monetary gain, this research considers that a wider process may be involved. For example, “the established way of doing things”, which may be institution- centred rather than service- oriented for the people, and may no longer be appropriate with new approaches available, may be just as negative an impact on human security.
- For example, imagine having your phone or credit card bill managed as taxing authorities in the USA “administer” income taxes under its responsibility. Imagine being forced to carry two credit cards (or separate fixed and mobile phone accounts), each with its own labyrinthic, somewhat incompatible, “accounting” system – analogous to having separate Federal and State authorities to deal with. Imagine being required to record each phone call (including starting and ending times, number called, rate and cost) and credit card transaction – to be reported by you periodically to the phone and card companies. If you make a mistake that implies lower obligations you can be fined or jailed (or have your home raided and your computer and belongings seized). This could even happen if you paid “big bucks” to a private accountant, tax lawyer, or the like - you’re still responsible for their mistakes. If your bookkeeping options you choose result in higher payments, the tax folks may keep the money. Imagine being forced into such systems. Have you ever heard people call this inhumane, cruel, or dysfunctional / corrupt?
- Now imagine a taxing authority that administers taxes like your phone provider or credit card issuer. You receive an accounting, with an opportunity to review and point out possible mistakes. Then you settle the bill (perhaps with a automated bill payment from or refund into your bank account). The latter can be done, and indeed is being done in well- run administrations. In this document (warning: this links to a .pdf – see page 3) Denmark led the process over a decade ago, and has been followed by Finland (warning: link is to a .pdf), Slovenia and several other [thus advanced in this regard] countries, with governments providing taxpayers with tax forms pre-filled – which the taxpayer checks for possible errors (as in a phone bill) for easier and fairer treatment of taxpayers, as well as better compliance.
So maintaining a system that does not smoothly deliver good governance while also providing as reasonable a service as possible for the people may be viewed as corrupt, and degrading to human security. Also, an extension to characterize the effectiveness of traditional and new media in exposing corruption and other bad governance would be a great enhancement to a social fabric index.
Though the most well-known indicator of corruption may be Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, this effort uses the World Bank index on Control of Corruption, including traditionally considered “illegal” corruption, plus the embryonic concept of “legal” corruption (original paper) ; (updated paper) (warning: links are to .pdfs).
Some people might expect a broader indicator of governance here. We looked at efforts such as the World Bank’s Governance Indicators, of government effectiveness, political stability & violence, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption. But when we attempted to adapt these to human security characterizations and strategizing, we ran into some difficulties. Firstly, we wonder if the concepts may be more western or urban than global in approach. For example, is a win-lose court system, in which people are trained to manipulate descriptions in order to win a case - good rule of law and governance - or is it the sometimes characterized “tyranny of lawyers?” Or is a system of mediation, in which the desired outcome is not win-lose but win-win (and a solution to the problem that everyone can except - rather than have arbitrarily imposed on them), preferable?
We found the indicator becoming perceptive and useful for developing human security strategy immediately when data for “legal corruption” were combined with those for more widely discussed “illegal corruption.” Indeed, we considered these to be two links in a chain, where the weaker link most strongly influenced the outcome. Adding the other World Governance Indicators did not seem to change the character or strength / weakness of the chain - but only seemed to obfuscate the power of blending legal and illegal corruption. So our governance indicator is currently the minimum of legal or illegal corruption percentile figure for a country.
As the HSI, and all its components, are designed to be working prototypes, we welcome ideas for additional data and hopefully introductions to curators of additional indicators in this arena. We also hope to find better ways to combine data.
Please consider this a request for creating components of a richer governance component to the HSI.
Do people feel safe and comfortable in their environment? Is the community relatively well protected from public health and environmental hazards – and well served by preventive, mitigative, early warning, response and recovery mechanisms? Are people and communities safe from biological, chemical and physical contamination including of food, water, and air? Are they living sustainably? Are they free of need to burn non-renewable resources (e.g. gas - petrol) for transportation, heat or cooking? If they have electricity, is it from renewable sources? Is their housing a sustainably low resource and energy consumer?
Many societies are low on environmental impact because they are materially poor. How sustainable is this if they develop to moderate material levels? Quite a few societies have made progress in some areas of environmental stewardship – but often the job is far from done.
There are innumerable environmental indicators. HumanSecurityIndex.org’s selection of component indicators is an attempt to be somewhat conservative, but also inclusive of the diverse range of environmental topics. One school of thought appears mostly focused on greenhouse gas emissions, or more encompassing “ecological footprint.” HumanSecurityIndex.org certainly recognizes the importance of that issue, as can be seen by the makeup of this component on Environmental Protection. However, a small carbon footprint resulting from a low level of HDI and energy use – but with a high level of chemical or biological contamination of water supply, a weak waste reusage infrastructure, etc. - is this an indicator of better environmental performance? Or might it be a possible suggestion of an environmentally disastrous future if that economy, say, suddenly strikes oil and begins big-time production – with concurrent massive inflows of oil revenues?
After looking at many environmental indicators, HumanSecurityIndex.org selected the following to be components of its component on Environmental Protection:
- The Environmental Performance Index
- The Environmental Sustainability Index and
- The List of Countries by Greenhouse Gas Emissions per Capita
HumanSecurityIndex.org is intrigued by much of the discussion of Marks et al. on the Happy Planet Index. Indeed, HumanSecurityIndex.org’s Social Fabric Index also suggests that several Central American and island societies, plus Bhutan (home of the concept of Gross National Happiness) also several African societies [which don't do so well in the Happy Planet Index] among others are achieving (relatively unnoticed without such revisits) relatively good results in the development of true community. Several such societies are comparably better than many countries that have emphasized GDP growth. Similarly, in the UNDP Thailand Human Development Report for 2007, northeastern Thailand – despite its relative material poverty compared to most of the rest of the country – is a winner in achieving arguably a more profound sense of community.
However, HumanSecurityIndex.org is reluctant to use the Happy Planet Index as now constituted as part of the Social Fabric or Human Security Index.
- Can the Ecological Footprint, as used in the Happy Planet Index, be re-crafted for more broad-based acceptance?
- Could a life satisfaction indicator be developed to (1) first educate respondents more about the global and local situations before asking their (previously naive, but afterward better informed) views? Could it (2) be crafted to minimize cultural interpretational diversity problems as implied on the Happy Planet Index Website? If someone is chagrined and saddened by the energy-wasteful lifestyle of her country – and that she is pressured to own a car for each adult in her family because of lamentable lack of sustainable transport infrastructure almost everywhere in her country; but if she is also proud and excited by some of her country’s progress in other aspects of environmental stewardship as well as by her own super-insulated solar-heated home – how should she respond to the Happy Planet Index survey? Actually, there appears to be no correct answer to that survey as currently crafted, when one has a sufficiently detailed view of the state of the planet.
Several other environmental indicators have been developed which use ecological, carbon, or other “footprint” computations. Though we believe such “footprints” are useful concepts, we have not seen a computation that we are ready to incorporate into the HSI component on Environmental Protection. We encourage additional developments - and discussion, of enhanced indicators for our consideration - and your support.
Do people feel safe in their homes, communities, nation, and the world? Is crime a threat? Are power groups (from foreign or domestic individual, institutional/corporate, or governmental forces) disrupting human security? Is one’s country (or a neighbour) involved in domestic or foreign conflict, conscripting community residents and spending scarce resources in disruptions – at the cost of human security at home and abroad?
The Global Peace Index is an excellent start at characterizing a person’s peace and harmony in one’s local and global community based on freedom from external warlike behaviour of one’s country, and from domestic strife and related concerns. A “trigger-happy” society (overseas or at home) is not a secure one, and (as others have said) might become a magnet or catalyst for additional trigger-happy behaviour of various sorts. Indeed, members of the “gun lobby” in the USA have argued against bans or restrictions on gun ownership, saying that country is so unsafe that people must be able to defend their own homes with their own guns. Here’s an example. Is this not a graphic indicator of poor social fabric? (HumanSecurityIndex.org is not making a political editorial, merely a social observation.)
HumanSecurityIndex.org also includes incarceration rates as an excellent indicator of societal strains from criminal inclinations in a society, and/or inclinations of that society to incarcerate people rather than to fundamentally solve the possible causes of behaviour that result in arrest and detention. These include the World Prison Population List and the World Pre-Trial / Remand Imprisonment List As Roy Walmsley (curator of such lists) notes, high incarceration rates can have many causes. However, in the view of several socioeconomic experts with whom HumanSecurityIndex.org has discussed this issue, abnormally high incarceration rates indicate poor human development/security in a society, and appear to be an excellent proxy for societal fabric in great need of repair. Walmsley has given thoughtful reviews of issues and concerns about high and generally increasing incarceration rates. Indeed, the apparent geographic, temporal, and demographic relationships between increasing income inequality (e.g. GINI coefficient values) and increasing incarceration rates over the past two decades could make a valuable study.
Janet Billson has an interesting discussion of well-being from a women’s standpoint. She has suggested that domestic violence would be an invaluable, though very challenging, phenomenon to characterize through some form of indicator. HumanSecurityIndex.org would be tempted to place such an indicator in this grouping on peacefulness, though some might argue that domestic violence is a gender – or even primarily a women’s issue. However, if such an indicator were to actually appear, its specific characteristics would be the best guide to its possible grouping with other constituent indicators of a Social Fabric Index or a Human Security Index.
Are people at ease, or not, because of their gender, age, place of origin, religion, other beliefs, educational status, economic status, so-called disability, or other characteristic that they are not abnormally pushing on others? (This is not an opportunity for people to attempt co-option of, or hegemony over, others’ equally valued situations or beliefs.)
There is currently some challenge in representing this component of human security.
However, at least for gender, there is a good start. The global Human Development Reports place considerable focus on gender, as do some other organizations. However, HumanSecurityIndex.org currently believes that the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index may be the best candidate to use, at least for now. It is multi- faceted, and makes a good start at global “completeness” by covering many economies (134 in the latest release). It also appears to be amenable to conservative, as well as more radical, interpretation- discussion- strategizing- policies- and implementations.
All these considerations are important. A successful Human Security Index should facilitate a diversity of discussion, intercomparison of alternative strategies, and implementation plans which help everyone -especially those currently on the shorter sides of the “Security Divide” between the “Privileged”, the “Semi-privileged and sort-of OK”, and the “Marginalized and not OK” corners of society.
HumanSecurityIndex.org’s long term hope is for a more inclusive indicator - crafted to represent the comfort (or lack of same) of an individual in a community, based on gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, or other factor that could be (but hopefully is not) marginalizing – such as physical or other “disability.”
Perhaps we can now try to craft some new indicators addressing this issue?
The broader HSI consists of components on
- Protection of, and benefitting from, diversity
- Environmental protection
- Freedom from corruption
- Information empowerment
The links above contain discussions on individual components, and links to data and/or topical indicators used in the respective components.
If we have learned anything from three decades of indicator development, it’s that every such indicator is imperfect. However, many indicators provide valuable platforms for discussion, strategizing on inputs / outputs (on improving the sources, components and HSI) and making progress on outcomes (in this case improved people-centric and community-centric human security).
These discussions will evolve over time. For the meantime, they are supplemented by the original and United Nations papers on the HSI, which further discuss the components, source materials, and formulas for deriving each component - and the HSI.