The SGI project will enter phase three and publish new indicators in 2014. Daniel Schraad-Tischler and Najim Azahaf of SGI talk about the upcoming release of the SGI 2014, the creation of a Learning Network for Governance Innovations and what the financial and economic crisis reveals about governments' capacity for reform.
SGI News: Mr. Schraad-Tischler and Mr. Azahaf, the SGI project will enter phase three and publish new indicators in 2014. What changes will we see?
Daniel Schraad-Tischler: Past SGI studies had two components: the Status Index and the Management Index. We are now using three components to measure sustainable governance: sustainable policy outcomes, quality of democracy and national governance capacity. As a group, they can tell how ready a country is for the future and how sustainably it is being governed. In the past, we focused on the OECD countries. Now we are looking at all of the EU countries – including those that are not OECD members. There are 41 in total; that means all of the so-called highly developed industrialized countries.
SGI News: How exactly does the new SGI model work?
Daniel Schraad-Tischler: There are three basic building blocks that collectively express what we consider sustainable governance to be. The Sustainable Policy Performance index looks at outcomes in 16 policy areas in every OECD and EU country. It shows exactly what areas of policy are in need of reform in each of these countries. This pillar is then divided into the three core dimensions of the sustainability concept, measuring economic, social and ecological aspects. The second pillar measures a country's quality of democracy. That used to be part of the Status Index. We are convinced that democracy and the rule of law are critical prerequisites for governing successfully over the long term. The third pillar is the Governance Capacities Index, which reflects what used to be measured in the Management Index. It examines how well countries are able to govern over the long term by asking questions like, "Do they learn?" and "How do they work and interact with other players in society?"
Najim Azahaf: We are different from most indices in that we don’t just look at the results of policy-making. We additionally open the "black box" and peer into the machinery of governing itself. This enables us to relate the results to the capacities that are available. So the basic idea behind the SGI 2014 is the same as it was for all of the previous editions. Now we are putting more emphasis on the dashboard approach. Breaking things down into individual dimensions enables readers to better identify each country's profile of strengths and weaknesses.
SGI News: What led you to change the SGI concept?
Najim Azahaf: Many people have voiced criticism over the way in which governance quality is measured. They say that in many cases, the field still uses a very outdated concept of governments that assumes nation states are self-contained entities. At the SGI project, we still believe the nation state is the most important point of reference for achieving sustainable policy outcomes. But the boundaries between the nation state and global and regional governance issues are of course fluid. The upcoming SGI edition takes that into account by adding yet another level to the three pillars I just described. This fourth level considers global public goods – goods that are not limited by nation-state borders.
Daniel Schraad-Tischler: It would be a mistake to only focus on the national responsibilities of governments, especially in the global sustainability debate. We also need to ask whether governments are fulfilling their international responsibilities. And whether they are supporting fair world trade, regulated, stabilized international financial markets and climate change mitigation. In the future, we will also be working more closely with our colleagues in the Bertelsmann Stiftung's European section and regularly publishing studies for all 28 EU countries. Our hope is that this will enable us to engage more with EU policymakers in Brussels.
SGI News: Has anything about the general direction of the project changed?
Najim Azahaf: Past SGI releases had the mission line, "To render the invisible visible." Our purpose will still be to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of political systems through systematic international comparisons, but we will be focusing more on analyzing and communicating good practices than in the past. Many countries have already developed interesting approaches to sustainable policymaking. Our goal for the next few years will be to identify those types of governance innovations and get them ready for international audiences. Essentially, our new motto, Making governance innovations travel, is about making good ideas and practices in areas such as institutional arrangements, improved processes as well as policies available transnationally.
SGI News: How will you do it?
Najim Azahaf: We are still in the middle of developing this part of the project. But we are already convinced that we need to focus on the actual actors in this arena. I'm talking about politically elected representatives, the working level at ministries and government authorities as well as civil-society players. At the end of the day, they are the ones who make change happen – or not. Of course, we weren't the first to think about governance innovations and how to make them available to other countries. There are already plenty of academic players in this domain, such as public policy and governance schools or EU research programs for academia. Our goal is to work with political, academic and civil-society players to intensify and coordinate the systematic, cross-border search for transferable governance innovations. This will provide players with an expansive pool of data and knowledge that makes their jobs easier and fosters international learning that benefits sustainable development.
SGI News: Where can people take a look at the SGI findings?
Daniel Schraad-Tischler: The study will be published on our website, which is being updated to reflect the new project model. The site will also offer new ways of interacting with the data as well as user-defined rankings. For example, users who are very interested in environmental issues can prioritize that sphere and sort and view the country rankings accordingly. The new website will also make it easier for people to export and share the data using services like Twitter.
Najim Azahaf: Many other indices just present their final results and do not tell how they arrived at those findings. We are offering complete transparency. From the top level of the index all the way down to each individual indicator, you can reconstruct everything.
SGI News: Can you reveal anything about the findings in the new SGI?
Najim Azahaf: During the last three years, the world has had its biggest-ever financial and economic crisis – one that has had a serious and lasting impact on society, the environment and the economy. The new release of the SGI is an excellent tool for studying many of these consequences and effects. It also offers a way to isolate sub-samples, which opens up new opportunities for analyzing specific cases such as the difficult situation in the eurozone.
Daniel Schraad-Tischler: And the ways in which countries have responded to the crisis. It shows how the countries hit hardest by the crisis have governed, what they have and have not done. Our new country report on Greece, for instance, shows that a lot has happened in that country. The steps that Greece took when it was under such extreme pressure have led to positive changes in some areas.
SGI News: When will the 2014 SGI be published?
Daniel Schraad-Tischler: We are planning to publish our complete findings in mid-March 2014.
Daniel Schraad-Tischler heads the Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) project. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Cologne.
Najim Azahaf has worked as a project manager for the SGI since 2010. He has a background in Social Sciences and is currently pursuing a Executive Master of Public Management at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
Interview: Rosa Gosch
Translation from German: Douglas Fox