“We Render the Invisible Visible”
The Sustainable Governance Indicators examine the political challenges of the 21st century. SGI News spoke with Daniel-Schraad-Tischler und Najim Azahaf of SGI about the project and the latest developments.
SGI News: Mr. Schraad-Tischler, Mr. Azahaf, what is the SGI project?
Daniel Schraad-Tischler: The SGI project systematically compares sustainable governance among states. Here at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, we are convinced that it is very important not just to focus on one’s own country, but also to look at other nations and institutions in order to identify good practices and to shape systems so that people are able to participate in society to the greatest possible extent. This means that we ask two questions: firstly, how sustainable is governance in the countries in economic, social, ecological and democratic terms? And secondly, how well can governments, working with civil society, steer processes in order to achieve sustainable political results? The project is unique in this sense.
Najim Azahaf: Sometimes you can only see something if you compare it. This renders the invisible visible. The OECD’s PISA studies clearly demonstrated the impact that international comparative studies can have on the political agenda. Other indexes look at aspects such as democracy, freedom of the press or economic competitiveness, but the SGI project examines the overall political challenges of the 21st century.
SGI News: How do you find the answers to your two main questions?
Schraad-Tischler: We rely on a combination of qualitative and quantitative data. Our qualitative data come from answers to a survey provided by an international network of leading scholars. Each state has at least three scholars who assess the situation in their countries independently of each another. In this way, we receive detailed reports on the individual OECD member states. The entire reports are published on our website and can be freely accessed by anyone in the world. Apart from that, the SGI team compiles quantitative data from publically available sources from the OECD, Eurostat, the World Bank and other international organizations. We end up with data for around 150 indicators, which are put together to form the SGI Index, an index of status and management. You can go straight to each individual indicator on our website to see a concrete comparison profile of the states that have been surveyed. This is another major advantage of the SGI project in comparison with other international indexes.
SGI News: What is the SGI project planning for the rest of the year?
Schraad-Tischler: The SGI is an ongoing project. The idea is that it also provides comparisons over a longer period. The first edition of the SGI was published in 2009, the second in 2011 and the next one is scheduled for 2013/14. We also publish special studies on a regular basis. For instance, last year we produced a study called “Social Justice in the OECD – How Do the Member States Compare?” which attracted a lot of attention both in Germany and abroad. This year we are planning a study on the topic of generational justice in aging societies, as well as two large-scale analyses on the issue of sustainable governance in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and in selected nations in Asia.
Azahaf: In this period of economic stagnation in many parts of the OECD, greater attention is being paid to the BRICS states, where growth is strong. Sustainable global development will largely depend on these countries. But what actually are the key political factors for their economic success? How sustainable is the course they are on and does the population benefit? We worked with international experts to explore these sorts of questions and to examine the political effectiveness and governance features of the BRICS countries. In this way, we highlighted the development potential, as well as the needs for reform to ensure that development is sustainable.
SGI News: China’s rise shows many people that economic success is also possible without democratic structures…
Azahaf: But would economic growth be inconceivable in China if the people had democratic rights to participate in society? Japan, South Korea and Indonesia, some of the democratic engines of growth in the region, provide an answer to this question. Economic development without democratic rights is certainly feasible in the short term. However, I wonder what value an economic upswing has in the final analysis unless there are fundamental democratic rights, such as the right to free speech or information. But this remains an exciting question, one that is raised over and over in reaction to economically successful autocracies. We ask the same question, for example, in our special study, “Assessing Pathways to Success”, which will be published in the near future. It looks at the growth stars in Asia and at their political strategies.
Schraad-Tischler: We advocate a democratic order that is complemented by a social market economy order. We are not merely concerned with there being opportunities for social, economic or ecological achievements, but definitely also with political freedom. Like the Indian winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Amartya Sen, one can certainly argue that a sustainable long-term order is only possible if there is a high level of political freedom along with equal and free formation of the political will. This aspect can certainly not be ignored in a comprehensive examination of sustainable governance.
SGI News: How can people find out more about SGI?
Azahaf: Our website is our main channel of communication. It contains our entire data pool for all of the countries we have studied down to each individual indicator. All of our country reports can also be downloaded free of charge and all of our studies are available both online and in print. We also use social media like SGI News and Facebook to stimulate international discussion on sustainable governance. In addition, we regularly hold sustainable governance dialogues, at which we provide a discussion forum in Berlin or Brussels for political decision-makers and experts to discuss our empirical findings.
Interview: SGI News
Translated from the German by Rebecca Hudson