30 July 2010

Count the passes

Watch this video and see how many passes you count.

Did you see the gorilla?

The point of the video, put together Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris is not the number of passes, but that something like half of people who watch this are so focused on counting that they completely miss the gorilla.

Stefan Dercon showed my class this during a lecture on poverty measurement at Oxford. What on earth does any of this have to do with poverty measurement? Stefan didn’t really explain, but my take was that, sometimes, perhaps, if we focus too much on measuring poverty we might not be paying enough attention to something really important, like, development or industrialisation.

All of this is a pretty long-winded way of introducing some of the recent discussions about the new UN Multidimensional Poverty Index developed at Oxford.

Duncan Green (Director of Research at Oxfam) thinks that “It’s a step forward on the previous Human Development Index, but only a limited one.

Martin Ravallion (Director of Research at the World Bank), notes that as with the HDI, “The index is essentially adding up apples and oranges … and no consensus exists on how the multiple dimensions should be weighted to form the composite index.”

Sabina Alkire (Co-creator of the new Index) responds to Martin by citing Sen: “There is indeed great merit… in having public discussions on the kind of weights that may be used.

Finally, Matt Collin (AidThoughts), notes that “Given that we need to unpack these indices to figure out what’s going on, why do we bother to pack them in the first place?

On balance, I think this is probably a useful data collection/sorting exercise, but would agree with Matt about the limited value of the aggregate index.

Especially given my currently developing obsession. Measuring the impact of an action upon a composite index is not going to be of pretty limited interest.

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