What can the Index tell us?

The Social Progress Index (SPI) is a tool that models how Australian States and Territories are performing on fundamental social and environmental outcomes, relative to one another. By looking at non-economic indicators, we can get a better sense of how a society is faring independent of economic measures.

The SPI is based on three overarching domains that are considered to be fundamental factors that enable social progress. Within each of these domains are four components which give us the best way of understanding how social progress can be measured and accessed in society. Each of these components have a ‘universal guiding question’ that help conceptualise what we are trying to measure:

SPI themes 

Using the results of the Australian SPI, we can understand:

-        How different States and Territories perform compared to similar States and Territories on each of the components

E.g. How is New South Wales performing at supporting personal rights, so that people’s rights as individuals are protected? Is its performance in the Index what we would expect?

-        How different States and Territories are placed compared to other States and Territories on each of the SPI domains

E.g. How is Western Australia performing in supporting its society’s need for basic human needs? What is its overall Index score for this domain, out of 100?

-        How different States and Territories score on the overall Social Progress Index – as a score from 0 to 100, and ranked against one another

The Index can be used to identify the areas of good performance, and areas that need improvement for individual States and Territories. To get a higher overall Index score, it is important that each of the 12 components perform well.  The performance for each of the components can help direct attention to where policies should be targeted, or are associated with socially progressive outcomes. 

The Index also gives a time series from 2015 to 2018, to show whether there have been improvements for States and Territories in both the individual domains and components, and across the Index as a whole. We would hope that over time, Social Progress scores would continue to increase, which indicates that things are improving for communities across Australia. If there are particular components that have scores that are consistently decreasing, this indicates that this component or domain is getting worse over time. To better interpret these time series results, it can be helpful to identify particular major political or social changes that occurred at around the same time and may have contributed to the outcomes.

The Social Progress Index is intended to be accessible, and actionable. It cannot tell us what policies or social decisions should be made, but it can help direct attention to the unique needs across Australia’s States and Territories.

What about economic measures?

The calculation of the SPI does not include economic measures that are typically used as indicators of progress – this includes measures such as median household income, gross state product (GSP – similar to the global Gross Domestic Product Index), as well as indicators such as rates of unemployment which are indicative of the economic position of the society at the time.

Economic measures are useful ways of conceptualising improvement within a society, and the aim is that economies will consistently improve over time. However, it is not necessarily the case that improved economic progress automatically generates social progress. There are instances where increased economic progress are a result of the suppression of rights or safety of individuals (such as arms exports and privatisation of prisons), or contribute to worse outcomes for society or the environment (such as the impact of mining on the environment).

By calculating an indicator of social progress that is independent of economic measures, we can better understand the relationship between economic and social progress. We generally see that the two are positively related, and where there is better social progress there is generally better economic progress as well.

By analysing a State or Territory’s performance relative to its economic peers, as presented in the scorecards, we can uncover which States or Territories are best at turning each dollar of income into better social outcomes.