Reports 2019/32

Methods of social reporting

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Social reporting can be defined as a system for collection, presentation and analysis of data concerning the life situation and well-being of the population. The purpose is to follow social trends, in the same way as economic trends can be followed, through the use of national accounts and other kinds of economic statistics. The statistical information on welfare issues is often called social indicators.

Systems of social reporting have many aspects. In this report, we mainly address a selected number of methodological challenges: Choice of method for statistical processing and analysis, for visualization (radar charts etc.) and for presentation of the analysis.

During the last ten years, a lot of countries have experienced a renewal of interest around social reporting and social indicators. In this report, a broad overview of recent developments and different systems is given, both within and outside Norway. Within Norway, one of the systems we look at is the public health barometer for municipalities and city districts developed by The Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Outside of Norway, we focus on several international organizations, not least OECD and their comprehensive system for reporting on quality of life and welfare issues: “How’s Life?”. In addition, the development of new systems of reporting in countries suitable for comparison, like Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and Denmark, are reviewed.

Chapter 5 contains a review of some of the methods that are often used in the practice of social reporting. The six methods are: 1) standardisation (controlling for demographic and other variables), 2) Significance testing, 3) Various measures of inequality, 4) Constructing composite indicators, on the aggregate or individual level, 5) Other methods in the making of comprehensive summaries, and 6) visualisation.

In the last chapter, some recommendations for the system of social reporting in Statistics Norway are made, based on the review in previous chapters. Particular attention is given to the web pages “Slik har vi det” (“How we are doing”) and the publication “Økonomi og levekår for ulike lavinntektsgrupper” (“Economy and living conditions for various low-income groups”). One of several recommenda¬tions is a more systematic use of international comparisons. Information on the “best value” internationally can serve as a kind of benchmark and give a rough indication on the potential for further achievement. Another recommendation is to use age and sex standardised numbers when presenting some indicators, above all on health, but also on employment.

A classic problem in social reporting is how to make a comprehensive summary of conditions and trends. In the report, different methods for doing such summaries are discussed. Inspired by the public health barometer, we suggest that a selected number of indicators should be listed in a table or as a graphic, forming a quality of life barometer. For each indicator, measures of short-term (since the last available year) and long-term (e.g. last ten years) trends should be computed. Statistically significant changes should be marked with suitable color symbols, depending on whether the changes are positive or negative. Statistics for inequality and international comparisons should also be included, as far as possible.

Visualisations in the form of barometers should be supplemented by other forms of comprehensive summaries. A simple method, used by the British statistical bureau ONS and others, is to count the number of indicators that imply a positive trend, count those that suggest a negative trend and finally those that show no trend. But this will often represent a too simplified summary. The changes should be seen in relation to the conditions at the start of the period. Political action is most urgent when a bad situation is worsened or does not show signs of improvement. Defining bad situations can be done using different criteria, such as international comparisons or widely agreed political goals, e.g. the UNs sustainable development goals (SDG).

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