Introducing YourTopia - Development beyond GDP

Posted on 12 January 2011

The following is cross-posted from the Open Knowledge Foundation blog post. It reports the results of the code-sprint reported in this previous blog post.

Today we’re announcing a simple new app (also submitted to World Bank Apps competition) that allows anyone to say what kind of world, what ‘YourTopia’, they would like to live in:

As well as having a very simple function: to tell you what country is closest to your ideal, the app also has a very serious purpose: to help us develop a real empirical basis for the measures of development that are used to guide policy-making.

Is health more important than education, or GDP, is the amount of R&D more important than amount spent on primary education? Help us find out what the world thinks!

You can see the app in action in the following video, or head over directly YourTopia and answer the 2-minute quiz.

More Information

Development Economics has for a long time recognised the deficiency of GDP as an indicator of human development but with little reception in policy-circles. Recently, however, the debate changed and no month passes now without a high-level report on “Development beyond GDP”.

OKFN’s new Open Economics Group has now constructed an application to test two solutions to primary problems in this debate, and it is participating in the World Bank’s competition “Applications for Development”.

Measures of human progress beyond GDP either use so-called dashboards of indicators (e.g. WDI) or composite indices (e.g. HDI or MPI). An openness-problem with the first approach has been that dashboards were so complex that the public was de facto excluded from the debate. The second approach tried to simplify through combining different dimensions into a single index but then suffered from arbitrary assumptions on the choice of weights applied to indices and choice of proxies for different development dimensions.

These are significant problems and so we’ve created Yourtopia, as the first application that produces a composite index of human development (OpenHDI) without arbitrary choices of indicator-weights and proxy choices.

We circumvent these problems simply: by letting the user participate. Rather than the researcher selecting proxies and indicator-weights we let the user choose. The resulting index of human progress is then personalised and contains no arbitrary assumptions by construction.

While the constructors of the HDI, for example, was always attacked for their assumption that human progress just depends on education, health and income and that these each carried the same importance, we now let the user decide which dimensions of progress are important and how they compare to each other.

Get Involved

We’d love to improve YourTopia in lots of ways and we need help with design, coding (python or javascript), and writing (from both an economists and a layman’s point of view!) (for example what does GNI in PPP terms mean to most people – we need translators from jargon to English!).

If you’re interested in helping please send either join the open-economics mailing list or just send a mail to info [at] okfn [dot] org.