Social Indicators - What Are They?
Опубликовано на портале: 31-12-2010
At first sight an indicator may be defined as a certain construct beginning from
a concrete number and up to the totality of research instruments, including initial
(basic) theory, methods, algorithms and results of measurement, interpretation of
the results, regulated by certain rules.
The simplest definition of social indicators is the following - the instruments of
diagnosing the state of the society, its separate parts and social problems. The
objects of social indicators application are all areas of human activity, which have
social causes, grounds and/or consequences and results as well as social causes,
grounds and/or consequences and results themselves. The subject of social indicators
are the problems, obstacles on the path of satisfying mass interests and needs which
are socially acknowledged actually or potentially. The main methods of building up,
measurement and interpretation of social indicators are borrowed from statistics,
sociology, economics, mathematical statistics, applied calculations and theory of
There are two main spheres of social indicators application – policy (especially
social policy) and various research (social, political, methodological). In any of
the spheres the result depends on the choice of mechanism, method of observation
and indicators, with the help of which the estimation of the situation is conducted.
The beginning of the estimation of the situation is the organization of social observation.
The main function of social observation is the collection of information about processes
in the society and in its separate parts and rendering it to those actors, who are
connected with this information one way or another. The control of the information
flow (its structure, content, volume and other characteristics) also creates the
possibility of manipulating the behavior of actors. The second function of social
observation is the creation of information for reflexive control of the behavior
of social actors, i.e. giving the actors such information and in such form, that
the motivation of their behavior, activity will promote the achievement of goals
and interests of certain social groups.
The subjects of observation are all the social actors who according to their status
can, must (or are forced to) determine the structure, the composition or technology
and content of such observation. Traditionally such actors are specialized state,
municipal bodies, public and scientific (academic) organizations, commercial firms
specializing in observation and a great part of business firms, carrying out observation
for their own or commercial purposes. One should also refer to the subjects of social
observation all the population and its groups.
Conditions, determining the accessibility of the results of social observation are
distributed between two extreme types of societies – societies with centralized
management, where the population is not the direct subject of management, and societies,
in which the population (its adult part) is acknowledged as a subject of management.
In the societies of the first type the results of social observation are intended
exclusively for management services, for the subjects of centralized authority. In
the societies of the second type social observation and its results are open for
all social actors to a maximum.
Functions of social observation carried out for the satisfaction of requirements
of the state and municipal management, are the most stable and conservative ones.
The first and the main task of management is an answer to the question who and how
should make decisions about the accessibility of this or that information for the
subjects of management of different types, what should be the order of decision-making
concerning the rules of distribution of the results of social observation. It is
essentially an answer to the question about who in a given society (country, state)
is considered as the subject of management. The critical condition is the condition
of right and possibility of a subject of management to determine independently which
information he needs for his effective work. The range of characteristics, according
to which social observation is conducted, a set of output indicators of the system
of social observation should be in agreement with the needs of the subjects of management
as regards their effective activity. The method and the result of solving this main
task depend considerably on the social organization of the country, on the character
and priorities of the social policy.
One may single out two groups of tasks of social observation.
Tasks of the first group are dictated by needs of municipal and state bodies of management
for certain information so that they can make management decisions. These tasks are
performed by a network of bodies of statistical services, by special national and
Tasks of the second group are related to the satisfaction of needs of the population
and citizens for the information about the social situation (social milleu). The
solution of these tasks should give an answer to the citizens’ questions concerning
the quality of the situation, in which they, their relatives, their families and
households find themselves in the current period of time, and to give the possibility
to forecast future events, which potentially influence this situation.
Because of the variety of interests and positions of social actors there appears
a necessity of reasonable limitation of the volume and content of the information
rendered to them. These limitations should be based on the needs of all the actors
for the information for making their own decisions.
A subject of the social policy is the social actor who plans, possesses financial,
material and technical, and organizational resources, controls the realization of
measures and their implementation.
When small social groups dominate in the society, and are subject of the government’s
activity, the institute of the state works for the satisfaction of interests and
needs of these groups. The goal of the social policy is the creation and support
of the mechanism, which allows to stabilize the position of the dominating powerful
groups, i.e. to support the social inequality already existing. Under such conditions
the monitoring of social policy can be and will be carried out by a special body
on behalf of the subjects of management directly and only by the body of state management
and, perhaps, by some other organizations on behalf of this body and under its control.
If the society is in the search of the condition of social equilibrium, more or less
evenly distributed welfare, satisfying the majority of its actors, the social policy
will be aimed at solving the same tasks. In such cases the right for the participation
in formation, monitoring, estimation of the realization of social policy, as well
as the possibility of getting the results of social observation should be given to
any actor who would want it.
There is a considerable difference between subjects of social observation in the
countries of the Western world and in Russia. In the European Union and its countries
the main attention is given to the groups of the population, which are in need of
support and social help, to the specific socially dangerous and borderline situations,
to more fractional and specific social groups, which do not constitute the majority
of the population, to potential dangers, borderline states, marginal groups, to problems
of social and personal safety, consensus between people, national and regional unity
and identity as a whole, satisfaction of different groups of the population with
particular aspects of their everyday life, activity of the population in managing
the local affairs, its involvement in the political life of the country. Russian
social observation does not see such generalized phenomenon as social exclusion,
none of these trends has a priority for regular social observation in Russia.
Three directions are singled out among the research tasks in the area of social indicators:
applied research, connected with formation and monitoring of social policy, special
academic research concerning the theory of building up and analyzing the scales of
measurement, mathematical modeling of social exclusion, formation of new conceptions
and areas for measurement (for example, a conception of social troubles), search
for the possibility of the application of the ideas of marginal utility for the analysis
of the relation of social actors towards the so-called anti-goods and so on, creation
of new social indicators.
The notion of the good plays the key role in various usages of the term “social
Goods are a certain material or non-material substratum, which function is to satisfy
some material and non-material needs of individuals and groups of individuals. This
word everywhere has a marked positive shade. At the same time there are some “goods”,
which are undesirable for consumption.
In modern literature a term “social trouble” is often opposed to the
term “good”. “Social trouble” is such state of the social
milleu and/or such events, which have or may have mass regular negative influence
on people (their health, state, feeling of comfort, personal safety, possibilities
of realizing their social rights, self-development opportunities and other spheres)
or threaten with negative consequences. One and the same events may be viewed as
troubles from the standpoint of an individual, and from the standpoint of community
or nation – as neutral, or even good.
During the last 40 years in western economics there occurred a transition from the
term “statistical (economic or social) index” to the term “indicator”.
It is connected first of all with changes in the world of technologies of all the
processes of storage, transmission and conversion of information; with the reorientation
of two types of social systems – mainly liberal and mainly social – towards
the consumers of economic activity, towards the population. Former systems of statistical
indices, which effective in the last century, do not satisfy the needs of territorial
management at all levels, as well as the production management and the realization
of goods and services in these new conditions.
More or less strict notion of social indicator should meet several requirements:
it should provide ground for the check of the strictness of operationalization; it
should give the possibility to refer an indicator to this or that type of scales
with known characteristics, i.e. to limit a great number of possible actions as regards
the indicator and the interpretation of the results of measurement; it should demonstrate
the belonging of an indicator to the area of indicators of the state of the social
sphere (social situation) by the method, which allows checking correctness, criticism
and refutation in an explicit form.
The above-mentioned requirements may be found in the definition of social indicator
as a derived scale, in the basis of which there exists at least one empirical system
with relations, where the area of definition consists of goods or troubles. If any
indicator is declared as a social indicator, it is therefore established that the
system of scales may be represented in an explicit form, beginning from empirical
systems with relations; they are empirical systems with relations, the areas of definition
of which are represented by goods and troubles, and besides both of them (goods and
troubles) are defined as such by some convincing method.
A great number of interconnected scales, beginning with the empirical system with
relations, may be represented in the form of a network of algorithms (and/or corresponding
computer programs). This network can be both very simple (if the rank of derived
scales is small) and very complicated. The entrance to this network are empirical
systems with relations, the exit are one or several social indicators.
Each time a social indicator is a result of the conversion of information in the
systems of scales, where each transition from one scale (a number of scales) to another
(a number of scales) is strictly described. Such network of scales including the
final scale, in which the exit estimation value is calculated, might be called a
In spite of the fact that Russian official statistics began to use the term “social
indicators” in relation to the traditional statistical indicators they can
hardly be viewed as such, because in the first place they are not provided with open
clear methodology of observation and calculation, in the second place, they cover
rather limited areas of social problems, and in the third place, they are inaccessible
to the population and not being an instrument of mass informing.