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Social Indicators - What Are They?

русская версия

Опубликовано на портале: 31-12-2010
Мир России. 2004.  Т. 13. № 4. С. 62-101. 
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 measurement. 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 international organizations. 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 indicators”. 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 social indicator. 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.
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