The Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) are a set of 147 detailed items and two aggregated indices that measure the quality of democracy, policy performance and executive governance in 41 OECD and EU member states. The SGI consist of country reports, numerically coded expert assessments and information retrieved from official statistics. The data collection is funded and managed by the Bertelsmann Foundation, an NGO based in Germany.
I have co-authored the concept and methodology of this dataset and expert survey. The general aim of the SGI has been to measure political reform capacity, that is, the capacity of political actors to identify and implement “reforms,” or changes needed to improve the status quo. Since there is no consensus about how to best manage public affairs and provide public goods in a sustainable way, checklist approaches to assess reform capacity will continue to be criticized as biased. Though less readily tangible, dynamic adaptation, institutional learning, and innovation appear to be more telling indicators of reform capacity in a given state.
For these reasons, the SGI rely on a mechanism of indirect measurement that compares both the policy performance and executive governance of various states. A cross-national comparison of policy outcomes allows the impact of governance models to be assessed ex post. Evaluating policy outcomes has become increasingly feasible as the international consensus on good policy outcomes, such as high employment rates or low carbon dioxide emissions, has grown. Better policy outcomes or greater improvements—across borders or over time—can be read as indications of a greater capacity for governance in a given country.
However, an ex-post evaluation of policy outcomes does not clarify whether outcomes can be attributed to charismatic leadership, favorable circumstances, pure chance or skilful policymaking. Rather than investigating all possible causal factors of success, the SGI are confined to study the organization and role of executives. This focus is deliberate because executives have so far received less attention from scholars and surveys. Executives have command over significant resources and translate popular preferences into policies. How they are governed may not guarantee the success of reforms, but it surely affects the chances of governments to achieve better policy outcomes.