Identifying and measuring social exclusion

The measurement of social exclusion is tied to the definition of social exclusion. Different approaches have been adopted to define social exclusion in developing countries.  These include efforts to determine whether people benefit from opportunities or whether they fall below average achievements.  They may also be based on preconceived ideas about which groups are excluded (e.g. people living in remote areas or tribal groups) or on surveys assessing which groups are perceived to be excluded. These approaches all tend to identify different people as excluded, as the ‘states’ of exclusion are highly diverse and of differing salience globally. As a result, there can be no single set of indicators that would be equally relevant to all contexts.

Social anthropologists argue that exclusion is a process and that identifying and measuring it risks essentialising statistical categories into groups. On the other hand, economists argue that gathering and analysing statistical information relating to social exclusion can help to identify which groups are excluded, identify the forms and levels of exclusion they face, and quantify the impact of exclusion. Disaggregated data allows progress to be monitored and change relating to specific groups to be tracked over time. Statistical information can also draw attention to exclusion, strengthening advocacy strategies and creating leverage. Raising the profile and visibility of excluded groups can also be a powerful act in itself.

The collection of multidimensional data – including economic, social and political dimensions – is essential if policies are to be effectively designed and monitored, and correctly aimed at reducing group inequalities and increasing social inclusion. Without such data it is difficult to know what sort of action is needed, and whether it has been effective.  However, the availability of disaggregated data across countries and regions remains a problem.

Burchardt, T., Le Grand, J.,& Piachaud, D. (2002). Degrees of Exclusion: Developing a Dynamic, Multidimensional Measure. In Hills, J. Le Grand, J. and Piachaud, D. Understanding Social Exclusion. Oxford University Press.
How can a dynamic, multidimensional measure of social exclusion be developed and applied? This chapter illustrates this process by applying a definition of social exclusion to the British Household Panel Survey, 1991-1998. The study examines different dimensions of social exclusion at specific points in time, analysing the degree of individuals’ participation in ‘key activities’ by number of dimensions and by duration. Developing an empirical measure of social exclusion involves clarifying which outcomes matter for their own sake rather than as indicators of other problems. The measurement tools available, however, do not address the extent to which non-participation is voluntary.
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