20 years of light in the dark

Happy birthday to ISG.

VS – 10/2021

ISG (Indicators Sub-Group) was established in 2001 to provide analytical and technical expertise to the Social Protection Committee (SPC). This included developing social indicators and designing the monitoring processes. Initially they were used for openly coordinating the social protection and social inclusion sectors and later on they were also used for the European Semester, the EU’s 2020 strategy or the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR).

A single indicator that can measure everything does not exist

Political processes demand results that can be interpreted quickly and clear messages. Social protection systems are complex entities and they cover a wide range of different, even competing, objectives. They cannot be mapped using a few or even a single indicator. This can also be seen in the objectives jointly agreed upon at European level. A set of indicators is needed if they are to be depicted in a meaningful and fair way.

The ISG has had to distinguish between key indicators and related complementary indicators in order to meet both requirements for an indicator-based analysis. The key indicators provide an initial quick overview, whereas the supplementary indicators allow further in-depth analysis.

This was the basis on which the first European social indicators in the poverty and social participation sectors were adopted by the EC in Laeken in December 2001. They were supplemented by the first common indicators used in the pensions sector

Staying in the dark is risky - what is not measured cannot be recognised

The indicators and monitoring processes developed by the ISG have been continuously enhanced during the past 20 years. Close co-operation with Eurostat and the official statistics working groups was essential right from the very beginning. This has clearly benefited the quality and status of European social statistics. This cooperation has also significantly contributed to closing gaps within the indicator set.

However, not all of the target areas have been depicted. There are many reasons for this. Some objectives are difficult to grasp methodologically. For others, there is still no comparable database at European level. However, these gaps are problematic. Objectives that have not been depicted using indicators receive less attention in the reports. At worst, they will no longer be considered. Formerly equivalent objectives become first and second-order objectives through a technical act. The “Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs” council is well aware of this risk. At the meeting held between 14 and 15 June 2021, when referring to the revised social scoreboard, the Council stressed the need to work towards reflecting all of the EPSR principles in the social scoreboard through key indicators.