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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC Researchers Describe New Method of Measuring Performance on Complex Public Health Goals

Country-level performance on public health, human rights and international development goals is notoriously hard to measure.

[Photo: (L to R) Dr. Jeanne Luh, Ryan Cronk and Dr. Jamie Bartram]

Recently, three researchers from The Water Institute at UNC, based at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, proposed a new way to track performance against such targets. Through a novel application of “frontier analysis,” which is based on the principles of data envelopment analysis, the method they describe can be used to measure performance on goals such as 100 percent access to improved drinking water.

The researchers are Dr. Jeanne Luh,  program coordinator, Mr. Ryan Cronk, doctoral student in environmental sciences and engineering and graduate research assistant, and Dr. Jamie Bartram, Don and Jennifer Holzworth Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering and director of The Water Institute.

“A hard-headed human rights perspective means being able to make clear and fair judgments about how well a country is fulfilling its obligations,” Dr. Bartram explained. “With formal recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation, this index allows us to laud the performers and shame the laggards. There are surprises on both lists.”

As the authors note, traditional indicators that measure performance against goals related to social good tend to focus on rates of change in status. These indicators do not account for different levels of development that countries experience, making it difficult to compare progress between countries.

To test the novel use of frontier analysis, the co-authors calculated country performance indices in maternal mortality ratio, poverty headcount ratio and primary school completion rate. By enveloping multiple fields and settings, the new approach offered a unique data source for consideration in assessing performance related to complex, moving targets.

The full article, titled “Assessing Progress Towards Public Health, Human Rights and International Development Goals Using Frontier Analysis,” was published online January 26 in the journal PLOS One.

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