State Fragility Indices: Lessons for Development Policy

Sebastian Ziaja, December 2009


  • State
  • fragile state
  • development

Measuring state fragility across countries may at first sight seem like a purely academic exercise. Yet, from a donor perspective, fragility indices are of interest as instruments for allocating scarce resources, for evaluating impact at the country-level and for evidence-based policy-making in general. From a recipient country perspective, it should also be quite intriguing to know whether and why the own performance is regarded as poor and symptomatic of fragility. Finally, fragility indices could possibly contribute to investigating the causes and consequences of fragility, a prerequisite for finding the best policies to tackle the problem.

Our analysis of ten indices measuring state fragility yields the following results:

1 Fragility indices agree on the classification of countries that perform badly across all fragility-related dimensions. They often disagree about the classification of stable but authoritarian states.

2 This difference in judgement is partly due to diverging definitions of what fragility actually is. These definitions range from multidimensional deficiencies of a society as a whole to confront future economic, social, and political shocks to a one-dimensional deficiency of state institutions to maintain the monopoly on the use of force.

3 Beyond this conceptual challenge, our analysis shows that the reliability of fragility indices must be questioned. Insufficient primary data constitutes the largest obstacle here.

4 While individual researchers can improve certain methodological deficiencies inherent in fragility indices, only a joint effort by the development community could create better and more accessible data. We recommend these actions to the development community: (1) to advocate for a clearer definition of fragility that allows for measurable goals and achievements; (2) to release data relevant to fragility (and to the study of development in general) that is already being collected; (3) to create venues for dialogue between producers, researches and users; (4) and lastly, to support the development of national initiatives aimed at producing scientifically-sound quantitative evidence on state performance and social risks.

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The full article can be found in the publication “Rethinking these Foundations of the State” (forthcoming 2010)