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What is the Social Progress Index?

The Social Progress Index is a new way to define the success of our societies. It is a comprehensive measure of real quality of life, independent of economic indicators but designed to complement, rather than replace, economic measures such as GDP. Developed by a team including Prof. Michael Porter of Harvard Business School and Scott Stern of MIT, the index is being used by municipal, regional, and national leaders from London to India, and from the European Commission to the rainforests of Brazil in 45 countries. 

The index’s four core design principles are:

  1. Actionable: The index supports granular analysis of specific areas of strength and weakness, allowing change-makers to identify and act upon the most pressing issues in their societies.
  2. Relevant to all communities: By measuring all aspects of social progress, from basic needs like shelter and nutrition to longer-term goals like rights and freedoms, the index provides relevant insights to developing countries and advanced economies alike.
  3. Exclusively measuring social and environmental factors: By excluding economic measures from the index, we can, for the first time, compare a community’s social and environmental progress with its economic development and disentangle the relationship between them.
  4. Focus on outcomes not inputs: The index measures the outcomes that matter to the lives of real people. For example, we focus on the health and wellness achieved by a society, not how much is spent on healthcare.


How do you measure social progress?

The Social Progress Imperative defines social progress in a comprehensive and inclusive way. Social progress is the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential. This definition reflects an extensive and critical review and synthesis of both the academic and practitioner literature in a wide range of development topics.

The Social Progress Index is an aggregate of three dimensions:

  1. Basic Human Needs: Assesses how well a society provides for its people’s essential needs by measuring access to nutrition and basic medical care, if they have access to safe drinking water, if they have access to adequate housing with basic utilities, and if society is safe and secure.
  2. Foundations of Wellbeing: Measures whether residents have access to basic education, can access information and knowledge, and if there are the conditions for living healthy lives. Foundations of Wellbeing also measures a society’s protection of its natural environment: air, water, and land, which are critical for current and future wellbeing.
  3. Opportunity: Measures the degree to which a society’s citizens have personal rights and freedoms and are able to make their own personal decisions as well as whether prejudices or hostilities within a society prohibit individuals from reaching their potential. Opportunity also includes the degree to which advanced forms of education are accessible to those in a society who wish to further their knowledge and skills, creating the potential for wide-ranging personal opportunity. One of the distinguishing features of the Social Progress Index framework is that it encompasses Opportunity, an aspect of human wellbeing that is often overlooked or separated in thinking about social progress from more foundational and material needs such as nutrition and healthcare.

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Download information and methodology on how the index is calculated.


How do you decide which indicators to use? 

We work to assess the broadest range of data that can help answer these questions while maintaining contextual relevance within the territory being measured. We work collaboratively towards an agreed set of indicators that represent a shared vision of the society we want to build - and measure. 

In the development of the Social Progress Index for San José, we collected a variety of open, public data primarily at the census tract level. Census tracts are small areas defined by the U.S. Census Bureau and are carefully constructed to allow for accurate representation of statistical information, with an average population of 4,000 people in each tract. We also provide the data in an aggregated form at the level of Zip Code Tabulation Area (ZCTA) which may be more recognizable to many people.  However, it is important to note that ZCTA’s are not designed to present statistical information formally, so care must be exercised when interpreting data aggregated at this level.

In developing this Index, we considered other indicators such as health care enrollment and childhood obesity but did not include because it did not meet the criteria below.

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We are looking to improve and continue to localize this data and would appreciate your suggestions for other indicators and data sources.


How did you define neighborhoods?

To provide additional local context and ease of use, we allow map filtering of census tracts or ZCTAs by neighborhood using spatial definitions provided by the Santa Clara Department of Public Health.



Data: Download a spreadsheet of data sources and links to the raw data.


Please send your comments and suggestions to Khanh Russo, Director of Strategic Partnership and Performance at
.