About the Societal Infrastructures and Development Project
The Societal Infrastructures and Development Project (SID) examines one of the most sobering problems of contemporary life: How can we enhance the well-being of people throughout the world? Despite the high standard of living currently enjoyed by many, billions of others live in abject poverty. Those who enjoy an adequate standard of living must struggle with the challenges involved in sustaining their lifestyles in a highly competitive, globalized setting. Also, hundreds of millions live in nations that systematically deny them basic human rights. Many more live in nations whose practices jeopardize the quality of air, water and soil that are needed to sustain future generations. The lives of millions of others are routinely destabilized by civil strife, terrorist activities and/or international conflict.
Addressing the challenges of global development in a sustainable manner is a daunting challenge requiring informed efforts by a range of actors. The role of research universities is defined by their comparative advantage as producers of knowledge. They can provide a knowledge base that will assist practitioners by providing them with analytic tools and insights that will be useful in directing and evaluating their efforts.
Because of the importance of global development, and cognizant of the contributions that universities can play in this area, the Cline Center initiated the SID project in 2004. SID was conceived as a long-term, institutionalized program of research and public engagement that focuses on 175 countries in the post WW II era. It is the Center's signature initiative, one that has benefited from an investment of over $3M between 2004 and 2010. Its development has been a product of a score of faculty from a variety of disciplines and over 300 students.
The design of the SID project has been shaped by a series of strategic considerations that have evolved over the course of its development. As a result, its approach to the study of global development is distinctive because of both substantive and methodological commitments. Substantively, SID is distinguished by its focus on societal institutions and the contexts within which they operate and a broad conception of development. Methodologically, SID is distinguished by its commitment to rigorous, scientific analysis, multi-method and multi-dimensional approaches to measuring key phenomena, and the utilization of Information Age technologies to collect and organize data.
SID's primary focus is on institutions because, of the various factors that can affect development (natural resources, culture, geo-politics, etc.), institutions are the most amenable to human control. Experts began to recognize the importance of institutions in the early 1990's and focused on liberal institutions such as democracy, free markets and the rule of law. However, the instability and backlashes that liberal reforms have caused in some parts of the world, such as Latin America, suggest that we have much to learn about implementation. Moreover, the success of the Asian "tigers" suggests that liberal institutions may not be the only institutional design capable of generating prosperity. These real world developments underscore the importance of understanding the interactions between institutions and the context within which they operate (wealth, depth of societal cleavages, resource endowments, educational attainment, geography, etc.).
While much research on development focuses on economic growth, SID embraces a broad definition of societal welfare, one that also includes human development (health, education, human rights, etc.), environmental quality and domestic stability. While several of these dimensions of welfare depend on economic growth, SID's broader focus better reflects contemporary notions of well-being and it enables a better understanding of the tradeoffs, spillovers and complementarities across different welfare indicators.
The importance of generating empirically grounded and generalizable findings led to the adoption of a longitudinal, cross-national research design, one that covers most of the modern era and all countries with at least 500,000 residents as of 2004. But equally important is SID's commitment to multi-method data collection and multi-dimensional scale development, especially for gauging institutional effects. Many existing institutional measures (democracy, rule of law) have been criticized for their over-reliance on a single source of data (e.g., expert surveys). SID data, in contrast, is derived from such varied collection methods as searching constitutional texts, mining statistical archives, analyzing news reports, and accessing information in periodical guides.
Developing refined, multi-dimensional measurement strategies is important because the developmental effects of institutions may derive from some identifiable institutional subcomponent, such as electoral competitiveness, constraints on governmental actors, secure property rights, free trade, legal supremacy, procedural safeguards, etc. Knowing which dimension drives a particular welfare indicator has important practical implications for both the design and implementation of institutional reforms. Developing refined measurement strategies for a research enterprise that includes most countries in the world during the postwar era mandated a commitment to developing and utilizing a wide array of Information Age tools and deploying them in creative ways.
The SID project was organized on the belief that its goals could best be realized through a three-wave implementation strategy: 1) creating an encompassing information base; 2) transforming that information base into a useful knowledge base; 3) generating and disseminating policy relevant insights. Moreover, the diverse nature of the intellectual challenges embedded in SID required that its first stage (data collection) be implemented through the creation of independent research teams. Thus, a set of research teams were assembled to conduct a number of thematic research projects designed to remedy specific data gaps. In addition, two major cross-cutting research projects were initiated to generate data that cut across the various
components of SID: the Comparative Constitutions Project (CCP) and the Social, Political and Economic vent Database Project (SPEED). Progress in the implementation of this multi-faceted strategy necessarily progressed unevenly; but most projects have completed the data collection phase and are at the knowledge generation stage. As the independent research teams completed their tasks their work products were integrated within a powerful and well-designed data warehouse. The data from the Cline Center's warehouse were then used to define welfare indicators, capture key dimensions of national settings, and develop multi-dimensional institutional gauges. White papers on the construction of these institutional gauges will be posted as they are developed, as will research papers that employ SID data.