Monday, May 14, 2007

Charting Progress in Iraq

This topic of determing how things are going on the ground in Iraq seems to be heating up in the last few days. See for example, Sheryl Gay Stolberg's New York Times article from May 13th - See You in September, Whatever That Means where she says:
There’s just one problem. Nobody in Washington seems to agree on what progress actually means — or how, precisely, it might be measured.
While I don't agree with that premise, the article opened up the door to a ton of worthwhile commentary - much of discussing possible factors that might be useful to gauge how things are going.

Another recent contribution to this topic was David Peck's Christian Science Monitor Article on why we need yardsticks for both success and failure in Iraq. David skillfully maps his experience with coaching leaders onto the pressing leadership issues involved in our presence in Iraq. The money quote of this article for me was:
there has never been agreement on the status of the war in Iraq because there are no agreed-upon measurements.
For some perspective from a couple of years back, and maybe to help understand how much or little forward momentum we are making in talking about progress, I also suggest you take a look at this Dan Froomkin article on Nieman Watchdog from a couple of years back (May 2005): Isn’t there some way to tell if we're winning or losing in Iraq?

We've delved into this topic in previous posts (see: Most Important Iraq Data) and we plan to revisit it again soon based on these new inputs and what seems to be a growing interest in the topic.

And of course in our opinion since what gets measured gets done and what doesn't get measured doesn't get done, this particular topic is of particular importance and relevance right now.

Hat tip to Dan Froomkin for pointing out both the referenced NY Times and the CS Monitor articles in his White House Watch Blog.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

James Durso's Iraq Reconstruction News

Here's a link to an essential resource for keeping up with the trends regarding what's happening on the ground in Iraq. It's the new Iraq Reconstruction News blog created by James Durso. The links that this blog provides are to detailed resources that go far beyond the reporting one might find in the mainstream media. As I have been exploring different and complementary sources of trend data, these updates that James provides have been particularly helpful for me in locating new sources of data.

The focus of this blog is particularly on the Reconstruction aspects in Iraq. The links however often provide excellent depth on a whole host of other related topics.

James also puts out a regular set of email updates covering the same material for those who would prefer to get their news in that manner. You can find his contact info on the blog site.

Latest Brookings Iraq Index - Key Factors for Gauging the Success of the Surge

Here's the link that will always get you to the latest edition of the highly useful Brookings Institution Iraq Index that is one of the best places that I know of for learning about the trends on the ground in Iraq.

In the April 30th, 2007 edition, there is a useful essay on "Tracking the Surge" on page 4.

Unfortunately, the charts and tables that follow for the most part do not match up with the key factors noted in the essay, nor do they make it easy to for interested citizens to see the trends at work for themselves.

Here are some of the key factors that I gleaned (scraped) from the text.
  1. number of US brigades in place
  2. number of "joint security stations" established
  3. extra-judicial killings
  4. level of civil warfare
  5. willingness of Shia militias to lie low
  6. willingness of Sunni tribal leaders in al-Anbar to collaborate in opposing al Qaeda
  7. level of violence in al-Anbar
  8. daily attacks in and around Ramadi
  9. resilience level of al Qaeda and related terrorist elements
  10. rate of use of vehicle bombs
  11. rate of use of vest bombs
  12. percentage of casualties that are Shia
  13. progress on the hydrocarbon law through the Iraqi parliament
  14. progress towards reforming de-Bathification to allow return of lower level Baathist to public life
  15. state of the Iraqi economy
  16. Oil revenue received
  17. Foreign aid received
  18. Money available in federal coffers
  19. Performance level of public utilities (presumable electricity, water, sewerage, sanitation, petrol supplies, public transportation)
  20. How well schools are functioning
  21. The overall state of the health system infrastructure
  22. Level of unemployment
That's an awful lot of important metrics for one page of text and Michael O'Hanlon and the Brookings Institution deserve praise for consistently working to get their arms around the vast multi-dimensional range of factors at work.

And, reviewing the whole report, there are literally dozens of other important factors that show up in charts or tables.

Wishlist 1: It would be really valuable if one could turn the page of the Iraq Index report and see the chart or charts for each of the these items one by one, in the same sequence as they appeared in the essay and with the same terminology, so as to get a sense for the degree of progress that is being made, to see which things are lagging, to see what is getting worse and by how much, and so on.

This, in my mind would provide a giant step upward in the usability and the understandability of the important work that provides the basis for these weekly reports.

Comment: Many of the tables and charts in the weekly report are out of date. They represent important factors but no new data has been available to update them for quite some time.

Wishlist 2. It would be helpful if outdated tables and charts were either placed in an appendix, or if the chart could be updated to show the current end date and the missing data. Otherwise it is easy to misread the right hand side of the charts to think that the data and the trends represent the past few weeks or months instead of sometime in June 2006, or May 2005.

Comment: The chart formating for just about every chart is different and each chart seems to have its own unique starting and ending time intervals.

Wishlist 3. A move to more consistent chart formats and time intervals would greatly enhance the readability and usability of these reports.

BLS Compensation Report

The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report on wages and benefits includes these relatively easy to read charts that highlight the employment compensation trends over the past 6+ years. The moderately long time frame makes it easy to detect patterns and compare recent behavior to the situation at the turn of the century.

With the second chart, using the non seasonably adjusted numbers for the percent change over 12 months makes a lot of sense.

The red lines in the 2nd and 3rd charts plot the same metric. The blue line converts those wage gains to constant dollars and makes pretty clear how little this has changed over the past 6 years.

It would have been nice to see the total compensation chart including wages and benefits adjusted to constant dollars.