Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Trends in the Social and Economic Standing of Georgian Households

CRRC Fellow Dr. Alex Sarishvili recently used the 2004-2005 CRRC Data Initiative (DI) to identify and categorize three distinct groups of Georgian households sharing similar social and economic attributes based on household expenditure and income-related questions. One of Sarishvili's main findings is three clusters of household groups.

  • Household Group 1, 11% of the sample, consisted of at least two adults bringing in roughly the same income. The income of the second largest earner was equal to the average household income in Georgia. These families are considerably wealthier, healthier and better educated than the average Georgian household.
  • In Household Group 2 (13% of households), the largest income earners earned almost the entirety of the family budget, with other household members making only small contributions. These families are worse off than Group 1 but better off then Group 3.
  • Household Group 3 represents the overwhelming majority of Georgian households (76%). In these households, both the first and second largest income earners have lower-than-average incomes, and accordingly are most afflicted by poverty and also suffer from lower levels of health.

The report in English and a presentation are available on the CRRC-Georgia website.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Social Capital in Armenia | Babken Babajanian

The lack of social capital is often seen as one of the main factors holding back political, social and economic development in the South Caucasus. Social capital here refers to the trust that makes cooperation possible. Without cooperation, commentators note, few ventures can succeed: successful farming relies on sharing experience, seeds, marketing channels; party-based (as opposed to personality-led) politics calls for striving towards shared political goals; even corporations require some social glue if they are to succeed.

So how does one build social capital? One response is the social investment fund model. Favored by the World Bank, the idea is that communities receive funds for investment into their infrastructure (school windows and heating; that one bridge that connects you to the highway; irrigation for the fields; or even just water for the households), but only if they cooperate successfully, and display initiative and community-based bottom-up decision-making. Babken Babajanian, an LSE-based scholar, has examined how these programs worked in Armenia. He relied primarily on qualitative interviews throughout 12 communities.

His finding is that although the infrastructure improved, the process got stuck somewhere between top-down and bottom-up. Ultimately, the success of all of the projects relied on the mayors. Where mayors were "developmental", the community became energized. In other cases, make-do mayors just used social investment funds as an additional source of revenue.

Babajanian argues that ultimately the larger political context often remains stronger than local projects. He seems to suggest that maybe more of a political mobilization is required to change old habits of interaction. The paper provides an excellent overview of the literature. We would have been curious to hear more about how exactly interventions impacted on the views and attitudes of the community, specifically whether they at least helped to create a sense that cooperation is a desirable goal. Arguably such a transformative experience can be beneficial.

The paper, "Promoting community development in post-Soviet Armenia: The social fund model." Social policy and administration 39, no. 4 (2005), pp. 448- 462, can be made available in CRRC libraries.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

J-STOR across the South Caucasus

How is the Caucasus plugged into the world-wide research community? One good indicator is this list at J-STOR, since this online database of journal articles is a very valuable resource for researchers.

  • Azerbaijan -- we are alone: here it is only CRRC that has J-STOR.
  • Armenia -- no one. The problem is the internet connection. Arminco, the monopoly supplier, only offers a connection through a proxy server; research institutes in Armenia request copies from affiliated or friendly institutes in the region. There is, however, a local project to share information through a system called ELCA.
  • Georgia -- 4 -- again, CRRC, Caucasus Research Resource Center; Georgian Institute of Public Affairs; National Bank of Georgia; Georgian University of Social Sciences (GUSS).

Small numbers are not necessarily a huge problem: they may just indicate a concentration of research resources. However, Ukraine's case is a little extreme. It has only one subscription at EERC -- not exactly evidence of a vibrant research community. We find the same situation in Kazakhstan (KIMEP) and Kyrgyzstan (OSCE Academy). Slovakia has 2, Latvia and Lithuania 3 (as does Iraq). Estonia and Hungary have 5 subscribers. Iran retains access to 8 subscriptions, in spite of the sanctions (with a physics institute among those online).

By comparison, Russia has 37 subscribers, Turkey 38, China 59 and India 92. Likely, a citation index would find a high correlation between subscriptions and peer-reviewed publications. We plan a post on this soon.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Caucasian Weather: Asia or Europe?

Is it Europe, or is it Asia? Quite literally, where is it on the map? On a rainy Saturday afternoon we took a look at online weather sites (we were looking for hope online), to check where the Caucasus ended up on alignments that cared little for political affiliations:

  • CNN Weather (above) sees the Caucasus as part of Asia. Al-Jazeera (below) agrees, and uses a weather map that mirrors CNN's overall design.

  • Accuweather also chooses Asia: in its drop-down menu, Georgia is listed between East Timor and India, while Armenia and Azerbaijan are framed by Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The same view is taken by a number of other sites, including Wetter-Online.
  •, a German site, believes that Georgia is part of Europe, but lists Armenia and Azerbaijan as being Asian. Curiously, Georgia is on the Asian map, but in the European list.
  • Yahoo Weather, powered by the Weather Channel and agrees that the Caucasus is Asia, but bizarrely has Turkmenistan in its European listing. Probably an intern was in charge.

The BBC Weather Site (above) offers a new perspective: it joins the Caucasus nicely into the Middle East. Visually, at least, this makes a good unit. Black Sea, Caspian, Gulf, Arabic Sea, Red Sea, Mediterranean. Seafarers come to mind. Maybe the geographic unit can also be explained by the BBC's large audience in India and Pakistan -- Asia just needs to be disaggregated as an entity.

There is, of course, a different vision, provided by the Russian weather service:

This world-view is unlikely to be very popular in the Caucasus. The site's forecast, however, is excellent.
  • Google Directory listings, by contrast, keep their options open: the Caucasus is listed both in Europe and in Asia. Listing side-steps the tough commitment of a map. This probably is the best compromise for a region in which categories run up against each other.
We also have compared forecasts. Sadly, on this, there was consensus: last weekend was rainy.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Armenian Election Polling

Pre-election polling has become an increasingly big business in the South Caucasus. The Armenian elections, scheduled for May 12, again illustrate this. Much of the polling appears like a quick job with little attention to scholarly rigor. However, the results from these polls are often presented as gospel, particularly in local media outlets. The article quoted below was put on the wire by ARKA, an Armenian news agency.

The findings themselves could be interesting. But there are many problems in talking about "Armenia's population", and these data should be taken with more than a grain a of salt. I personally would like to to know what "excessively intense" means and what this actually tells us about the election. As a rule, it would be great if journalists asked who funded this research.


43.2% of Armenia's population estimate the election campaign as excessively tense, said Director of Independent Sociological Centre "Sociometer" Aharon Adibekyan, when introducing the results of the sociological research. He said that 34% of the respondents think that the political propaganda is conducted in the usual regime without deviations. According to the survey, 9.7% of the electorate thinks that the propaganda is conducted coarsely and importunately, and 8.3% - lower of the moral norms.

The survey was conducted in 19 big cities of Armenia and 8 Yerevan communities. The total number of respondents made 1,500, statistical error is not more than 1%. Centre "Sociometer" intends conducting three more sociological surveys on the parliamentary elections in Armenia - in Yerevan, in the rural regions of Armenia and the final survey, including the voters throughout the country.

Local media would probably increase their authority if they contextualised data for their readers. EurasiaNet carries a comprehensive article highlighting the lack of professional polling, and contrasting it with widespread apathy. Surely that apathy in part is also a result of the lack of any reliable information.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Street Children in Tbilisi

World Vision, a development NGO located in Georgia and worldwide, has come out with a new research report on street children in Georgia. If you are interested in the report, we would be more than happy to send it to you.

Interesting findings in the report include:
  1. Many street children are coming to Tbilisi from other parts of the country.
  2. Often these children have no form of documentation.
  3. Adults usually control the funds collected by children's various money earning strategies.
  4. Roma street children play a central role.
  5. It appears that all Roma use one last name and register at the same address, raising interesting questions of Roma begging networks.
Methodologically, however, the report leaves a few things to be desired. The reports claims at the beginning that it is a qualitative report and then begins to present quantitative data.

Source: World Vision. 2007. "Street Children and Labor in Tbilisi"

This graph has several large problems, and it illustrates some of the problems that we often encounter in research done by NGOs.
  1. The graph claims that 77% of the street children interviewed are beggars. But 77% of what sample? This graph could lead the reader to think that 77% percent of street children are beggars--while in fact it is only 77% of the sample that already claims not be representative of the entire population of street children.
  2. There is a problem of categorization here. It is not that street children are either "beggars,"" thieves" or "laborers." Most likely marginalized children often are a combination of all three. That is, the three categories probably are not mutually exclusive, but rather overlapping.
  3. As Dr. Kulick, the resident Tbilisi expert on presenting quantitative data argues, using pie charts is almost never a good idea to display quantitative information (even if the quantitative information was good). 3D pie charts are especially bad because the human mind has a lot of trouble conceptually understanding foreshortened spaces. Therefore the image means relatively little. If you are interested in more articles on this topic, please send us an email. We are happy to share.
It is great that NGOs engage in such research, but sometimes just a few more steps would help to ensure that a report gets everything right. There are considerable benefits to the academic practice of presenting research publicly, to get feedback, before publishing the final version. (At any rate, we would be happy to help any research project.)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Media Freedom in the Caucasus

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, and an occasion to look at how the three countries are doing in terms of press freedom. Freedom House has released a comprehensive report with detailed summaries.

In the Caucasus, these are the results

  • Georgia is ranked 122, and as "partially free"
  • Armenia comes in at 142, and considered "not free"
  • Azerbaijan shares the rank of 164th with Russia, both described as "not free"
By comparison, Latvia is at 31, Turkey 105, Ukraine 112, Saudi Arabia 178 and China 181.

In regional rankings, Georgia's cup is at least half full. In Freedom House's map (see above), it is a little yellow speck. Except for the Baltics, only Ukraine is doing better among post-Soviet states. In this relative post-Soviet ranking, Armenia follows after Georgia. Azerbaijan is not far down that list, lagging behind Moldova and Kyrgyzstan. In other words, the Baltics are way ahead, the Caucasus trails after Ukraine, but generally does better than Russia, Belarus or Central Asia (with Bishkek sneaking ahead of Baku).

So much for the rankings. Freedom House actually provides an extensive summary of the methodology, describing how they evaluate the legal, political and economic environment for press freedom. The weightings are plausible and including the economic environment for press freedom makes a lot of sense.

The narrative summaries provide details to back up the claims. Extensive libel laws in Armenia make it possible for powerful people to suppress criticism. Similarly, Freedom House says that defamation lawsuits seem to be a favorite method of silencing critical journalists in Azerbaijan. The interior minister alone brought five cases last year. But the report also documents several cases of intimidation, beatings, and one unresolved high-profile murder in Baku. In Georgia, a mix of government pressure and journalist self-censorship remain a problem. Not documented, but certainly a factor, is the sheer clumsiness of the Georgian government in handling the media: journalists tell farcical stories about hunting down basic information from government representatives.

In all of the countries, the commercial viability of independent media limits the freedom of expression. An independent Public Broadcaster is a desirable solution, but the very notion of independence is both a precondition and a result of a more mature democracy.