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A Walk off the Beaten Tracks? New Frontiers in Measuring Poverty

Advanced Academic Update

A Walk off the Beaten Tracks? New Frontiers in Measuring Poverty

Organized by Maastricht Graduate School of Governance
Maastricht, 19-20 November 2007



The objective of the AAU on Poverty is to provide state-of-the-art knowledge to practitioners in the field, professionals from international and national organizations, and others working in the area of development aid and poverty reduction. The two-day training aims at presenting and debating old and new concepts and methods in a concentrated form by brining together a select group of renowned specialists in the field. Participants will have ample opportunity to discuss with the specialists, either in the sessions or during the various possibilities for an informal exchange.

No one would disagree that poverty is a multidimensional concept. Only measuring monetary poverty neglects other social risks that have short and long run impacts on the wellbeing of households and individuals. Over the years, different approaches emerged aimed at including non-monetary dimensions into the poverty concept. Examples of such non-welfarist approaches are basic needs, capabilities, well-being, deprivation, or vulnerability that explicitly aimed at incorporating non-monetary dimensions into the poverty debate. However, also within the monetary camp, discussions are ongoing on what indicators are best suited to determine the monetary living standard of a household.
Defining an indicator for well-being is the first step in any poverty analysis. Secondly, a threshold has to be chosen separating the poor from the non-poor allowing us to assess the size of the problem. Poverty lines come in all colors and shapes. A main distinction is between absolute and relative poverty lines where the former is set at a value deemed the minimum level for a given society. Relative poverty, on the other hand depends on the overall welfare distribution of the society. It is a moving concept and many say that relative poverty is just the reflection of inequality in a country. Both approaches are, however, popular. The US, for example, has a long tradition using absolute poverty lines, while the EU applies a relative threshold to monitor poverty developments in the member countries. Governments from middle- and low-income countries often struggle with the definition of national poverty lines since the choice is politically sensitive. Does it really matter? Are there alternatives?
Another trend is the analysis of poverty at the very local level. For a couple of years now we have seen the establishment of poverty maps where household survey and census data are econometrically treated in such a way that they provide poverty rates at the lowest administrative levels. How reliable are these measures? What about measurement errors? There are alternatives depending less on survey data but using administrative data. Such small area deprivation indices have the advantage of combining monetary with non-monetary dimensions of well-being.
Clearly, the science of measuring poverty and well-being is ongoing. For this Advanced Academic Update the Maastricht School of Governance brings together a select group of renowned specialist with extensive experience in the analysis of poverty from different angles. The participants will learn about the latest developments in poverty research and their applicability for work in the field. Furthermore, the presentations will provide a wealth of empirical information from applied research.

Please click here to view the detailed programme of this AAU >>

Followed by the AAU on poverty measurement the School organizes a research conference: The Pursuit of Certainty: Applications in measuring poverty (21 - 22 November 2007) 


Session 1: Poverty as multi-dimensional concept (19 November)

What defines the welfare of a household? Can we include more than one dimension into a single measure? If the aim is to rank individuals from poorest to richest, we have to be sure that the ‘true’ living standard of the household is reflected in our measure. Where is science today? What methods have been developed and tested? Is there a best-practice or do we eventually have to refrain to our well-known income or consumption measure? Do composite indices provide a solution?


Prof. Dr. Stein Ringen, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Prof. Dr. Jan Vranken, University of Antwerp, Belgium
Prof. Dr. Brian Nolan, University College Dublin, Ireland

Session 2: Absolute versus relative poverty – or is there a third way? (19 November)

Once the welfare dimension has been identified along which to measure well-being, the question raises where we set the thresholds separating the poor from the non-poor, the vulnerable from the secure. Depending on the poverty dimensions, standards can be set at any point of the scale. Again, there are many methods on how to define poverty thresholds. The approaches vary from absolute to relative and from objective to subjective. Does it matter? How essential is the choice of the poverty line? What is the impact for national policy making and, even more importantly, poverty monitoring?


Prof. Dr. Chris de Neubourg, MGSoG, The Netherlands

Arjan Soede, Social and Cultural Planning Office, The Netherlands

Debate: The use and abuse of poverty indicators
including an academic introduction of 30-45 minutes,
followed by 45– 60 minutes debate

Introduction by:

Prof. Douglas J. Besharov, School of Public Policy, University of

Maryland, United States

Session 3: Measuring poverty at the local level (20 November)

How reliable are poverty maps? Are small area deprivation indices an alternative? What other tools do we have? Are the data good enough to measure poverty at the local level? Etc.  


Prof. Dr. Michael Noble, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Roy van der Weide, World Bank

Session 4: Poverty analyses off the beaten track? The relevance of poverty analysis for policy making (20 November)

Poverty analyses are informing national and international institutions about the policy impact and the impact of development aid. The field is developing quickly and applications are becoming ever more sophisticated making it not always easy for policy makers to see the wood for the trees. In this session, we aim to make the link between poverty analyses and policy making using examples from applied poverty research.


Dr. Ive Marx, University of Antwerp, Belgium

Elke Kasmann, GTZ

Prof. Miles Corak, Graduate School of Public and International

Affairs, University of Ottawa, Canada


Please note that the fee includes lunches and dinner (November 19th) as scheduled in the programme and exclude accommodation and travel expenses.


Deadlines, accomodation and fees

Application and fees

How to apply?
If you wish to participate please use the online application form. For for questions you can contact Ms. Charlotte Groven (0031 (0)43-3884659: [email protected]

Fees Full fee Per day
Participants from
developed countries
€1000 €600
Participants from
partner institutes, developing
and transition countries  and participants working for NGOs.
€500 €300
PhD students €250 €150

Deadlines for registration

Travel & Accomodation
Participants are responsible for their own travel arrangements (see: how to reach us). Concerning accomodations we advise our participants to stay in Hotel Derlon, which is in the city centre and close to the conference venue. Hotel Derlon has special rates for MGSoG relations. (approximately €110 p.p.p.n.)

Participants profile
Participants have a master's degree and have the following affiliation:
- Policy makers
- Civil servants
- Administrators
- Implementing bodies
- Supervisory bodies
- Researchers
- Scholars
- Legal experts
- Professionals

Application and conference's official web site

Please check the conference's official web site for details on how to apply and updates.


UNU-MERIT (United Nations University Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology)

UNU-MERIT is a research and training centre of United Nations University (UNU) and Maastricht University (UM), based in southeast Netherlands. UNU-MERIT explores the social, political and economic factors that drive technological innovation, with a particular focus on creation, diffusion and access...

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