Policy and the Alkire-Foster method

The Alkire-Foster Method

The Alkire-Foster (AF) method, developed by Sabina Alkire and James Foster at OPHI, is a flexible technique for measuring poverty or wellbeing. It can incorporate different dimensions and indicators to create measures adapted to specific contexts. This means the AF method can be used in several different ways.

  • Poverty and wellbeing measures. The AF method can be used to create national, regional, or international measures of poverty or wellbeing by incorporating dimensions and indicators that are tailored to the particular context. For example, the AF method is used to construct the global Multidimensional Poverty Index that is featured in the United Nations Development Programme’s flagship Human Development Reports. It has also been adapted by several countries in four of the five regions of the world to create their national measures of poverty or wellbeing. More details may be found here.
  • Monitoring and evaluation. The AF method can be used to monitor the effectiveness of programmes over time. For example, the AF method underpins the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), which measures the empowerment, agency, and inclusion of women in the agriculture sector. The WEAI is used to help evaluate performance of United States agricultural aid programs.
  • Targeting poor people as beneficiaries of services or conditional cash transfers. The AF method can also be used to target individuals for public service programmes or conditional cash transfers (CCTs) against set criteria.

Read about local, national and international policy applications of the AF method.

What are the benefits of the AF method to policymakers?

The AF method can be used by NGOs, governments, agencies, and the private sector to create measures that have several uses and advantages.

  • Effective allocation of resources. With the AF method, policymakers can identify the poorest people and the indicators in which they are most deprived. This information is vital to investing resources where they are likely to be most useful in reducing poverty.
  • Policy design. Policymakers can identify which deprivations constitute poverty and which are most common among and within poor groups, so that policies can be designed to address particular needs and more effectively reduce poverty.
  • Identifying interconnections among deprivations. The AF method integrates many different aspects of poverty into a single measure, reflecting interconnections among deprivations and helping to identify poverty traps.
  • Showing impacts over time. The AF method can more quickly reflect the effects of changes in policies than income alone. For example, if a new social programme aimed at improving education is introduced to an area, it will be a long time before any benefits from education are reflected in an income measure. In contrast, a multidimensional poverty measure that includes child school attendance and achievement in education could reveal the results of policies geared towards improving education and measure education’s contribution to overall multidimensional poverty.
  • Flexibility. Different dimensions, indicators, and cut-offs can be used to create measures tailored to specific uses, situations, and contexts. These can be chosen through participatory processes, such as in El Salvador. The method can be used to create poverty measures, to target poor people as beneficiaries of Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) or services, and for the monitoring and evaluation of programmes (see our Working Paper No. 53).
  • Complementing other metrics. Multidimensional measures can complement other measures of poverty, such as income. This allows a better understanding of what poverty is in a country and a more in-depth analysis of the situation of individuals and households living in poverty.

How is the AF Method different from other composite measures?

The AF method starts with people. By mapping outcomes for each individual or household against the criteria being measured, the method captures both the percentage of people who are multidimensionally poor and the overlapping deprivations that each individual or household faces. This is unique to the AF method and has important advantages.

  • Measures created using the AF method reflect the intensity of poverty (the average number of deprivations or weighted sum of deprivations that each individual experiences).
  • Measures based on the AF method can be disaggregated: they can be broken down quickly and easily by region, social groups, and dimensions, in order to provide information to policymakers about the priorities and needs of specific regions and groups. Such analyses are essential if we are to meet the Sustainable Development Goals’ overarching promise to ‘leave no one behind’.