Resilience Reflections #10: All metrics are wrong

Recognising the urgent need to respond to rapid societal and environmental change, resilience is one of the University of Twente’s spearheads. As an academic institution, we have a role to play in strengthening the resilience of the social, technological and environmental systems that support us. In this weekly series of the Resilience@UT programme , UT researchers share their personal reflections on current events and trends that impact our daily lives, exploring their implications for resilience. This week  Suzan Bayhan challenges our faith in metrics and introduces the Internet Resilience Index.

"The Netherlands ranks highest for quality of life in 2023" or "The Netherlands Ranks Fifth in World Happiness Report 2023". Such news on ranking of countries is always catchy. But how can we compare countries, let’s say the Netherlands with Brazil which has more than 12 times the population of the Netherlands? Indeed, finding a single metric for identifying the status or characteristics of a complex system (be it a happiness index or the Internet resilience index) is by no means trivial. Nevertheless, quantification is paramount in identifying areas requiring improvement, supporting policy development with scientific evidence, and enforcing policy. This quantification becomes even more important for systems that are interconnected and hence prone to cascading failures. Digital communication infrastructure is an example of this. 

The Internet in COVID-times

Think of the days when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged bringing almost everything to halt, but luckily the Internet saved us from many challenges including possibly mental breakdowns. While the Netherlands ranks quite high in quality of digital services, there are many countries with insufficient network infrastructure or unaffordable internet subscription fees. My fellow faculty members located in countries with digital infrastructure in earlier development stages had more than their fair share of challenges with remote education. Given that the critical role of the Internet for the digitization of many sectors associated with sustainability is more likely to increase in the future, we need to ask: how resilient is the Internet itself, say in the Netherlands, in Europe, or across the globe?

Internet Resilience

The Internet Society has raised this very question and took on the challenge of developing an Internet Resilience Index. As mentioned, the complex metrics required for these assessments are not easy to establish, but a starting point is the identification of the pillars that contribute to the resilience of a system. That’s why the Internet Resilience Index identifies four key aspects: infrastructure, performance, security, and market readiness. There is more to this metric, which has now been implemented, but let me tell you that the Netherlands shines among the top countries for internet resilience not only in Europe but globally, listed just behind Switzerland and Iceland. Yet, the resilience is below 100%, thus indicating weak areas requiring further improvement.

Reflecting on George Box’s famous quote, "All models are wrong, some are useful", I believe that "all metrics are wrong, some are useful". This is a good starting point for a conversation with your Finnish friends on how Finland manages to keep its status of being the happiest country six years in a row or with policymakers on how the resilience of the Internet can be improved.

Suzan Bayhan  is a computer scientist broadly interested in networking. More particularly, her research aims at understanding, designing, and developing solutions for efficient networking, mostly in wireless radio resource management. 

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