Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Saturday, March 27, 2004

More on peer nations


I thought I'd write a bit about how I went about identifying peer nations. I've got a list, but I don't want to publish it until I've gone through and checked a bit of the information.

My approach

I considered two approaches to defining peer nations. One way would be to carefully study international results and find nations similar to each other in terms of results. Another way would be to think about the characteristics that make nations similar. I picked the second approach because I think it has more potential to learn something.

A quick -- and rough -- example will illustrate one way the two approaches differ. Consider France and the U.S. you'd see that France has much better results and you'd conclude that France and the U.S. are not peers. But, if you think about characteristics of each nation, you might discover that France and the U.S. are very similar...except that France has a world champion. To me that is interesting information.

To work my approach, I spent some time thinking about things I'd like to use to characterize nations. I had to keep in mind that I wanted to be able to measure these things without too much trouble. A great way to characterize nations would be to know something like per-capita O' maps. But, that info isn't available.

Here are the main things I decided to try to include in my thinking:

Level and depth of orienteering talent.
International O' history and experience.
Geography -- size of the nation and location relative to the center of competitive O' (Europe).
Ability to fund a national team.

The idea is that nations that are similar in terms of the characteristics above are peers.

My measures

How did I measure the characteristics? For each IOF full member nation, I collected six bits of data:

1. The number of men and women in the top 1000 of the IOF's world rankings.
2. The number of times the nation had a mens or womens relay team at world champs in 1966, 1976, 1987, 1997 and 2003.
3. The land area and population of the nation.
4. The per capita gross domestic product.
5. Whether or not the nation was European.

I set up a weighing system and calculated a score for each nation. Nations with similar scores are potential peers. I say "potential" because the I don't intend to group nations strictly on the scores. The scores just give me a starting point and I'll do some subjective grouping (for example the U.S. and Canada aren't as close as you might guess, so I'll fudge and put them together because I think they ought to be considered peers).

Without getting into specific scores and groupings, I'll give you a couple of examples of very similar peer nations under this approach:

Sweden and Finland have exactly the same score.
Brazil, China, Korea and Liechtenstein have exactly the same score.

So, Finland and Sweden are clearly peers as are Brazil and China. No surprises. But, the rest of the list is more interesting (and once I check the information to make sure I haven't screwed up the calculations, I'll publish more info).

A couple of notes

As I thought about the characteristics I'd use and looked at the information a couple of thoughts came to mind:

1. We (i.e. U.S. Orienteers) often feel envious of nations with state support or lots of sponsors. I thought about trying to find a measure of sponsorship and/or state support. But, I decided that actual sponsorship and financial support wasn't as interesting as capacity for sponsorship. I settled on per-capita gross domestic product as a measure of potential financial support for orienteering. It also made me realize that U.S. orienteers are at a great advantage compared to a lot of the world. As a nation we are very, very rich. We can afford "self sponsorship" to an extent that much of the world can't.

2. Looking at per-capita gross domestic product also shows a clear economic/political system distinction. Nations with a relatively strong democratic tradition, market based economy and strong legal system are wealthy. Nations without those are much poorer. Including per-capita gross domestic product in similarity scores makes it harder for the U.S. to consider an eastern European nation as a peer.

3. Counting WOC appearances was a way to get at O' tradition and "infrastructure" (by infrastructure I mean potential for coaching knowledge and maps). Some nations score relatively low on WOC appearances despite well developed O' traditions. Nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union score like nations where O' has developed quite recently. The same thing happens for the Czech Republic. I'll have to do some fudging to give nations such as Estonia and Czech Republic some credit for O' tradition while they were part of the USSR and Czechoslovakia.

4. I think Portugal will fit in the group of U.S. peer nations. Today I discovered that an orienteering page from Portugal links to this page! Cool. I've spent a few minutes poking around and it looks interesting (a fair amount is in English). Take a look at the page that shows a base map, field notes and final map.

posted by Michael | 6:55 PM


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