Chapter 2 Foundations

This chapter aims to explain some important principles about how COINr works, and explain some terminology. It also gives a map of the functions available in the package. If you want to get straight to using COINr, you could skip this chapter for now and look at some examples in the appendices or directly at the chapters relating to specific functions and operations (the next chapter onwards).

2.1 Terminology

Let’s clearly define a few terms first to avoid confusion later on.

  • An indicator is a variable which has an observed value for each unit. Indicators might be things like life expectancy, CO2 emissions, number of tertiary graduates, and so on.

  • A unit is one of the entities that you are comparing using indicators. Often, units are countries, but they could also be regions, universities, individuals or even competing policy options (the latter is the realm of multicriteria decision analysis).

Together, indicators and units form the main input data frame for COINr (units as rows, and indicators as columns):

Indicators and units

Figure 2.1: Indicators and units

Composite indicators are created by aggregating multiple indicators into a single value. This may often be repeated more than once, following a hierarchical structure, such as the following figure:

Example of composite indicator structure.

Figure 2.2: Example of composite indicator structure.

In this example, four pairs of indicators are each aggregated into a “sub-pillar,” and sub-pillars are aggregated into two “pillars.” Finally, the pillars are aggregated into a single index. Typically, the sub-pillars and pillars represent specific sub-concepts of the central concept. For example, in the Global Innovation Index, which aims to measure innovation at the national level, pillars include things like “Institutions,” “Human Capital,” and “Infrastructure,” each of which are populated with indicators which measure those specific concepts. The idea is that a complex multidimensional concept is broken down into sub-concepts which are easier to capture with a set of indicators. Additionally, the scores of pillars and sub-pillars can be interesting in their own right.

Whether each of these groups is called a “pillar,” “sub-index,” “dimension,” or something else, depends on the index and your own favourite words. For this reason, in COINr a more general terminology is adopted.

When a group of indicators is aggregated together to form a single sub-pillar, pillar or otherwise, this is called an aggregation group. For example, the aggregation group of “SP 1” in the diagram above consists of “ind.01” and “ind.02.” The aggregation group of “Pillar 1” consists of “SP 1” and “SP 2.” And so on. The resulting value from aggregating an aggregation group is called an aggregate or aggregate value.

COINr also frequently refers to aggregation levels or equivalently just levels. This refers to the vertical position in the hierarchy shown above. In this example, therefore,

  • Level 1 = Indicators
  • Level 2 = Pillars
  • Level 3 = Sub-indexes
  • Level 4 = Index

This means that the fictional index above has four levels in total. COINr can handle any number of levels and aggregation groups. The structure of the index is defined when the COIN is constructed - see the following chapter for details.

2.2 COINr syntax

Many COINr functions follow a common syntax which is related to some of the terminology described above.

  • dset always refers to the name of the data set that is found in .$Data. For example, dset = "Normalised" will return .$Data$Normalised. The only exception is dset = "Denominators", which returns .$Input$Denominators. The argument dset is used in many COINr functions because they have to know which data set to operate on.
  • icodes is a character vector of indicator or aggregate codes
  • aglev is the aggregation level, or levels, to take the indicator data from. To understand how this works, see Selecting data sets and indicators.
  • out2 controls the output of many functions - if set to “COIN” it will append the results back to the COIN that was input to the function, otherwise if “df” or “list” it will return the results as a data frame or list depending on the function.

In particular, the combination of icodes and aglev is useful because it allows to call sets of indicators inside aggregation groups very quickly. See Selecting data sets and indicators for more details.

2.3 A map of COINr

COINr consists of many functions that do a number of different types of operations. Here is a summary.

2.3.1 Construction

The following functions are the main functions for building a composite indicator in COINr.

Function Description
assemble() Assembles indicator data/metadata into a COIN
checkData() Data availability check and unit screening
denominate() Denominate (divide) indicators by other indicators
impute() Impute missing data using various methods
treat() Treat outliers with Winsorisation and transformations
normalise() Normalise data using various methods
aggregate() Aggregate indicators into hierarchical levels, up to index
regen() Regenerates COIN results using specifications stored in .$Method

2.3.2 Visualisation and presenting

These functions are for visualising and presenting data and results

Function Description
iplotBar() Interactive bar chart for any indicator, includes stacked bar charts
iplotCorr() Interactive correlation heatmap
iplotIndDist() Interactive indicator distribution plots for a single indicator
iplotIndDist2() Interactive indicator distribution plots for two indicators simultaneously
iplotMap() Interactive choropleth map for any indicator (only works for countries)
iplotRadar() Interactive radar chart for specified unit(s) and specified indicators
iplotTable() Interactive results table with conditional formatting
plotCorr() Correlation heatmap between any levels/groups of the index
plotframework() Interactive sunburst plot visualising the indicator framework
plotIndDist() Static plot of distributions for indicators and groups of indicators
plotIndDot() Dot plot of a single indicator with possibility to label units
plotSA() Plot sensitivity analysis results (sensitivity indices)
plotSARanks() Plot confidence intervals on ranks, following an uncertainty/sensitivity analysis
colourTable() Conditionally-formatted interactive HTML table, given a data frame
getResults() Gets quick results summary tables
getStrengthNWeak() Gets strengths and weaknesses (N top ranked indicators) of a selected unit
getUnitReport() Generates a unit report following a template, and outputs either HTML, Word or pdf format
getUnitSummary() Summarises scores and ranks of a selected unit, at specified aggregation levels

2.3.3 Adjustment and comparison

Function Description
compTable() Comparison table of selected indicator/aggregate between two COINs
compTableMulti() Comparison table of selected indicator/aggregate between multiple COINs
indChange() Short cut to add or remove indicators

2.3.4 Analysis

The following functions analyse indicator data.

Function Description
getCorr() Get correlation matrices between various groups and levels
getCronbach() Get Cronbach’s alpha for specified group/level
getPCA() Principle component analysis on a specified data set and subset of indicators. Also returns PCA weights.
effectiveWeight() Calculates the effective weights of each element in the indicator hierarchy.
getStats() Get table of indicator statistics for any data set
hicorrSP() Identify highly correlated indicators in the same aggregation group
outrankMatrix() Outranking matrix based on a data frame of indicator data and corresponding weights
removeElements() Reports the impact of sequentially removing indicators or aggregates
sensitivity() Perform a Monte Carlo uncertainty analysis and/or a global sensitivity analysis on a COIN
weightOpt() Weight optimisation according to a pre-specified vector of “importances”

2.3.5 Interactive apps

These are interactive apps, built using Shiny, which allow fast interactive exploration and adjustments.

Function Description
indDash() Indicator visualisation (distribution) dashboard for one or two indicators
rew8r() Interactively re-weight indicators and check updated results and correlations
resultsDash() Interactive dashboard for visualising and exploring results

2.3.6 Import/export

Functions to import and export data and results to and from COINr and R.

Function Description
COINToolIn() Import indicator data and metadata from COIN Tool
coin2Excel() W rite data, analysis and results from a COIN to Excel

2.3.7 Other functions

These are other functions that may be of interest, but do not neatly fit in the previous categories. Many of them are called from the other functions listed above, but may still be useful on their own.

Function Description
BoxCox() Box Cox transformation on a vector of data
build_ASEM() Build ASEM (example) composite indicator in one command
coin_win() Winsorise one column of data according to skew/kurtosis thresholds
compareDF() Detailed comparison of two data frames (e.g. for cross checking external calculations)
copeland() Aggregates a data frame into a single column using the Copeland method.
geoMean() Weighted geometric mean of a vector
getIn() Useful function for subsetting indicator data. See Helper functions.
harMean() Weighted harmonic mean of a vector
is.coin() Check if object is a COIN
loggish() Log-type transformation, of various types, for a vector
names2Codes() Given a character vector of long names (probably with spaces), generates short codes.
rankDF() Convert a data frame of scores to ranks (non-numerical columns are ignored)
replaceDF() Simultaneously replace multiple values in a data frame. Useful for converting categorical variables to numerical.
roundDF() Round down a data frame (i.e. for presentation)

2.3.8 Data

COINr comes with some example data embedded into the package.

Function Description
ASEMIndData ASEM (example) indicator data as input for assemble()
ASEMIndMeta ASEM (example) indicator metadata as input for assemble()
ASEMAggMeta ASEM (example) aggregate metadata as input for assemble()
WorldDenoms National denomination data (GDP, population, etc) worldwide

2.3.9 Finally

There are also a number functions which are mainly for internal use, and are not listed here.

2.4 Tips for using COINr

2.4.1 Use scripts and R Markdown

Like any good data science, anything you do in COINr should be reproducible. This means that ideally, you should be able to go from importing the data into R up to visualising the results. This can be either done by a script or a set of scripts, or perhaps better using an R markdown document or documents which combines text with code. If you haven’t used R Markdown before, you probably should be using it. It is very similar to the idea of Jupyter notebooks in Python. Find out more about R Markdown in the free and excellent online book R Markdown: The Definitive Guide. You might also notice that this manual is written in R Markdown, and more specifically using the bookdown package.

Ideally, the whole process of building and analysing the composite indicator should be documented with an R Markdown file or files, or scripts. Apart from reproducibility, this makes it very easy to make retrospective changes and update the whole file. I have personally found that it may help to have several markdown notebooks - one for exploring the data and selecting indicators, another for data treatment, and another for construction, and so on. At the end of each notebook, the COIN(s) containing all data and analysis are saved to a folder and loaded back in in the next notebook. This avoids having one very long notebook. Of course, this is just one way of doing things and is just a suggestion.

2.4.2 Missing data

It’s very important to understand the difference between missing data and zeros. A zero means that you know that the value of the indicator is zero, whereas missing data (in R this is denoted as NA) means you don’t know what the value is at all.

When aggregating indicators, this difference becomes particularly important. If a data point is missing, it is often excluded from the aggregation, which effectively means reassigning it with the mean (or similar) value of the indicators in the same group. If you impute the data, missing values could be assigned with mean or median indicator values, for example. Clearly, these values will be very different from zeros.

This point is made here, because data may sometimes come with missing values denoted as zeros, or with zeros denoted as missing values. Ensure that these are checked carefully before proceeding with construction.

2.4.3 Plotting

COINr includes a number of plotting functions which return various types of plots. These are all either based on the ggplot2 or plotly packages. Think of COINr plots as “starting points” rather than finished plots. While I have tried to make the plots useful and even visually appealing, much more could be done to improve them and to fit particular uses and contexts.

Luckily, because of the way that plotly and ggplot2 work, plots generated by COINr can easily be modified by assigning them to an object and then modifying the object. Generally this would look like this:

# generate a plot, but assign to variable "plt"
plt <- COINr_plot_function(COIN, plot_options)

# alter plt
plt <- plt + alter_plot_function(options)

# view the plot

The alter_plot_function could be any of the very many layout and geometry functions from ggplot2, for example. This means you can change colours, axis labels, point styles, titles and many other things.

In summary, with COINr you may choose to either:

  • Generate plots with COINr functions and be content with them as they are
  • Generate plots with COINr functions and tweak them to your tastes using the approach shown above
  • Make your own plots

2.4.4 Panel data and multiple COINs

Currently COINr does not explicitly support panel data, although the assemble() function can extract and impute a single year of data from a panel data set. If you wish to work with panel data, I would recommend to build a separate COIN for each point in time, and store the COINs in a list. This makes it easy to apply COINr functions to all COINs in one go using purrr or lapply() functions. It is also more flexible to use separate COINs because methodology, units and indicators may vary from one year to the next.

The same strategy can be applied any parallel development of multiple indexes, such as separate indexes for country groups.