Beyond the Scorecard: Understanding Global City Rankings

May 12, 2015
If world cities are the commanding hubs of a globalizing world, then city indexes have become the arbiters of how these cities rank in the worldwide competition. Hundreds of these indexes and rankings proclaim which cities are most global, with the most powerful economies, the greatest universities, the richest cultures. Some are comprehensive, trying to rate cities as a whole; others specialize, focusing on a city’s global clout in finance or its real estate values or the quality of life it provides its citizens.

This report seeks to dive into these rankings and promote a debate on their usefulness. How do city ranking criteria differ from index to index? How solid are their conclusions? What can the underlying assessment tell us about a city and how it compares globally? How should cities use rankings to inform policy?

The report illustrates how methodologies, definitions, data use, and conclusions vary wildly from ranking to ranking. It also notes biases and challenges common to many indexes, including the author’s perspective, lack of reliable and internationally comparable data, and the routine presence of lagging indicators. Finally, it outlines practices to help policymakers navigate through the noise to find insights and trends depending on what kind of information they need.

Specifically, the report recommends that:
  • City officials and policymakers use comprehensive rankings to get a detailed sense of their performance based on the most recent available data.
  • Cities look beyond the topline numbers to the underlying indicators, conduct their own analysis of their performance, and identify their strengths and weaknesses compared with their peer group.
  • Policymakers reach out to their counterparts in other relevant cities to learn more about strategies and efforts that have paid dividends.
  • Officials consult forward-looking indexes to gauge their city’s future prospects.

To draw value from these indexes, cities must understand their history, differences, and continuing evolution. Most importantly, they must look beyond the scorecard to understand that these reports can paint a more nuanced portrait of a city and what it needs to do to improve its global reach and its quality of life at home.

Generous support for this report and The Chicago Council’s work on global cities is provided by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust.

Beyond the Scorecard: Understanding Global City Rankings