There have been a range of global initiatives that have attempted to articulate commonly held aspirations for society. For instance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, produced in the aftermath of the Second World War, outlines a range of rights seen as fundamental for all people. Examples include Article 23, which addresses the right to employment in a safe and prejudice-free environment; Article 24, which addresses the right to rest and leisure; and Article 25, which addresses the right to an adequate standard of living. Other programs, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established in 2000, have outlined goals for human development, such as reducing poverty, improving health and working towards sustainability. Such global programs have acted as a basis for thinking about what makes a good society and inform the work now being undertaken by statisticians.
As well as the ABS, many other statistical organisations have taken up the challenge of statistically assessing whether nations are achieving progress. The Human Development Index (HDI), for instance, first published in 1990 by the United Nations Development Programme, analyses progress through the lens of ‘human development’. It assesses whether people are achieving ‘a long and healthy life (health), access to knowledge (education), and a decent standard of living (income)’ (see United Nations Development Programme 2012).This index was one of the first to quantify national progress beyond economic measures alone, and to compile disparate data into a single index.
The OECD has been particularly active in the field of measuring progress and in coordinating related international activities.In 2004, the OECD held the first of a series of World Forums on measuring well-being and fostering the progress of societies. These forums have been attended by significant global players and have established a range of directions for global progress measurement. In 2008, the OECD hosted a ‘Global project on measuring the progress of societies’ which further mobilised political and international interest. In 2010, it established Wiki Progress, an online forum for sharing information and developments. In 2011, the OECD released the first ‘Better Life Index’, an interactive tool for comparing well-being across nations, accompanied by the How’s Life report.
In Europe too, a number of key initiatives have been undertaken which have had far-reaching influence. The 2009 ‘Report by the commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress’ (Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi 2009) underlined the need to understand societal progress beyond economic success by listing a set of recommendations for improving measures of national progress. These included improving a number of traditional economic measures, measuring components of the quality of life, and emphasising the importance of data about improvements in sustainability.
Also in 2009, the European Commission released the report ‘GDP and beyond: measuring progress in a changing world’ (as part of its Beyond GDP initiative – see European Commission 2009).The report contained a ‘roadmap’ outlining five actions to improve progress measures: 1. Complementing GDP with environmental and social indicators; 2. Near real–time information for decision-making; 3. More accurate reporting on distribution and inequalities; 4. Developing a European Sustainable Development Scoreboard; and 5. Extending National Accounts to environmental and social issues.
In 2007, the Centre for Bhutan Studies Gross National Happiness Index conceptualised national progress in terms of whether Bhutan’s citizens were flourishing. This measurement system grew out of a philosophy of gross national happiness conceived by Bhutanese leaders in the 1970s .They considered national progress to go beyond economic development, encompassing emotional, spiritual, cultural and environmental factors. This approach taken by a small country has been far reaching in its influence.
These most recent activities have added momentum to the global movement to measure progress more broadly. The Better Life Index (OECD 2011a), the Bhutan Gross Happiness Index (Centre for Bhutan Studies 2012), the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi commission recommendations for quality of life measurement, and other selected international projects are further explored in this chapter.
This page last updated 28 May 2013