'What we measure shapes what we collectively strive to pursue – and what we pursue determines what we measure' (Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (2009)).
Measuring what matters underpins the work of official statisticians. This is why the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) strives to produce statistics that provide insight into important aspects of our nation in a reliable and informative manner. Whether it be accurate information about the character of our population, the development of our national economy, the state of our environment or the health of people, the ABS is committed to ensuring official statistics are the best possible and align with the statistical priorities of our nation.
The basis of social statistics is to describe the wellbeing of people. Wellbeing is a broad and abstract term which describes a general aspiration for a good life, good quality of life or high satisfaction with life. The term does not describe a particular condition, or set of conditions. Wellbeing can be thought of from many points of view: one person, a family, a community, a population group, or from a societal perspective. In 2001, the ABS brought all these abstract concepts and ideas into an organising framework for Australian social statistics, articulated in a flagship release known as Measuring Wellbeing (cat. no. 4160.0).
Over a decade on, the ABS initiated a review of Measuring Wellbeing, 2001, with two objectives. Firstly, to advance beyond merely an organising framework towards a strong overarching conceptual framework to support the production of priority social statistics into the future, and secondly, to ensure contemporary statistical priorities are reflected in the framework. Unlike economic statistics which have strong conceptual underpinning in economic theory, social statistics in Australia and globally are often prioritised according to indicator frameworks. By putting forward a strong, overarching conceptual framework, Australia advances discussion and debate on the conceptual underpinning of wellbeing.
From a statistical perspective, conceptual frameworks help to ensure statistical programs are measuring what matters rather than being driven by what is currently measured. They can be used to describe how particular indicators relate to the big picture beyond the traditional fields of social statistics (e.g. health, education, work, etc.). They are designed to encourage thinking about the current state of wellbeing and social conditions from a wide range of perspectives, including how and why it has changed over time; population groups of particular concern; discussion in broad terms on what information is needed for the design and monitoring of better social policies and programs, associated research, and for government and community discussion.
The conceptual framework presented in Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics is based on a Pressure-State-Response (PSR) framework – a framework initially developed by the OECD to structure work on environmental policies and reporting. The PSR framework is already used internationally as the basis for the organisation and reporting of social statistics such as the OECD’s Society at a Glance: OECD Social Indicators annual report, and domestically in the Australian National Health Performance Framework.
The ABS review was guided by an Expert Reference Group and I would like to express my gratitude for their advice, contribution and support.
Are we measuring what matters for the wellbeing of Australians? To help identify statistical priority areas, see Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics (cat. no. 4160.0.55.001).
David W. Kalisch
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