National life is influenced, not just by material qualities such as economic output, health and education, but also by many intangible qualities such as the quality of our public life, the fairness of our society, the health of democracy and the extent to which the citizens of Australia participate actively in their communities or cooperate with one another.
For a long time these qualities, although often publicly agreed to be of critical importance, were seldom measured statistically. This was partly because they were regarded as more controversial questions than economic output and health, and partly because they were harder to measure than more concrete statistics, e.g. for the value of goods produced or the rate of infant mortality.
More recently a number of projects from academics and national and international organisations including the United Nations, the World Bank and the European Union, have been trying to measure this area of progress. (SEE FOOTNOTE 1)
During ABS consultations with experts and community representatives, a number of people suggested that indicators of governance and citizenship should be included in any publication that was trying to provide a comprehensive view of Australia's progress.
Our consultations and an examination of the literature have brought to light a wide range of views about what aspects of governance, democracy and citizenship are most important to Australia's progress.
For example, a recent research note prepared by Parliamentary Library listed four possible definitions for the term 'governance': (SEE FOOTNOTE 2)
1. the management of public resources and other public administration;
2. the activities of government and the system of governing;
3. government's interaction with civil society and citizens in general - which covers such matters as the accountability mechanisms under which Parliamentarians operate; and
4. the interactions of traditions, values, institutions, and processes that shape society (or the exercise of power in society by governments and others).
Also, various indicators that encapsulate some of these aspects have been proposed during our consultations. Some people have said that a commentary on governance and citizenship should provide indicators of such things as:
- philanthropy (gifts to domestic charities and overseas aid);
- public trust in governments and institutions;
- the proportion of women in government; and
Others have said that the commentary should focus more on 'societal governance' - say, the capacity of people to conduct their relations civilly with one another, to achieve workable compromises among differing views, and to cooperate without the intervention of government. This last is sometimes characterised as 'active citizenship'. Relevant indicators might cover:
- people's active participation in democratic decision making (such as the proportion of people who vote in non-compulsory elections, or the proportion of young people on the electoral roll).
- the size of the nonprofit sector; and
There is some overlap between this view of citizenship and the headline commentary Social attachment covered earlier in this publication.
The ABS agrees it should include indicators of governance, democracy and citizenship in future issues of Measuring Australia's Progress. But in the light of the wide variety of views and suggestions we have received, we are of the view that we need to consult more widely about how to give statistical expression to this important dimension of national progress.
The ABS would welcome readers' views. (Contact details are in the Foreword.)
1 See, for example, Berger-Shmitt, R. and Noll, H. 2000, Conceptual Frameworks and Structure of a European System of Social Indicators, EuReporting Working Paper No. 9, Centre for Social Research and Methodology, Mannheim; Salvaris M. Burke T. Pidgeon J. and Kelman S. 2000, Measuring Victoria's Progress, A System of Social Benchmarks and Indicators for Victoria, Institute of Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Victoria; Beetham D. (Ed) Defining and Measuring Democracy, Sage, London; and Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance 2002, State of Democracy: Trends from Pilot Countries URL: www.idea.int/ideas_work/14political_state.htm last viewed 29 January 2002.
2 Rose Verspaandok, Information and Research Services 2001, Research Note: Good Governance in Australia, Department of the Parliamentary Library, Canberra.
- the level of volunteering (say, the percentage of people who report that they are volunteer members of management committees and the like).