1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2013  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 14/11/2013   
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Measures of Australia's Progress

Presenting progress

Behind the scenes of Measures of Australia's Progress - all you need to know

    The tabs across the top of this page contain information about how progress is presented in Measures of Australia's Progress (MAP).

    There are many ways in which data about progress can be presented. These might be summarised into two main approaches:

      • A suite of indicators, or 'dashboard' approach, which presents selected informative progress indicators side by side
      • An accounting approach, which provides a set of consistent accounts which may be used to support the production of a single progress indicator.

    MAP takes the dashboard approach. It presents data on key aspects of life in Australia and discusses the links between these areas. In this way, readers can review progress across the social, economic, environmental and governance domains side by side and understand the issues unique and similar to each.

    The dashboard approach encourages readers to consider the indicators and make their own assessment of whether Australia is, on balance, progressing and at what rate. By comparison, although a useful analytical tool, the accounting approach takes those decisions out of the hands of the general public, by applying weights to each factor in each domain before the data is presented.

    In an accounting approach, all relevant social, environmental, economic and governance factors would be considered in terms of consistent measurement units - usually monetary. Social, economic, environment and governance 'accounts' would then be brought together in one unified system of accounts. In this approach, the data can be presented in a set of accounts that are consistent with one another, or, because of this consistency, the data can be combined into one or more single numbers. This approach is suited to some areas of measurement more than others for a number of reasons. For example, economic goods and services are valued in monetary terms by observing the price paid for these in the market and are therefore suited to the accounting approach of measuring progress. By contrast, it is not always as easy to use market prices to reflect the value of particular goods or services in a wider societal or environmental context (for example, biodiversity). There are also social and environmental aspects of life - particularly the intangible and non-material - which are fundamentally difficult to value in monetary or accounting terms (for example, participation in sport). To allocate a monetary value to intrinsically valuable but 'priceless' factors would involve a complex analysis of social values, which is difficult to undertake objectively for statistical purposes.

    The creation of a single index which combines a range of social, environmental and economic measures is another approach, but one with challenges and limitations. Components will usually be measured in different units (e.g. years of life expectancy, dollars of income, numbers of suicide deaths, tonnes of greenhouse gases). Although it may be possible to express these different factors in some common way to make them comparable with one another (usually as a rate), this also involves making complex social value judgements about the relative importance of each. There is a danger that a composite indicator will give potentially misleading signals depending on the context in which it is used. As a result, the ABS has not developed or adopted such a system for measuring progress.

    We have decided that the dashboard approach is better suited to the area of assessing societal progress. In doing so, we have revealed the components of our view of progress and avoided the contestability and reductive approach of a comprehensive accounting system or index approach, which seek to combine incompatible units into one measure, and is complicated to compile and interpret. Presenting a single indicator, in dollar terms, to represent the complexity of life in Australia may be overly reductive and potentially problematic.
Any overall assessment about whether life is getting better is unavoidably based on values and preferences. However, Measures of Australia's Progress (MAP) is presented in such a way that the reader is encouraged to draw on their own values when assessing progress. This is because there are many perspectives about what is important for progress. For example, faced with measures revealing that life expectancy has lengthened during the past decade but more land has been degraded by salinity, one reader may judge that there has been progress and another that there has been regress. To summarise the different values that Australians give different aspects of life into a single measurement of progress, would be to limit the view of what is important to Australians for the progress of their nation.

For these reasons, MAP presents a range of progress indicators. These are selected because they provide a summary of social, economic, environmental and governance progress, and are carefully chosen in consultation with experts and members of the community from the very extensive array of measures available in Australia. They encapsulate a range of complex issues in a given area of interest. In particular, the headline progress indicators are chosen because they inform on pivotal aspects of progress over time.

We recently undertook a national consultation to determine Australian's views on what is important for progress. By consulting with the Australian public, we are able to ensure that the community's values, rather than those of the ABS, are reflected. Our role is to use our expertise as statisticians to determine exactly how to measure the things Australians told us were important for progress.

For a full account of the MAP consultation process view the consultation report here.
Measures of Australia's Progress (MAP) provides a selection of measures to answer the question 'Is life in Australia getting better?' and show whether important aspects of Australian society have progressed. To assess whether progress towards the aspiration has been made, we need to be able to show that there has been change over time. To do this, we have used measures (i.e. progress indicators) where the data is the most recently available and can show change between at least two points in time.*

We have carefully identified measures that best fit the aspirations that Australians have for progress. This means that we have indicators that have varying time series. Some have time series spanning a decade or more, where other, newer indicators have only two time periods. Our aim is to build these time series as measures continue to be collected.

* All assessments of change have been tested (where applicable) for statistical significance.