Last week, the OECD co-organised in collaboration with e-Frame (European Framework for Measuring Progress) partners and Eurostat the European Conference on Measuring Well-Being and Fostering the Progress of Societies. This conference is a part of a series of regional conferences that will feed into the 4th OECD World Forum on "Statistics, Knowledge and Policy taking place on 16-19 October 2012, in New Delhi, India. The conference was broken down into three main thematic sections: material conditions, quality of life and sustainability. You can find the full agenda here.
On the first day of the conference there was an interesting round table on why or whether we should look at measures of well-being in the midst of a financial crisis.
Daniel Daianu, Professor of Economics, The National School of Political and Administrative Studies, Bucharest, former finance minister of Romania and former MEP said in support of the well-being measures and that take into account the inequalities that GDP misses: "fairness is needed in both good times and bad".
Throughout the conference, the participants from policy, media and civil society mentioned the problem of "nowcasting". GDP is a good measure because it is also a convenient measure. The timeliness of well-being data is of utmost importance. We have to figure out a way to produce this data quicker and that is expensive. Though, there are datasets that could be compiled on other well-being data (the unemployment rate for example among others) that are available more regularly.
We repeatedly heard that there are now enough alternative (to GDP) indicators of well-being and progress in Europe. The issue now is how to get these indicators used for policy. It was mentioned several times that indicators must have a policy link. For example, if the OECD Better Life Index is saying that a country is performing badly in the housing dimension, then there should be a policy recommendation that goes with it. That of course means that the relationship between dimensions should be clearer if the aim is to increase overall well-being and not just housing. As there aren't well-being ministries in Europe, going for holistic well-being will have to be a team effort which will oblige policy makers, researchers, etc. to come out of their silos. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend recently who is leading a lab researching mitochondria(I had to look it up too). While I couldn't really follow what she is doing, I did note how dependant she is on the neuroscientists and other scientists in many different fields as she is a biochemist. Her work is useless without the others. Perhaps we should look at well-being policy more like biology. Policies in the interest of all dimensions.
But of course we are talking about people here and not dimensions. Probably the most significant issue coming out of the conference (for this blogger) is citizen participation in policy dialogue. This conference insisted that we have to find the stories that are relevant to citizens and households and invite citizen involvement in the process. At the conference, the European Network on Measuring Well-being was launched with the European Framework on Measuring Progress (eFrame). This network is committed to communication and dissemination of well-being work with a heavy emphasis on two-way communication. The Wikiprogress Africa, Asia and Latin America networks are also ones to watch. We will keep you posted on the results of this work and opportunities for participation.
Another positive sign is that in the conclusions of the conference, Martine Durand, OECD Chief Statistician, noted that political uptake of well-being measures and policies depends on both political leadership and public consultation. It is in this way that we can ensure that the policies being made are actually addressing citizen concerns.
For full conclusions of the conference, please click here.
OECD, Head of Well-being Networks