This blog, written by Dora Almassy, is about the current BRAINPOol project and the barriers the project has found in trying to establish alternative indicators beyond GDP. The post is a part of the Wikiprogress series on Data and Statistics.
The final conference of the BRAINPOol (Bringing Alternative Indicators into Policy) project takes place today, on 24th March 2014, in the premises of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Conference Centre in Paris. (Click here for the event programme.) Given the increasingly important role of Beyond GDP indicators in the economic policy debate, the event aimed to catalyse the adoption of new measures of progress, bringing together representatives from the spheres of politics, academics and civil society. During the conference, the project’s key findings and recommendations were also presented.
The BRAINPOol project, funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme, aims to summarise existing knowledge of alternative indicators and to promote their use in policy-making processes. In the framework of the project, Beyond-GDP indicators were first reviewed and categorised, then characterised by demand for these indicators.
Most recently, the BRAINPOol project published a report on barriers to the use of alternative indicators in policy-making and discussed how these barriers can be overcome. The barriers were identified by studying seven case studies, carried out for Germany (German National Welfare Index), the UK (British Business Bank and Welsh Government Sustainable Indicator Set), Midi-Pyrenees in France, Rotterdam (Sustainability Profile), Chrudim in the Czech Republic (Healthy City Indicators) and at the OECD.
From the case studies, twelve different types of barriers were identified and grouped under five categories: resources; resistance; communication; complexity; organisation.
Under this category, two main barriers were identified. Firstly, many countries, regions and cities face budget limitations when it comes to statistics and introducing alternative indicators. Secondly, data is not available in many cases, or it is limited to a certain timeframe or geographical coverage.
The project found a passive resistance to the use of alternative indicators in many of the studied areas, due to perceived norms, habits and risk aversion. For example, many policy-makers, who in theory would support the use of alternative indicators, take a more conservative view. This is due to the fact that the existing traditional models are considered more robust and well-established. As a result, Beyond-GDP indicators are often considered redundant by politicians and business organisations.
Since there is no agreed practical consensus on Beyond-GDP indicators, the variety of options results in divergence or sometimes even in contrasting ideas. Thus, there is confusion about the concepts and terminologies used among different stakeholders. Sometimes, this also means that incorrect assumptions are associated with alternative indicators, from either politicians or businesses. In addition, the project found that a strong narrative for engaging the public is also often missing.
The lack of a single Beyond-GDP indicator not only results in communication barriers,but also makes it difficult to replicate the simple headlines, which are currently linked to GDP measures. Similarly, while GDP indicators can offer a simple narrative, the variety of Beyond-GDP measures makes it more complicated to describe and analyse progress towards well-being.
Lastly, several constraints were identified by the project in terms of institutional take-up. The potential users of alternative indicators are reluctant and sceptical in many cases. Due to the complexities of the well-being topic, interlinkages must be considered, inducing the need for working across departments and organisations. A lack of inter-institutional human capacity was also identified as a potential barrier.
Overcoming the barriers
In order to overcome some of the aforementioned barriers, the BRAINPOol project suggests: to demonstrate how Beyond-GDP indicators can result in more informed policy choices; to promote these indicators at different fora; to develop a database of such indicators; to identify potential users and tailor the indicators to their needs; to develop facilitation mechanisms for internal and inter-organisational co-operation; and lastly, to invest in human resources.
The project also suggests that, first, two key barriers should be tackled head-on: We need to create a strong narrative for alternative indicators and new techniques for integrated policy analysis.
The full report is available at the project website: Barriers to the use of alternative (‘beyond GDP’) indicators in policy making and how they are being overcome and can be overcome
- Dora Almassy