Thursday, 25 February 2010

The first blog

Welcome to the first wikichild blog! Not wanting to start out on the wrong foot, this blog, far from being the conscious stream of a budding journalist, is a carefully scripted gift to blog regulars. Not true to the meaning of a blog? Possibly, but as you will see I still have much to learn.

Wikichild is the third wiki to blog on the progblog. And though it may sound hackneyed, in terms of progress, children’s issues are central because ‘children are our future’ (don’t try and say that too fast – or indeed to cynics). Children’s issues are becoming increasingly important to governments. Children will mould the society in which today’s adults will age. Children are the citizens, the workers, the tax-payers, the law-makers, and the carers of the future. Every hour and every dollar invested on child development is designed (explicitly or otherwise) for the purpose of progress.

Wikichild is for the community engaged in the development of concepts, data collection, analysis, and research on children’s issues. It draws its inspiration from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and has been supported in its inception by UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, the International Society of Child Indicators, ACYA (Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa) and the University of Auckland Business School, New Zealand. The purpose of wikichild is simple, to help the community interested in child research and children’s issues to share better and learn more for the benefit of all children.

Maybe it’s the nature of the child research community (maybe it is better described as the outcome of my maiden e-voyage into the unknown) but the result is not all bells and whistles: and perhaps rightfully so. Wikichild is simple; it offers you a forum to share your articles on children research and child issues. Without too much in the ways of ‘techie treats’ wikichild instead provides a non-technical easy-to-use environment for those who find WORD a challenge in itself.

I strongly encourage readers to take a look at the site, and for those with something to add, please register and contribute your knowledge. As you well know, wikis depend on your contributions, particularly in the early stages.

Future wikichild blogs will review the new wikichild content, and address some of the pressing issues in child well-being, policy and research. Recently we have seen that lifestyle choices taken in childhood - drinking, smoking and teenage pregnancy - have been hitting the headlines. As have issues of intergenerational transmission of education and earnings (How do family environments impact on children’s adult outcomes, and do these vary country to country?) and child health policies. All of which are important issues for children, and for the progress of societies.

Until next time,

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Why - “It’s the economy, stupid” - doesn’t work to explain the current crisis

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about society’s progress, well-being and gender equality, while much of the rest of the world has been focused on society’s failure, financial crisis and economic downturn. If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last two years, you’ve probably asked yourself why we’re in the deepest recession since the 1930s, why Lehman Brothers went bankrupt so quickly and why terms like “sovereign and corporate default” are now common topics of daily conversation? I am more than willing to bet the answers you’ve come up with relate more or less exclusively to economics and finance. In this blog entry, we argue that we should dig much deeper into our societies to understand the often irrational motives underlying people’s choices. Goodbye, Homo Economicus, hello, Homo Sociologicus??

What’s the story: A big argument these days in newspapers like the Financial Times and the Economist surrounds the question of who is to blame for “global imbalances.” Simply put, one part of the world saves too much, while another part consumes too much. These “global imbalances” leave a huge pile of savings in the east and deep holes of debt in the west, making everybody worse off and leaving the world economy exposed to the types of massive re-adjustment currently underway in the present economic crisis. The conventional medicine suggested by economists and finance folks suggests there should be more social spending and domestic consumption by the big savers, while the big spenders should consume less and take fewer risks.

However, according to a new paper on Chinese savings we may be missing one important point. Research by Shang-Jin Wei and Xiaobo Zhang shows that in the case of a big saver like China it is actually son preference that may be at the root of the excessively high Chinese savings rate. Centuries-old traditions mean that Chinese families' have long preferred a male child. Today, in a China that has both prenatal ultrasound technology, and a strict one-child policy, parents can actually make their choice happen. With fatal consequences: a huge amount of sex selective abortions are skewing the sex ratio at birth, which today counts 122 boys born for every 100 girls in China (see more on Missing Women). As these boys grow into men, one-fifth of them may be unable to find a wife. The preference for baby-boys creates scarcity of future women and potential wives, leading to higher bride prices, which results in higher household saving rates. Put simply: the more money a household can put aside today, the higher the likelihood of finding a wife tomorrow. While this is of a particular concern in the vast Chinese hinterland, China is by no means alone. For example, India has a tradition of son preference and also has elevated savings rates. In fact when looking at son preference and savings across 74 countries using OECD data, we see that those countries that exhibit son preference are much more likely to have higher savings rates. The association between degree of son preference and saving rates implies that questions of global financial stability require more than the standard macroeconomic prescriptions to solve.

What does this all mean now for progress and the financial crisis? Well, it shows that reducing a complex phenomenon like “global imbalances” to a purely economic or financial problem, risks treating only symptoms, while not dealing with root causes. “It’s the economy stupid”, might help to win elections, but it is not a good recipe for addressing our world’s most pressing challenges and problems.

JJ & Chris

Friday, 19 February 2010

Trevs Prog Blog Tech Blog #2

Hello again progress tecchies, its Trev here with the latest progress on progress. It’s only a short blog though, just to keep you up to date ahead of some big news coming soon. Let’ s just call it a blogino , or even a bloguette .

First off, the data. Remember I told you about it in my first blog. What do you mean you don’t remember? You didn’t read it !? Then go here and do so immediately:

Well anyway, yes, the data is starting to come in. Big news announcement ! We’ve opened up the wiki.stat communal data bank on progress for you citizens to upload your stuff and you’re now doing the right thing. You can visit and find all sorts of goodies about love, peace and harmony (and gender issues too….). Check out the wonderfully named Happy Planet Index for example to see who’s satisfied with their life and who isn’t. Or the National Accounts of Well-being or ask some questions of the Is life getting better? dataset - how can you possibly resist it !?

And this is just the start. We want to get more and more of this to fulfil our dreams and build the definitive database on progress. So get loading people. For now you are allowed to be lazy and just send us an email to demanding that one of our team of dedicated technoids do all the work for you. Soon you’ll be able to use our online interface and do it yourselves.

And once your data is up there you can unlock all the stories it contains with the eXplorer interface I was telling you about. We’ve been working hard with our friends the boffins at NCVA who developed the interface so you can select any data you want from your table to view it via the eXplorer. And Bingo ! We’re going to showcase this in early March so watch this space….

Another area we’re thinking about is about linking our progress tables in wiki.stat to related data using semantic web techniques. It’s the next big thing of course. For now it’s just a twinkle in our tecchies eyes but watch this space for more mouth-watering references about URIs, RDF and triples… the first in the know and wow your friends and acquaintances at cocktail parties !

Feel free to comment or get back to us. Don’t be shy now.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Using policy to shape wellbeing: using wellbeing to shape policy

A steady and increasing volume of work is underway around the world to try to shift people's attention beyond narrow economic measures of progress towards the broader more holistic goals of improving wellbeing. And this blog is just one small part of that activity. There are many ways to classify this flurry of work, but I tend to think of three broad areas - the 3Ds. Work is underway to that seeks to:

1) Develop ... better measures, largely research work that looks at how one might better measure those things which we know are important but don't measure all that well. Things like vulnerability, social cohesion or happiness for example;

2) Discuss ... largely built around participatory approaches that seek to engage a cross section of a society in debating what progress or wellbeing means - and then providing the data about it - as a way to enhance democratic dialogue; and

3) Disseminate... which is work (usually ICT based) that is trying to bring the data and indicators to life so that they are understood and used by a broader audience.

Some projects try to do 2 or 3 of these things at the same time of course and the OECD's Global Project on Measuring Progress is looking into all three areas.

But while there have been significant improvements in all three of the areas, we still search for a missing link, because there does not seem (at least not from where I sit) to have been a corresponding improvement in the ways in which the new indicators are shaping decision making. That's the bad news.

The good news, however, is that things appear to be changing and the last couple of weeks have seen the release of two important contributions to the discussion on how to ensure the new indicators have more of an influence.

First, the UK Young Foundation's new report, The State of Happiness, looks at whether public policy can shape people's resilience and wellbeing. They note that "serious work on policy options has lagged behind academic analysis of what causes happiness" and they look at how a wellbeing lens can shape public policy more systematically, with a particular focus on local level studies noting (and I agree) that the greatest insights come from disaggregating rather than aggregating data. Perhaps most importantly they consider where there is most potential for public policy to influence wellbeing and try to lay to rest the idea that public policy cannot really influence wellbeing. I haven't finished reading it yet but it seems to be an important piece of work and one that will help ensure that the wellbeing agenda moves from the latest good idea to become the bread and butter of policy-making.

Second, is a new book from Carol Graham at the Brookings Institution in the US Happiness Around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires. This is rather different to the Young Foundation's report, and gives a broad overview of thinking about happiness and its determinants. Importantly it also contains ideas about how understanding happiness - and trying to use data on it - can contribute to public policy, as well some of the risks for policy makers in doing so. It raises many questions and provides much food for thought.. as well as thought about food: we may know for example that people who are overweight, feel less unhappy about their physique when surrounded by others of a similar size. But quite what that means for public policy is, as Graham notes, an interesting and not immediately obvious question. But its a question worth thinking about.

When a machinery of government is set up around economic growth and improving service delivery it will take time for a new paradigm to take hold no matter how sensible it appears. Not only do hearts and minds have to change, but a lot of effort is required. So its natural - and perhaps reassuring - that policy makers are being prudent and lagging behind the academics and the activists. But the tide seems to be turning and these two reports can only help engage the policy makers.

Next month I will be in New York to attend a meeting hosted by the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation and Demos that will bring Joseph Stiglitz and others together to discuss this issue. I'm looking forward to blogging about the discussion. But first I'm going to Costa Rica.


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Engendering Progress?!

Progress in achieving gender equality has been greatly enhanced through the growth in ICT technologies: women’s burden of labour has decreased, new income generating opportunities have opened up, and ICTs can improve access to services. Now, the next revolution is looming: the development of WEB 2.0 inspired social networking sites, which offer innovative ways to share information, collaborate and mobilise populations across the world. While many people discuss if these networks have a spill-over effect on business activities, an interesting question from a development perspective is if, and how, these tools could be useful for advancing and accelerating efforts towards achieving gender equality. Wikigender is one example of the possibilities offered by Web 2.0 technologies, and the upcoming blogs will focus on this precise question. But first let’s start by thinking about what gender equality might mean for the idea of progress.

Looking at gender equality today, you might argue that there has been much progress in the last 50 years or so. In particular in the field of education, many things have changed for the better: school is no longer a privilege for boys alone, and the literacy ratio – an indicator of equal advancement in education between boys and girls – is constantly narrowing, signalling that girls are catching up, and even surpassing their male counterparts in some countries (see for more information). Women are also increasingly represented in politics, with some developing countries such as Rwanda leading the way with almost 49% female parliamentarians – have a look at if you want to know more about women’s political participation. What is more, while this debate was the lonely fight of human rights groups and feminists only a decade ago, it has now become more fashionable and mainstream and has even entered the boardrooms of Wall Street. You want examples? The financial and social crisis, many argue, is also a cognitive crisis: one hears arguments such as if Lehman Brothers was managed by a female CEO, than the bust would never have had happened. There is also now a lot of talk about “womenomics” . In a simplified way, the argument goes that in today’s complex knowledge societies, soft skills such as emotional intelligence, lateral thinking and consensus-building are more important than risk-taking, alpha male behavior. In the developed world we have witnessed a silent revolution with more and more women joining the labor force, reaching the bar of 50% of the labor force in many OECD countries such as the US (see article). Equally, in the developing world, the important economic roles played by women are being highlighted, with some suggesting that the best way to fight poverty and extremism is to educate and empower women and girls (see article).

So everything is on track, no more worries with gender equality? Unfortunately, a closer look reveals a much more daunting picture. Despite eliminating some barriers to access in the workplace and political sphere, glass ceilings still exist and gender inequality remains a significant obstacle to improving the lives of men and women. In many countries, women are still discriminated against in nearly every aspect of life, and are deprived of their full economic, social and political rights and opportunities. Clearly, progress isn’t bringing the same benefits to women and men, and this is something that needs closer attention. Have a look at and join this debate if you are interested.

Also check out the Gender, Institutions and Development Data-Base (GID-DB) – here you will find up-to-date statistics in the fields of health care, political and labour force participation. The GID-DB contains data on a range of issues linked to women’s socioeconomic development, such as women’s access to bank loans, literacy rates and freedom of movement. Another tool, the Social Institutions and Gender Index, gives a summary of potential factors that drive persistent discrimination against women worldwide in areas such as civil liberties, physical integrity and ownership rights. What the database and index show is that prevailing norms and traditions play a role in mediating progress, particularly for women in the developing world. In turn, these norms and traditions are themselves transformed by progress, in both positive and negative ways which then impact on gender equality.

As the blog discussion heats up, some interesting questions to consider are:
· How can the progress agenda support gender equality, and vice versa?
· How do social networking sites and WEB 2.0 technologies shape gender outcomes?
· Do you have any good examples to share?

Please join the debate.