Friday, 29 April 2011

The week in review

We have some very exciting news for you… the Wikiprogress Community Portal has been given a makeover. The new layout is easier to navigate through the media reviews, spotlights, papers, newsletters and special reviews. We have also added a new section on interactive web 2.0 apps. Have a look and please tell us what you think.

In other news, another busy week has given us plenty to choose from for your selection of highlights from the week that was.

The release of the Gallup 2010 Global Wellbeing Survey has caused quite a stir in the media, with news sources focusing on the impact of the findings at national levels. The article from the Global Times (below) picks apart how the media have reviewed the survey findings and in some cases, misinterpreted the data. Nevertheless, there are many good articles out there showing the impact this data has on the wellbeing of various societies.

On child wellbeing
If you read the week in review last week you would have noticed I included an IDB blog on crowdsourcing and poverty. This is another interesting IDB blog and focuses on the role that ICT can play in education. The IDB calls for governments to take stronger leadership roles in developing national policies to incorporate ICT into education systems.

On human development
After hearing Jeni Klugman (Director of the Human Development Report Office) speak last year in Sydney on the 2010 Human Development Report (HDR), I have been eagerly following what she has to say about the HDR and human development in general. This article highlights the key innovations that were included in the 2010 HDR and addresses criticisms on both new and old HDR issues. Given that last year was the 20thanniversary of the HDR, it is an interesting article that looks at just how far they have come and what challenges they have faced along the way.
HDI 2010: New Controversies, Old Critiques (HDR News Release 27.04.2011)

On gender equality
This article looks at two Saudi women who attempted to register to vote in municipal elections. The movement, much like the article, is optomistic and determined. Nine million women in Saudi Arabia have been ruled out of the vote which is set to take place in September. 
Saudi elections - women seek vote (Reuters 26.04.2011)
See also the Wikigender article on  gender equality in Saudi Arabia

And something on happiness
Action for Happiness is still receiving a lot of media attention, both on the movement itself and the political implications of measuring wellbeing. This article looks at what Action for Happiness calls the ’10 Keys to Happier Living’.
Happiness is a Political Issue (Happy 21.04.2011)

And on that happy note, I hope you enjoyed my selection of highlights from the week that was. Be sure to tune in the same time next week.

Yours in progress,
Philippa Lysaght 

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Health as a social dynamic

Richard Eckersley

A neglected attribute of population health is that it is an important dynamic in the functioning of societies. Typically, public-health reports express this role in terms of the direct and indirect economic costs of poor health (that is, the costs of health care and lost productivity), with some acknowledgement of the social costs to individuals, families and communities. But these effects are just one part of a bigger, more complex, picture.

Poor health, both physical and mental, affects people in many life roles – as students, workers, parents and citizens. These impacts are not only the result of clinically significant health problems (which, nonetheless, affect substantial segments of the population). High rates of illness, especially mental illness, also reflect public mood, morale and vitality. Poor population health weakens a society's confidence and resilience, and so its capacity to deal with the challenges of the modern world. And this, in turn, further impacts on population health.

This is not widely appreciated. A false dichotomy often characterises debate and discussion about national and international affairs. On the one hand, these matters are seen as shaped by large, external forces such as economic development, technological change, environmental degradation and resource depletion, and war and conflict. Population health may be affected by these forces, but health itself is not usually seen as a contributor to larger-scale social developments. The perspectives of economics, politics and the environment dominate the discourse. On the other hand, considerations of health focus on internal, psychological and physiological processes and personal attributes, circumstances, behaviours and experiences. The dominant frame of reference is the biomedical model of health as an attribute or property of individuals, as discussed above.

This separation is misleading. The reality is that change in both social and personal, external and internal, worlds is shaped by a complex interplay between them. Understanding this interplay is important to comprehending what is happening in both realms. In other words, human ‘subjectivity’ plays an important part in the functioning of social systems; it is what most distinguishes them from other, biophysical systems. Health is not just an individual illness that requires treatment, but also an issue having national, even global, causes and consequences.

Health is a way of better understanding humanity and how people should live. Just as someone who is unwell will be less able to function effectively and withstand adversity, so too will a less healthy population make a less resilient society. Population health may be an important factor in determining whether societies respond effectively to adversity – or in ways that make the situation worse. In particular, mental health and morale could have a critical bearing on how societies cope with climate change and other 21st Century global threats.

Population health perspectives can make an important contribution to sustainable development and the quest for a high, equitable and enduring quality of life: they provide a means of integrating, balancing and reconciling different social priorities by allowing them to be measured against a common goal or benchmark: improving human health and wellbeing. Population health is, then, a key element of achieving a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable way of living - humanity’s greatest challenge.

This is an edited extract from:
Eckersley R. 2011. The science and politics of population health: giving health a greater role in public policy. WebmedCentral PUBLIC HEALTH 2011; 2(3):WMC001697

Richard’s work is available at:

Friday, 22 April 2011

The Week in Review

It has been another busy week for Wikiprogress and we have gathered an incredible amount of news articles and blog posts on progress. Here are a few highlights from the week that was. Be sure to check out the Community Portal for full coverage.

Nic Marks gives an interesting talk at TEDx Danubia on the Happiness Manifesto. Nic Marks is the founder for the Centre of Wellbeing at the New Economics Foundation (nef) and has given presentations around the world on measuring happiness. As always, he delivers an exciting and engaging presentation – and gives a mention to Wikiprogress! This is an absolute must see.

Today is World Earth Day, which has been celebrated on the 22nd of April for over 40 years. World Earth day aims to motivate the worldwide environmental movement through education and public policy. Women have been associated with the environmental movement for a long time now, but this article reports on the roles that women play in the leadership of this movement.  A short and sweet article noting the role of gender equality in leadership is taking centre stage in the environmental movement. See more on Wikigender.

The most recent newsletter from ‘Beyond GDP’ gives an overview of highlights from the initiative and looks at who is adopting the motion to look beyond GDP in measuring national wellbeing. The newsletter provides insight into the focus of wellbeing in Germany, the UK and France.

The media in the UK has been working overtime to cover the nation’s (relatively) newfound interest in measuring happiness. If you read the review last week you would have seen the vast amount of coverage given to the recently launched Action for Happiness movement. This article gives an interesting review of both sides of the story.

Crowdsourcing has been a buzzword for some time now – and it looks like it is here to stay. This is a great blog post from the IDB on how to use crowdsourcing to help tackle the needs of the poor by gathering information from those living in poverty.

These were the highlights from the week that was. Be sure to check in with us next week to find out what has been happening in the global progress movement.

Yours in progress, Philippa Lysaght

See the full Progress Media Review

Monday, 18 April 2011

Better health, not greater wealth, should be society’s goal

Richard Eckersley

The rise in life expectancy, which more than doubled globally last century, is a cornerstone of human development. While there are competing theories about what produced the health gains, they can be, broadly speaking, attributed to factors such as material advances, especially better nutrition; public-health interventions such as sanitation; social modernisation, including education and social welfare; and improved medical treatment and care.

Historically, then, medicine and other health professions have been part of a broad, progressive movement that has improved not only life expectancy and health, but quality of life more broadly. The connection was close; the early emphasis in public health was on how social conditions influenced health and how they might be improved.

Today the relationship has changed. Health professions are increasingly engaged in countering the growing harm to health of adverse social trends, at least in developed nations. At the same time, however, they have become part of the problem because of a scientific emphasis on, and political advocacy of, a biomedical model of health based on individual cases of disease and their associated risk factors and treatments at the expense of a social model of disease prevention and health promotion. This has contributed to a separation of population health from social conditions, to the detriment of both.

Most public-health initiatives focus on individual risk factors associated with physical health: smoking, diet, exercise, alcohol use. From a health perspective, this emphasis neglects the importance of mental health; from a prevention perspective, it under-estimates the importance of social and environmental determinants.

Furthermore, the research on social determinants focuses on socio-economic factors, notably inequality, to the neglect of cultural factors such as excessive materialism and individualism. Culture and mental health are closely linked; both concern what people think and feel. This is seen clearly in young people’s health, an important predictor of future population health. Contrary to longer historic trends and official perceptions, young people's health has arguably declined over recent generations in developed nations because of rising obesity and mental illness.

Acknowledging the importance of culture and mental health highlights the social significance of health in two ways: by casting doubt on orthodox thinking on human development and national progress, which places Western nations at the leading edge; and by showing health is an important social dynamic, a cause not just a consequence of how well society is faring because it affects people in all their roles – as citizens, workers, students and parents.

The dominant biomedical perspective suits business and government. It is in biomedicine that profits are to be made, not in social health. This model also limits the political significance of health to the politics of healthcare services. This policy focus is challenging enough as governments struggle with rising demand and costs. However, the challenge is easy compared with trying to reconcile emerging health-based social realities with existing wealth-based political priorities. Embedded in the biomedical model is a hidden ideology that defends and promotes the status quo.

The scientific and political responses to the situation might include more research on public and mental health, especially transdisciplinary approaches that integrate epidemiological, sociological, psychological and anthropological concepts and evidence. Similarly, with health services and programs, the share of the health budget allocated to public health and mental health should be increased.

The response also needs to go beyond the health system to embrace, for example, rethinking the role and purpose of education, and greater regulation and control of business, especially advertising and marketing, the dominant promoters of an unhealthy, hyper-consumer culture.

However, the most important application of this perspective may be in the contribution it can make to a much broader political and public debate about the lives people want to lead, the societies they want to live in, and the futures they want to create. That debate is intensifying, but health plays only a limited part in it.

A broad view of population health and wellbeing and their social drivers – socio-economic, cultural and environmental - challenges the legitimacy of the dominant worldview of material progress (which gives priority to economic growth and a rising standard of living), and supports the alternative, sustainable development (which seeks to balance social, environmental and economic priorities to achieve a high, equitable and lasting quality of life).

The contest between the two models, or narratives, of progress has been framed largely in economic and environmental terms, and the social dimension has been neglected. Population-health research can help to correct this distortion.

This is an edited extract from:
Eckersley R. 2011. The science and politics of population health: giving health a greater role in public policy. WebmedCentral PUBLIC HEALTH 2011; 2(3):WMC001697.
The paper, and other papers, are available on Richard’s website:

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Week in Review

Welcome to the Wikiprogress week in review. It seems that every week we have more and more to report on. Here are the highlights from the (incredibly eventful and busy) week that was….

Action for Happiness
Action for Happiness (AFH) is a new self-proclaimed ‘mass-movement to help create a happier society’ in the UK. Launched on Tuesday, AFH was created by three key progress thinkers - Lord Richard Layard, Geoff Mulgan and Anthony Seldon. Since the launch, the website was overwhelmed with so many hits that it has been inaccessible for most of the week! See the Wikiprogress AFH Media Review with over 20 news items on Action for Happiness and see my favourite news article below.

And a great blog post by the new economics foundation (nef):
Think a happy thought (nef blog 14.04.2011)

Society at a Glance from the OECD was released on 12 April - key findings released feature a chapter on unpaid work including information from new OECD member countries (Chile, Estonia, Israel and Slovenia) as well as data from emerging countries.

World Health Organisation’s Bulletin: The Happiness Effect
Emerging from the worst economic crisis in decades, more governments than ever are measuring health and happiness as well as gross domestic product. But how will the study of well-being shape new policies? Read on.

The World Development Report
The World Bank had a brilliant launch of the 2011 WDR on Monday. The report focuses on conflict, security and development - analysing the negative impact cycles of violence have on different regions. It was released in a flurry of online activity, with the World Bank using various forms of multimedia to interact with a diverse audience and show the impact of the report. See the official website to download the report and the Wikiprogress WDR2011 Media Review for all related news items.

World Bank urges new focus on global development in fragile states (The Guardian 11.04.2011)

Equal Pay Day in the USA was on 12 April -  This date symbolises how far into 2011 women must work to earn what men earned in 2010. Read the Presidential Proclamation.

In other Gender News, the World Bank has announced that the 2012 WDR will focus on gender equality and development.  We can only imagine what sort of interactive technology the World Bank will use to release this one next year! See the link below for a sneak peak.

I hope you enjoyed the week in review. Be sure to tune in the same time next week for another riveting read on the week that was.

Until then, yours in progress 

Philippa Lysaght

For more, please see our constantly-updated Wikiprogress Media Review

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Gender equality – a key factor for progress in society

Development objectives like reducing poverty and hunger, improving children’s access to education and health, reducing child and maternal mortality and combating diseases like HIV/AIDS are closely linked to gender equality.

Most development goals can be achieved when serious efforts are made to increase women’s education, employment, income and intra-household decision making power. Gender equality thus emerges as key factor for progress in society.

This is valid not only for developing countries, but also for high income countries. Even in developed countries, the majority of women is still disadvantaged in terms of wage income and career development in comparison to men. Many women still face barriers to combine work and family life. This results in a reduced labour market participation, which leads to reduced income and insufficient social protection for many women.

Gender inequalities are largest, however, in developing countries, as women suffer more than men from malnutrition, diseases, illiteracy and the risk of social and political instability. Genital mutilation, female infanticide and sex-selective abortion, early marriage, limited freedom of movement and freedom of dress, lack of property and lack of access to land and inheritance are par for the course for many women in poor countries.

Enhancing education and career perspectives for women is crucial to increase women’s economic empowerment in all regions of the world. Against the background of a feminization of poverty, it is crucial to significantly increase the proportion of women in decent labour. Only work that provides women with rights, adequate income, career opportunities and social protection promotes their economic power.

Women’s income, in turn, also increases their bargaining power within the household, which is proven to increase investments in the education and health of children. By this means, women’s empowerment turns out to be not only fruitful for women themselves, but for all of society.

Angela Luci

Monday, 11 April 2011

Sustainable Society Index, SSI-2010

Ask two people about their understanding of what sustainable society means, and for sure you will receive two quite diverging answers, or maybe two questioning faces. That’s not surprising, since it’s not easy to define sustainability adequately. Even more difficult is to tell what is the actual level of sustainability of a 
society and how is progress to sustainabi­­­lity.

If you’re looking for an answer to the question above, the Sustainable Society Index (SSI) can be helpful for you and provide you with the appropriate answers. Recently the third two-yearly edition of the SSI has been published. The results show that the world as a whole is far from sustainable. The spider web – where the outer circle expresses full sustainability – shows at a glance that many of the 24 indicators are way below sustainability. And even the high scores for Sufficient Food and Sufficient to Drink hide the fact that world-wide numerous people have to live without proper daily food and safe drinking water.

Zooming in on the three wellbeing dimensions, teaches us that – on average – Human Wellbeing scores best of the three, though still, there is more than 30% to go to full sustainability. Environmental Wellbeing has a lower score and Economic Wellbeing even more so.

Over the years 2006 – 2010, covered by the SSI, little progress has been made. At this pace, it will take until the end of this century to achieve full sustainability. I’m afraid we cannot afford so.

Of course I realize that the figures presented here reflect reality only to some extent. Choosing other indicators will result in a (slightly) different picture. However, I’m convinced all pictures will present the same message: we can’t afford to just stay aside and not take care of the future of our children and grandchildren, wherever in this world. And certainly we can’t afford to go on discussing which indicators are the best. We´re losing valuable time.

So let’s act now. What to do first of all? That’s up to you. Have a look at the spider web and see which indicator needs most attention in your opinion. Even better, make a spider web for your own country, using the data on the website That spider web shows which indicators have the lowest scores. You might start with these indicators. Tell your politicians you request that the next four years considerable progress will be made on the way towards sustainability for these indicators and urge the politicians to take appropriate measures to achieve that goal.

Or you can use this information for educational purposes. Or for further research. Or to develop your own tailor made set of indicators for your community. Or just to inform the people around you.
Remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi: It may seem insignificant what you´re doing, it is important you do it.

Geurt van de Kerk

The Opportunity of Peace for the United States

So after many months of hard work and high anticipation (and yes, I will admit, some nervousness) we released the United States Peace Index (USPI) at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. this week. The response, both from the media and the general public has been pleasingly positive and we even made the front page of Yahoo News, in between plastic surgery and spring hairdos articles – peace is reaching new audiences!

The USPI, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), is a study into the state of peace in the United States. It ranks the 50 American states by their levels of peacefulness detailing the large differences between states, and the significant drag that violence has on the United States economy.

Many argue the U.S economy is no longer able to afford a continuation of long term deficit spending, but few talk about one of the largest contributors to the long term budget deficit– the growing cost of violence.

Higher rates of violent assault, robbery, homicide, incarceration, and number of police officers translate into significant dollar amounts of lost economic activity. By measuring the medical cost and value of lost productivity from these forms of violence as well as the cost of correctional services, robbery, and judicial costs associated with crime, it is possible to measure the immediate cost of violence to the community.

The economic benefits are significant enough to show if the least peaceful U.S states were moderately more peaceful, say to the level of neighboring Canada, the country could generate more than $270 billion of additional economic activity. This level of additional economic activity could generate some 2.7 million jobs, effectively lowering the U.S unemployment rate by 20%. This economic stimulus would be worth significantly more than the tax relief provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The cost of violence data is supported by studies from the Centers for Disease Control, showing for each violent assault resulting in hospitalization, the average medical cost is in the region of $30,800, while productivity costs through the lost work time of the victim and those around them to be over $72,000. Likewise, the average cost to the state of incarcerating a person in the U.S. is $34,700 a year – not including the lost income tax revenue and productivity an employed person’s wage would have contributed to the economy during incarceration. These amounts exceed the average annual tuition fee for an MBA at a typical prestigious American university.

The economic cost of violence is also reinforced in a vicious cycle. As states incarcerate more individuals, greater proportions of discretionary spending is committed to judicial costs and correctional services, away from education, health and basic services. Poorer educational attainment then potentially leads to more violence in later years. This is clearly seen in states like California that spend significant amounts on correctional services and have had to recently make painful cuts to education funding. As a result, California today spends more on its prison system than it does on its higher education system.

This is without even counting several other expenses caused by violence or the fear of violence, such as higher insurance premiums, surveillance cameras, security guards, lost management time, the private legal costs associated with police and judicial proceedings. As a result, it is expected the true cost of violence would in fact be even greater.

While it is evidently desirable to lower violence in society, few studies have attempted to comprehensively analyze the true economic cost of violence at the state level in the United States. It is hoped by doing so lawmakers will see that reducing violence should not be seen as a subset of responsibilities for respective state Attorney Generals, but rather a key part of the nation’s economic policy.

The economic benefit of peace is clear – but why measure it and how is it measured?
While peace is a notoriously difficult term to define, the Index used a definition most people can agree with “the absence of violence”. Violence in our communities is often seen as a result of poor socialization, social alienation and deprivation, while the emotional outbursts associated with violent acts are often the result of unrealized expectations, failed relationships and a sense of frustration about immediate social and economic pressures. In this sense, the rate of violence can be seen as a proxy for social progress, as it can be reasonably accepted a society with people increasingly at war with each other on the interpersonal level, cannot be said to be a happy, successful or progressing.

The USPI is the first in a series of national indices that will produced by the IEP measuring levels of peacefulness within a nation by ranking regional areas and states by their levels of peacefulness. The composite measure of peace is calculated through aggregating five weighted indicators – Rate of Violent Crime, Rate of Homicide, Rate of Incarceration, Number of Police Officers and Availability of Small Arms.

Using data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Census, the Centers for Disease Control, and Bureau of Justice Statistics, the U.S. Peace Index aggregates a ‘peace’ score for each state from 1991 to 2009. Each state is then ranked by score, with lower scores reflecting a lower incidence of violence.

Overall, the USPI brings good news, showing from 1991 to 2009, the U.S has become more peaceful, with lower rates of violent crime, homicide and availability of small arms. While the fall in violence has dramatically dropped to levels not seen since the late 60s and early 70s, international comparisons show, in almost all of these categories, the U.S lags behind most other developed nations. Notably, the peace trend has been significantly offset by increases in both the rate of incarceration as well as the per prisoner cost.

The top five most peaceful states are all in the North - Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, and North Dakota (the full ranking is here). Since 1991, the rankings have been relatively clustered, with only 16 states being featured in the top 10, and 18 in the bottom 10.
The difference in scores between states highlights the large divergences between regions in terms of their relative levels of violence. These divergences in peace reflect the differences in social and economic outcomes as well as demographic differences. For instance, the state with the highest rate of homicide, Louisiana has 11.8 homicides per 100,000 people, whereas the state with the lowest, New Hampshire has a rate more than 11 times less at 0.75 homicides per 100,000. The divergences are similar with violent crime with Nevada’s rate of 696 incidents per 100,000 is some six times more than the lowest, Maine which has a rate of 117 incidents per 100,000.
The USPI shows these large differences are shared on critical social and economic indicators, as both Maine and New Hampshire have significantly higher proportions of their populations with at least a high school diploma, access to health insurance, access to basic services, along with lower teenage pregnancy rates, fewer children in single parent families and higher labor force participation rates. For instance, almost 30% fewer students graduate from high school in Nevada than do in New Hampshire.

To further the analysis, the USPI looked at how each state performed in over 37 key socio-economic indicators related to education, health, economic conditions, political attitudes and demographics. Of these 37 indicators, 15 were found to be statistically significant at the state level. This paints a clear picture of the type of environments associated with peace.

These included:
• the high school graduation rate
• the percentage of people with at least a high school diploma
• percentage of people without health insurance
• the teenage pregnancy rate
• teenage death rate
• percentage of children living in single parent families

Also including economic indicators such as;
• household income inequality
• the poverty rate
• perceptions of access to basic services
• the labor force participation rate.

Meanwhile, political affiliation, education funding per student and GSP per capita did not correlate with violence at the state level.
The upshot is – the better the outcomes in education and health, the lower the rate of poverty and income inequality, and greater the access to basic services, the more peaceful a state tends to be.

U.S. Peace Index - key correlations with violence

Incarceration not the only solution
The study finally suggests incarceration has not been achieving its principle aim of reducing violence. While there was a very strong relationship between decreasing violent crime and homicide rates alongside increasing incarceration during the 90s and early 2000s, that relationship has significantly diminished in the last ten years. This continued to the point whereby from 2004 to 2007, incarceration in fact increased alongside violent crime and homicide.
The data from the USPI suggest the way to move forward lies in directing investment towards outcomes that deliver equal opportunity, poverty alleviation and better outcomes in health and education.

The challenge now is to improve data collection and drive research that provides qualitative information further informing the relationship between violence and these social and economic indicators - not just in the U.S, but in the rest of the developed world as well. This can only become more pertinent at a time when the U.S is far from being the only developed nation facing serious budget constraints.

The economic cost of violence shows the strive for peace should not be an ideal simply confined to war-torn states in civil or cross border wars, but rather, a priority of all developed nations.

To download the full report, maps, charts and videos on the USPI, please visit the Vision of Humanity webiste. For more information on the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), please see the official IEP website.

Camilla Schippa and Daniel Hyslop

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The week that was and the week ahead – who’s saying what about progress

Would you believe that it’s only the 5th day of this month and already we feel it’s time to give you a media review?! We’ll be brief, but be warned- these are 5 days of progress you wouldn’t want to miss!

Gauging the Pain of the Middle Class (New York Times 02.04.2011)

This NYT article will also be a highlight of our month. A great piece on what the author deems the ‘Toli Index’- which shows the median number of hours an earner needs to work in order to be able to afford to live in a decent area that has access to a school of at least average quality.

Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% (Vanity Fair 01.04.2011)

Joe Stiglitz amazes again with his wonderful way of articulating inequality statistics. This is an article not to be missed, not only because it is exquisitely written and captivating in true Stiglitz style, but because it is something that each and everyone of us can relate to.

Overtaking (The Economist 01.04.2011)

The US and China must have been highlighted in almost every single edition of the Economist for at least the last 8 years. This article shows how wonderfully diverse our friends at the Economist are and how they can shed light on things we would never even consider thinking about. Competitive lawn-mowing… really?!

Alright, so this one doesn’t quite make the deadline of 5 days- but if you read it I’m sure you’ll understand why I slipped it in. Posted at the end of last month, this blog looks at the role wellbeing plays in the future of development.

A quick look to the week ahead- tomorrow the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) will launch the first ever United States Peace Index (USPI) that will rank 50 states according to their peacefulness. The index aims to identify the key drivers of peace by state and will analyse the economic benefits of peace. IEP President Camilla Schippa will blog in detail about this index at the end of the week… stay tuned! 

Philippa Lysaght