Monday, 23 July 2012

Olympic super humans and the epidemic of child obesity

From July 26 until August 12, the world’s attention will be turned to London for the 2012 Olympic Games. Images of fit and healthy individuals will be blasted into our homes by way of the world’s media and many of us will spend the duration of the Games in awe of these super human individuals whose physical and mental strength is quite beyond comprehension. Whilst these super humans provide good role models for us adults, they provide even better ones for children. They also have the potential to play a key role in addressing one of the world’s most widespread epidemics - child obesity.

Like the Olympics, childhood obesity is of interest to all countries as in recent years, this global epidemic has escalated with trends for overweight and obesity increasing in both developed and developing countries (Flynn McNeill Maloff et al, 2006) and as Jamie Oliver says in his 2011 TED talk, ‘We have an awful, awful reality right now’.

  • Approximately 42 million children under five were estimated to be overweight or obese in 2010, almost 35 million of whom live in developing countries (NOO, 2012).
  • In Mexico 1 in 3 children is overweight (Malkin E, 2011) and in Brazil the rate of overweight and obese children increased from 4% in the 1980s to 14% in the 1990s.
  • In the United States, child and adolescent obesity levels nearly tripled between the early 1980’s and the 2000’s and in Canada, levels in boys alone increased from 11-30% from the 1980‘s to the 90’s (Flynn McNeill Maloff et al, 2006).

For children obesity can have emotional and psychological impacts and lead to life threatening conditions including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure among others. A 2008 study found that obese children had prematurely aged neck arteries which were more typical of a 45 year old as opposed to someone their own age (CTV, 2008). Caused by poor diet and physical inactivity, childhood obesity is fuelled by environmental and in some cases genetic factors with obesity in parents posing the greatest risk factor to children (Cole, 2006).

These figures are concerning, not only for the long term impacts that the persistence of this epidemic will have on the health of the world’s population and ultimately their productivity, but also because of the speed with which it is growing. The OECD’s Better Life Index reports that in 21 of the 34 OECD countries, more than 50% of the adult population is overweight or obese and that over the past 20 years rates of obesity have more than doubled in these countries (OECD, 2012).

Many countries have taken action. Starting in 2006, the UK which has one of the highest rates among European countries, introduced new nutritional guidelines to drive improvements in child health and reduce child obesity. New legislation was drawn up on the amount of junk food allowed to be sold in school canteens and there has been a rise in the popularity of traditional school dinners, which now meeting nutritional standards ensure children receive 1 balanced meal per day (Paton, 2010). Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has been a frontline campaigner for this change as he discusses in the aforementioned TED Talk.

The implications of this growing epidemic are alarming. In the context of the upcoming Olympic Games, governments’ worldwide should take the opportunity to acknowledge the gravity of child obesity which affects an estimated 10% of children globally (Bessesen, 2008). They should leverage off the Olympic super human role models and reignite efforts to address childhood obesity to give children a fair chance in life, right from the beginning.

Bessesen Dh 2008, Update on obesity, J.Clin. Endocrinol. Metab, 93 (6):2027-34

Cole T 2006, Early Causes of Childhood Obesity and Implications for Prevention,, [Accessed 10.07.2012]

CTV, 2008, Obese kids have arteries of 45-year-olds: study,, 11 November 2008, [Accessed 10.07.2012]

Flynn MA, McNeil DR, Maloff B, et al 2006, Reducing obesity and related chronic disease risk in children and youth: a synthesis of evidence with 'best practice' recommendations, Obes Rev 7 (Suppl 1): 7–66, (February 2006), [Accessed 10.07.2012]

Malkin E 2011, Mexico Puts Its Children on a Diet,, NY Times 13 March 2011, [Accessed 10.07.2012]

National Obesity Observatory 2012, International Prevalence,, [Accessed 10.07.2012]

OECD, 2012, Better Life Index, Health,

Paton G, Jamie Oliver Inspires School Dinner Revival, The Telegraph, 08, 07, 2010,

Friday, 20 July 2012

Week in review

Hello, thanks for tuning in again for this week’s edition of the Week in Review. This week we are focusing on the role that information and communications technology (ICTs) plays in progress and how we can use the data that is procured from various communication devices for measuring progress.

Report released:

This week, the World Bank released the 2012 edition of Information and Communication for Development with a focus on the use of mobile phone technology. Around three-quarters of global population now have access to a mobile phone; the significance of developments in the mobile communications story is not about the phone itself, but about how it is used.
Read highlights and download the full report: Information and Communication Technology for Development - Maximizing Mobile

On big data

Mobile phone data - the oil of the digital age (The Guardian 19.07.2012)
In keeping with this week’s theme of mobile technology, this article focuses on the real-time data that reflects the behaviour of emerging markets and the role that mobile phones can play in the newly emerged field of big data.

Number crunch:

Worldwide Mobile subscriptions have grown from 1 billion in 2000 to over 6 billion in 2012, of which 5 billion are in developing countries.

Data on Women

Officials Decry “Appalling Gaps” in Global Data on Women (IPS 19.07.2012)
This week the World Bank and U.S. government announced new initiatives to develop knowledge on the experience of women around the world. Both recognised the impact that the ‘global data gap’ has on women and the importance of filling that gap.


Speaking about global data gap, Hillary Clinton said: “For too many countries, we lack reliable and regular data on even the basic facts about the lives of women and girls – facts like when they have their first child, how many hours of paid and unpaid work they do, whether they own the land they farm. And since women make up half the population, that’s like having a black hole at the centre of our data-driven universe.” (source: IPS Gender Wire)

That’s all from me this week. I hope to see you again next week- in the meantime if anything interesting catches your eye please send it via Twitter, Facebook or email.

Yours in Progress,
Philippa Lysaght

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Child Development Index 2012

So, the Child Development Index 2012: Progress, Challenges and Inequality is out. Launched in 2008 as a complement to the Human Development Index, the CDI is designed to capture progress in child well-being. The index combines measures of health, education and nutrition, for 141 countries, tracking across three periods: 1995-1999, 2000-2004, and 2005-2010.

What does the report say? Here’s the good news: over a decade or so, from the late 1990s, there has been substantial progress. By the late 2000s, the chances of a child going to school were one-third higher, while the chances of their dying before their fifth birthday were one-third lower. Child well-being improved in 90% of the countries where we had data (that’s 127 countries). Across each indicator, and especially in the poorest countries, there was a striking and welcome acceleration in progress in the most recent period.

And the bad news? Above all, it is that progress on nutrition has been feeble in comparison with the other two components. When we looked at wasting (the more responsive measure of under-nutrition), it actually showed a rise – of 1.5 million children, compared with the early 2000s. Increasingly then, under-nutrition looks like the biggest challenge to child well-being – or at the least, the worst performing component of the index.

So that’s the progress and the challenges, leaving one element of the subtitle – inequality. At the most basic level, for a given average per capita income, a distribution that favours the poorest households will be associated with less under-nutrition. Just a few weeks ago we published a report on social protection, A Chance to Grow, showing that – following a World Bank methodology – transfers costing just 1.5% of GDP in low- and middle-income countries would take tens of millions out of under-nutrition.

In the CDI we looked at different possible relationships. Using household survey data, we compared national average nutrition outcomes with the extent of inequality on the same outcomes between the strongest and weakest performing groups. The graph below shows the scatterplot for national underweight prevalence and the prevalence gap between household wealth quintiles – and it’s worth noting that there seemed to be a similar pattern for different nutrition outcomes (stunting and wasting as well as underweight prevalence) and different dimensions of inequality (urban-rural and maternal education level as well as household wealth).

 Needless to say, the report contains a great deal more information on how countries and regions perform, a comparison with the Human Development Index, and the continuing weaknesses in the underlying data (on which note – many thanks to Terry McKinley and Giovanni Cozzi from CDPR at SOAS for the number-crunching and comments).

I’ll return to some of this in later posts, but in the meantime you can find the full report here – comments most welcome. 

Alex Cobham
Save the Children 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

What would it cost to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)…USD 120 billion?

The 2015 deadline to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) raises the question of what it will cost and who will fund meeting the MDGs. Analysis reveals that achieving the MDGs is at least as much about policies as about financing.

About a 100 of us, mainly OECD staff turned up to listen to the discussion on What would it take to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (#MDGs) by 2015?” on 11 July 2012 in Paris. This was the 4th DAC Development debate, a joint venture between The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and DevelopmentCo-operation Directorate (DCD). For the first hour we were presented with the main findings of the Development Centres’ study Canwe still achieve the Millennium Development Goals? From cost to policies.” OECD, April 2012.  

The aim of the study was to:

a) revisit the cost estimations of the Millennium Development Goals to which development agencies contributed during the early 2000s and

b) provide an assessment of developing countries’ own capacity to fund additional development investment through domestic resources (taxes in particular) and external resources such as FDI, remittances, private donations and aid.
This means moving away from a donor-centric approach and focusing more on each country’s individual resources and capacities to achieve the MDGs.

The study highlighted the following policy implications:

1. The financial cost of meeting the MDGs related to poverty, education and health is in the order of USD 120 billion. This would imply a tripling of the current level of country programmable aid, i.e. the portion of aid that actually goes from OECD countries to partner countries.

2. As Aid is unlikely to rise to meet this funding gap by 2015, countries will need to find new sources of funding and make better use of existing ones. Therefore, the quality of public policies and institutions are important to meet the MDGs. Tax collection, public expenditure and the investment climate must continue to improve in developing countries. But to succeed, we need the political will and also we need policy coherence and aid effectiveness.

3. One size does not fit all to fund the MDGs. The challenges countries face, and their capacity to meet them, vary considerably. In upper middle-income countries with annual income above USD 4 000 per person, tax potential estimates show that there is enough room to stimulate tax collection to achieve the MDGs.

4. Middle-income countries have to look more at inequality than the lack of resources. The goals are affordable domestically using targeted cash transfers and spending on poverty, education and health.

5. In other developing countries, as institutional reforms take years to bear fruit, tax revenue mobilisation is not a short-term solution.

6. Official Development Assistance is expected to remain at current levels for the future. And that is the best-case scenario. More than ever, aid will need to be complemented by private capital, development cooperation among countries of the South, remittances from migrants and private donations.

7. The main challenge is to ensure that all these resources contribute to sustainable, inclusive growth and to social development.

I assume that many, like myself wondered what had happened over the last 12 years… In 2000, the international community came together to agree upon the MDGs and in so doing committed itself to working together to put an end to poverty, hunger, disease and lack of adequate shelter by 2015. The initial determination and drive had gone, and it somehow felt like this last stretch was going to be a challenge, as if there just wasn't much momentum left.

Also, can and should one really put a price tag on such things…what’s the cost of resolving climate change, conflicts in fragile countries? The MDGs were conceived to be met at a global level, but the last 12 years have shown the limitations of this approach, such as the difficulty in adopting the right time-frame, determining costs and official development assistance (ODA).

Now twelve years later, hundreds of millions of people have moved out of extreme poverty mainly thanks to high growth in large countries such as Brazil, China and India. However, the challenges of fighting extreme poverty in all countries and of achieving the MDGs remain.

The Bottom Line
So, USD 120 billion is needed to achieve six of the key MDGs but that’s more than the size of the official development assistance that can be raised in the foreseeable future. Yet, it is not insurmountable if the whole range of development resources is fully mobilised.

David McNair of Save the Children (content partner on Wikiprogress) in his Guardian Blog, “Who's going to pay for the MDGs?” argues that “Aid alone is not enough, but transparency and accountability are essential if tax revenues are to be used to plug the financing gap”

Well, sitting in that room I felt like we would need far more than what both the study above and McNair propose, the international community will have to find some of that initial passion and motivation if we are to have any chance of achieving the MDGs in the final home run. 

Finally there are important lessons that must be drawn from experiences so far for the designers of the framework that follows on from the MDGs – it must be a framework that tackles inequality as well as poverty and factors in how different components of well-being (income, health, etc.) contribute to people's  personal sense of how their lives are and what they value in their lives.

Salema Gulbahar 
Wikiprogress Co-ordinator

Friday, 13 July 2012

Early stimulation and micronutrients interventions: the next frontiers to break the cycle of child poverty

Why should we put more money into early childhood development interventions? Does this help children in secondary education? Should we invest in preschool programmes or more in home stimulation or parenting classes? What is most cost-effective?  These are key questions that policymakers are grappling with at a time when early childhood development is emerging as a priority issue for many developing countries.
Evidence recently presented at a 3ie UCL conference on “Promises for Preschoolers” is clearly calling for more investment in young lives at an early age. These are crucial years where strategic investments can make a huge difference in generating success in adulthood.
More than 200 million children under the age of five in developing countries are not fulfilling their developmental potential. Currently the focus has been more on pre-schoolers  from age three to six, but there are some gaps that emerge quite early in children from zero to three.
For Sally Grantham McGregor who is a leading expert in the field and led a long-term evaluation of a large scale home visit intervention in Jamaica and now recently in Colombia, early stimulation can have significant benefits for the child’s development, education and long-term livelihood. In the case of Jamaica, preliminary findings reveal that these positive effects also rub off the next generation  (view interview with Sally Grantham McGregor on early stimulation).
“The trade-off is not between investing in children under three as opposed to pre-schoolers, but at the moment the money is not going to the under three”. Grantham McGregor also stressed that nutrition interventions can benefit children development if conducted before the child turns two and early stimulation is critical till age five.
While there is growing evidence on the impact of early childhood development, 3ie Executive Director Howard White said “we need more evidence to show the long term effects of such interventions in reducing poverty. 3ie is also planning to finance more follow-up evaluations to see if the benefits are sustained through to second grade and in later life.” (view interview with Howard White from the Promises for Preschoolers conference).
Micronutrients supplementation is another type of intervention that can provide tremendous gain for children suffering from malnutrition, particularly in countries in Africa and South Asia.  DfID Chief Economist Stefan Dercon called this the “next frontier”. “We still have an awful lot to do in the space of under nutritional stunting and this is where I think we know increasingly what to do and how to do it” (view video “Micronutrients: the next frontier?”).
However, Jere Behrman from University of Pennsylvenia pointed out that “one has to pay much more attention to the context and look at tailoring the type of intervention to the specific needs and demand in the country”. Orazio Attanasio from University College London also said “there are big challenges in nutrition intervention both because the child may be affected by parasites and because administering the right supplements can be difficult in the field and mothers may not give them to their children” (view video  interview with Orazio Attanasio on the next frontier for early childhood development).
For Orazio Attanasio the “gap is to start thinking of integrated intervention and how one can design a programme where you start very early and follow the child when he or she gets to school. There you need to engage and coordinate with different ministries and agencies”.
Christelle Chapoy
3ie International Initiative for Impact Evaluation

Week in review

Thanks for tuning in for this week’s edition of the Week in Review. It has been an interesting week in the progress world with a lot of news coverage on the link between income and well-being, inequality and progress driven by women. 

Why measure subjective well-being? (OECD Observer 12.07.2012)Richard Layard, Director of the Wellbeing Programme at the London School of Economics, writes about the importance of having a single metric to measure progress; he warns that disagreement about what this metric should be could lead to inaction.

The Opportunity Gap (New York Times 09.07.2012)A study released by Putnum this week focuses on measuring inequality to opportunity amongst children in an attempt to foresee inequality over the next few decades. An interesting trend revealed that a generation ago, working-class parents spent slightly more time with their kids than college-educated parents. Now college-educated parents spend an hour more every day.

2012 Food Security Index Released (The Reuters 12.07.2012)The 2012 edition of the Global Food Security Index, released by the Economist, found that the US, Denmark, Norway and France led the world in food security, while the least secure nations are mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

World population day
On Wednesday the world celebrated World Population with an estimated 7,058,000,000 of us. With 222 million women lacking access to effective family planning (who would like to avoid or delay pregnancy), the theme for this year was universal access to reproductive health services. Contribute to the Wikiprogress article on progress and population.

Progress in Rwanda
Eighteen years after the tragic genocide, Rwanda is now one of Africa’s fastest growing economies and has made significant progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Rwanda's women now have a voice and it is being heard across the nation. The country now ranks number one in the world in terms of highest participation of women in Parliament, with more than 56 percent representation.

That’s all from me this week. I hope to see you again next week- in the meantime if anything interesting catches your eye this week please send it on via Twitter, Facebook or email.

Yours in Progress,
Philippa Lysaght

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Misconception? The uncontroversial truth about family planning

Family planning saves lives. A simple fact, but one that often gets missed when discussing an issue that divides opinion like no other in international development. Navigating a path through the various sensitivities is a challenge - particularly for an organization whose raison d’etre, at first glance, may seem at odds with the aims of family planning.

But we know that when women are able to plan their pregnancies and leave a healthy space between their children it benefits mother and baby. The mother is able to recover between births and her baby is likely to be better nourished, healthier and more able to survive infancy. Better birth spacing holds the key to preventing around 1.8 million deaths each year.

We also know that pregnancy and childbirth is the number one killer of adolescent girls in the developing world and that around a million babies born to these young mothers die every year. In this case, a lack of access to family planning all too often results in the death of two children – one infant and one mother who is still a child herself.

We’ve come a long way in improving the number of children who survive to their fifth birthday and in reducing maternal mortality. In order to sustain and accelerate progress towards the millennium development goals - and beyond – global efforts must include increasing access to family planning. This means providing women with reliable access to a variety of modern family planning methods along with trained health workers to provide the advice and expert care needed.

But that is only half the story.  In order for women and girls to be able to decide freely and for themselves whether, when and how many children they want to have they must be empowered to use contraception. As the title of our report states, family planning is Every Woman’sRight, but for many girls and women, discussing contraception is a taboo - and using it even more so. Education is key to empowerment and having the right policies and practices in place at a national level is also vital to can protect women and ensure them an equal status in society.

When it comes to family planning, with so many elephants in the room all stamping loudly, it can be difficult to tell a straightforward story. But increasing access to family planning is about more than just a lifestyle choice –  children’s lives depend on it.

Kathryn Rawe
Advocacy Adviser – Child Survival
Save the Children UK 

See Wikigender's Special Focus, 'UK Family Planning Summit', for information on current activities and further news on family planning.  

Monday, 9 July 2012

Week in Review

Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of the week in review. See a selection of highlights that caught our attention this week.

Quote of the week:

“The time is ripe for our measurement system to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being. And measures of well-being should be put in a context of sustainability.” Nic Marks, The Happiness Manifesto

Sustainable Development Goals: UN must take simple, sensible approach (Guardian 03.07.2012)
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set to proceed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, will be hugely dependent on support from emerging and developing countries. While the vision for these goals is still being formed, three key elements at the heart of the SDGs remain unchanged: equality, sustainability and accountability.
Contribute to the Wikiprogress article on the Sustainable Development Goals  

Act Now Save Later
Act Now Save Later, a new campaign launched this week, encourages us to start preparing now for future natural disasters.  Chief for Crisis Prevention and Recovery at the UNDP has called for  disaster risk reduction to be at the heart of future development strategies.

Number Crunch:
Almost 1 million people killed and 2 billion affected by natural disasters since 2000; the damage bill is over $1 trillion dollars.

Source: UNDP, 2012

We hope you tune in the same time next week; in the meantime, stay up-to-date on the Wikiprogress Facebook page.

Yours in Progress,

Philippa Lysaght

Friday, 6 July 2012

Cash transfers, hand outs or life lines for disadvantaged children

Children left behind by the economy and social fabric face issues which may persist throughout the course of their lives. Investment which addresses disadvantage and inequality experienced in the early years of an individual’s life has significant long term economic and social returns.

Child sensitive social protection measures are important tools for assisting those children left behind as well, mitigating shocks, including economic, social and natural stresses and crises which often have a disproportionate impact on all children. Cash transfers are one social protection measure that have had widespread success, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A study by the London School of Economics which focused specifically on Uruguay and children's birth outcomes found that participation in a generous cash transfer program contributed to a 15% reduction in the incidence of low birth weight (Amarante V et al, 2011). Further a study by the International Development Bank which focused on a program for young children in Nicaragua, found that cash transfers had a positive effect on child development, specifically regarding their cognitive development, and that there was no 'fade out' of impacts 2 years after the program and the transfers stopped (Macours K et al, 2008).

Interestingly within this project no evidence was found to suggest that child development outcomes were better for households who received larger transfers, however other factors such as the social awareness marketing that accompanied the program and giving the transfers to women were deemed to have significantly contributed to the positive outcomes (Macours K et al, 2008). Another study conducted in Europe also found that with cash transfers, when assessing income poverty scores, the size of the transfer wasn’t the most influential factor and that its design and relevance to context were also of great importance (Social Protection Committee, 2012).

Cash transfers are not perceived as effective strategies the world over. Indeed in some developed and developing country contexts, they are perceived as simple hand outs which nurture dependency. Independent of these opinions, when considered specifically in relation to children who experience disadvantage and inequality, their effectiveness at averting and addressing lifelong damage makes them a worthwhile investment.

Amarante V et al (2011) Do Cash Transfers Improve Birth Outcomes? Evidence from Matched Vital Statistics, Social Security and Program Data, London School of Economics

Macours K et al (2008) Cash Transfers, Behavioural Changes, and the Cognitive Development of Young Children: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment, International Development Bank

Social Protection Committee (2012) SPC Advisory Report to the European Commission on Tackling and Preventing Child Poverty, Promoting Child well-being, European Commission, 27 June 2012

Hannah Chadwick
Wikichild Coordinator

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A positive development at Rio

Though a disappointment for anyone hoping for decisive global action to tackle climate change, there were encouraging moves towards alternative measures of progress.

The outcome of this month's Rio summit was a major disappointment - not just for the thousands of representatives of civil society who had devoted months in preparation, but anyone who hoped for a decisive intergovernmental solution to tackling climate change. As George Monbiot argued this week, "it is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war".

One positive commitment to emerge from the summit, however, can be found in paragraphs 245-251 of the 'Future we Want' text, which lay out the intention to develop a set of measurable Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to take us beyond the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. These SDGs should be “concise and easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries”.

What types of indicator might fulfil these criteria? nef’s Happy Planet Index, the third edition of which was launched two weeks ago, is not far off.

It uses a headline measure of sustainable well-being - the efficiency with which countries use ecological resources to achieve long, happy lives for the people that live in them. It is a single, easy to understand, indicator that frames sustainability not just in terms of reducing environmental impact, but also in terms of achieving good lives. It is also applicable to all countries, in that it is not just about avoiding the negative, but achieving the positive. This all chimes with what economist Jeffrey Sachs said recently in an interview to the Guardian: “the SDGs could be transformative for society because they can fire up the public imagination.” At the same time they should be “simple so that even a child can understand them.”

In parallel to the development of the SDGs, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has also committed itself to developing a new index of sustainable human development. In a speech, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark noted that “equity, dignity, happiness and sustainability” are all absent from GDP. She identified nef’s Happy Planet Index as one of the starting points in developing a new measure, alongside the UNDP’s own Human Development Index (HDI).

We believe these kinds of initiatives can genuinely make a difference. They have the potential to foster a new understanding of progress, not just amongst NGOs and development agencies, but governments and ordinary citizens. If they move us towards a world where middle-income nations such as Brazil and India see their objective to be sustainable well-being, and not just double-digit growth figures; if they meant wealthy nations did not equate sustainability with sacrifice but instead consistent with well-being; these would be steps in the right direction.

Saamah Abdallah
Researcher, Centre for Well-being, nef
(This post first appeared on the new economics foundation website)

Monday, 2 July 2012

Thoughts on European Progress

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.

Angela Hariche
OECD, Head of Well-being Networks

The Conference gathered around 270 policy makers, statisticians, academics, and other stakeholders from the European region who have a specific interest in the field. Its purpose was to deepen on-going reflection on how to measure well-being and the progress of societies, enhance the relevance of measures and analysis for addressing key policy issues, and lead to concrete outputs, such as establishing frameworks for future co-operation.