Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Yes We Can and Yes We Must! Measuring Well-being and Progress in Developing Countries

This article, by Salema Gulbahar is part of the Wikiprogress series on the Global Forum for Development 2013 and post-2015, it reports specifically on the “Measuring Well-being and Progress in Developing Countries” session at the Forum.

Martine Durand opened the session and outlined the key questions to be addressed by the three panellists (full profiles below):
  1. Does it make sense to talk about a more holistic approach to development when millions of people in developing countries still confronting extreme poverty and have unmet need for basic services including food, shelter and basic health care?
  2. What is the relationship between concepts such as poverty, social cohesion and progress?
  3. Can well-being be measured in countries that have less developed statistical systems, and what have been the specific challenges for Morocco and Mexico as they endeavored to do this? 

Photo by OECD/Christian Moutarde of  Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President, Federal Republic of Nigeria

“Yes we can and yes we must” measure development using a more holistic approach insisted Allister McGregor. There is a need for a common framework to assess and measure development for well-being in developed and developing countries as the boundaries between the two are becoming blurred.  The OECD provides a conceptual framework that can be taken and applied to individual country context. People’s well-being and aspiration can be expressed in most languages. 

Conceptually what is happening?
Income has been substituted for well-being and it was assumed that growth will deliver well-being for everyone but this is not so. To deliver well-being for everyone a  multi-dimensional approach is required. This does not replace existing measures as people still need food, shelter and water. Well-being is achieved though relationships, thus one needs to understand that well-being is a social concept. Methodological innovations are important as previously we suffered from ‘one size fits all’ idea.

"If people are what development is about, why do we not put them at the heart of our thinking and our measurement of development? "Allister McGregor.

Decision makers need to take the voices off the poor into consideration.  We need systemized, regular consultation, to include these voices in the global conversation – a bottom up approach. But everyone wants something different, so political systems need to be able to integrate the voices of people that are never heard, with a vision of where we are going ultimately. We should use human well-being as a focal point as it goes beyond income.

Gerardo Leyva Parra addressed the challenges for Mexico in developing well-being measures.  The first challenge was convincing people within the institution that measuring well-being beyond GDP and happiness in Mexico was possible and not only for developed countries.  They realised the potential for using well-being as a key tool in the measurement of development in Mexico.

Finding specific indicators was a challenge and thus the discussions were taken outside the walls of the institutions, involving government officials, think tanks, civil society and the private sector.  This continuous dialogue is essential and the need to be able to communicate that going beyond GDP and measuring happiness does not mean forgetting about basic material needs. The next step is to ensure that the new indicators are integrated and taken up by decision makers.

There is also a need to look at subjective well-being statistics from a positive rather than normative perspective. The micro data of subjective well-being surveys can provide valuable insights about the drivers that allow some people to live happy, more satisfactory and meaningful lives than others.

Mexico: Key learning from the process: 
  1. Develop relevant indicators, with all stakeholder involved in the decision
  2. Communicate the measuring progress beyond GDP concept
  3. Keep in touch with relevant stakeholder with continuous dialogue to ensure indicators stay pertinent.
Providing decision maker with the data necessary to allow them to make informed decision about people’s well-being.

Khalid Soudi discussed the Morocco experience. Since the 1990s, the country has developed qualitative questions and found a divergence between the indicators and the perspective of the population. Thus a gap emerges between the finding of objective and subjective well-being responses, this highlights the importance of capturing people’s views.  

Morocco has three elements in its approaches and the global objective of providing decision maker with the data necessary allow them to make informed decision about people’s well-being:
  • Social economic indicators – it has developed pallet of indicators on different dimension of well-being (the choices were dependent on the population – legitimized by people).
  • Quality of life measurements - taking into account the affects and constraints people face and how this contributes to people’s well-being generally.
  • Subjective well-being with different domains.

For several years, the HCP has been collecting and analysing qualitative data on public perceptions of their economic and social realities by:
  • Including modules and subjective questions, of quantitative nature in regular surveys
  • Conducting qualitative surveys (business, household, economic, survey companies etc. on the perception of the development of living standards).
  • Implementing several analytical projects combining objective and subjective perceptions of the population data.
  • Calculating and publishing the quarterly index of consumer confidence.
Morocco carried out a national study that included:
  • a sample of: 3,200 people aged 15 years and older (including 2,080 in urban areas),
  • a household questionnaire on socio- demographic characteristics of its members and living conditions,
  • an Individual questionnaire on well-being (given to one adult per household) and
  • a classification of fields and factors of well-being that were developed and validated on the basis a pilot survey.

Three groups of well-being dimensions were identified (see slide): 1) material well-being -  housing and income, 2) social domain - employment, health and education and 3) societal domain - family life and social environment including cultural, spiritual and recreation aspect of life.

See the full presentation, here.

Read the full background paper: Measuring Well-Being for Development

The session was moderated by: Ms. Martine Durand, Chief Statistician and Director of Statistics Directorate, OECD

Panelists included:
  • Mr. Khalid Soudi, Observatoire des Conditions de Vie de la Population, Haut Commissariat au Plan, Morocco (Download PPT)
  • Mr. Allister McGregor, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), United Kingdom
  • Mr. Gerardo Leyva Parra, Deputy Director General for Research, National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), Mexico  

Watch the video broadcast of the Forum, here.

Salema Gulbahar
(Wikiprogress Coordinator)

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