Charting progress, building visions, improving life - Opening remarks by OECD Secretary-General


Opening remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, at the 3rd OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy

27 October 2009, Busan, Korea

President Lee, President Türk, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the 3rd OECD World Forum on “Statistics, Knowledge and Policy”, in this beautiful and hospitable city of Busan.

The presence of nearly 2000 participants from all over the world here today, including two distinguished Heads of State, several Ministers, heads of international agencies and civil society leaders, confirms that we are addressing a highly important issue. 

I want to thank the authorities of the Republic of Korea, in particular Statistics Korea - the co-organiser and hosting institution - for their hospitality and their efficiency in organising this event.

Social progress is the main goal of public policy, indicators, the main compass. A Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies was launched in Istanbul in 2007 and it is now hosted by the OECD. The measurement of well-being and progress is at the forefront of political attention, especially now, when decision-makers are facing a myriad of crucial challenges.

The worst economic crisis in 70 years may be coming to an end. At least that is what official statistics are telling us. But many people have lost their jobs, their homes, their pensions and the human and social cost of the crisis continues to climb.

We are also facing a crisis of confidence. Restoring trust will depend on real improvements in people’s everyday lives. The crisis has revealed the growing gap between official statistics and people’s perceptions of their standards of living. We need tools to measure what is going on in our society - where we are progressing, where we are failing and what are the consequences of our actions. There is nothing wrong with the quality of the indicators, but some of them are not looking at what matters.

Today, too much emphasis is put on measuring GDP, and not enough on assessing our well-being. If we are concerned about the progress of our societies, should we not be looking more closely at a broader set of measures - at how resilient and supportive our communities are or at the state of the environment? This is where the most important work needs to be done in the aftermath of the crisis. To raise confidence, we need indicators measuring what we value as a society.

The political momentum for change is building. An international commission set up by French President Nicolas Sarkozy has published a series of recommendations for future work on measuring social progress. Then, at their Pittsburgh Summit in September, G20 leaders called for an improvement in measurement methods “to better take into account the social and environmental dimensions of economic development.”

Today, international experts, politicians, civil society and business leaders gather here in Busan to make this political impulse a reality. Our mission is to improve statistics so that they meet the needs of citizens and give a more accurate picture of society. The OECD will play a key role in moving this project forward.

For if official statistics are missing important aspects of what is happening in people’s lives, we run the risk of flawed data misleading economic policy. Statistics are not an end in themselves. Their importance lies in the policy discussions they stimulate as much as the evidence they provide.

We have a difficult task ahead of us. But seeing such distinguished guests and experts gathered here today fills me with hope that we are on the right track.