19/10/2012 - A major step forward towards putting the measurement of well-being at the heart of policy-making was taken at a four-day international conference which ended in New Delhi today.
Experts and policy makers from fields as diverse as the environment, development, health and education, discussed the progress achieved and improvements needed in the way we monitor and analyse our changing societies. The OECD’s World Forum on Measuring Well-Being for Policy-Making and Development also took stock of the substantial level of work being undertaken internationally to broaden our notions and assessment of progress beyond the limits of traditional indicators such as GDP (gross domestic product).
OECD Chief Statistician Martine Durand said developing new indicators was well advanced in a number of areas, such as the material conditions of households, in several quality of life domains and in the field of environmental accounting. But she added that major measurement challenges remain – both at the conceptual level (governance and social cohesion) and at the more technical level (GDP and prices; inequalities and mental health). Ensuring the timeliness of important indicators was also critical, she said.
Pointing out that India's per capita GDP is 10 per cent of the OECD average, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of India’s Planning Commission emphasized the particular challenge facing developing nations:
“At this level of per capita income, there is no question that doubling or tripling the GDP would go a long way towards meeting many of the multi-dimensional objectives that contribute to well-being. At India's income level, ignoring GDP entirely would be impossible. But GDP simply measures goods produced. It does not measure the negative externalities, such as damage to the environment and bio-diversity, pollution, and over-exhaustion of limited natural resources. These problems have now reached a scale where they cannot be ignored.”
Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University’s Earth Institute warned of the dangers of neglecting the ecological dangers facing the planet. “If you are not scared, you are not well-informed,” he said and called for accurate and systematic monitoring of man’s impact on the environment.
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said the economic and financial crisis had meant policy-makers must learn from previous mistakes. Referring to the OECD’s ‘Better Life Initiative’, he said: “We have put the notion of well-being beyond just GDP to incorporate other dimensions like the quality of the environment, health, the strength of communities and the responsiveness of our institutions. Measuring progress also takes into account equity considerations and sustainability.”
Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said: “Our metrics are important not just because they tell us how we are doing but because they serve as guides in policy-making.”
A statement issued at the conclusion of the conference said a strengthened link between statistics, knowledge and policy requires engagement from civil society, the business community, statisticians, academics, and politicians. Read the concluding statement.
>> See also: http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/.