In October 2007, we can look forward to seeing the first release of The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW). GPI Atlantic describes it as a "tool that will redefine what it means to have a truly prosperous economy, in a way that captures the public imagination and stimulates the everyday ‘water cooler chat’."
The CIW project asks you to:
Imagine an index:
- That distinguishes between good things like health and clean air, and bad things, like sickness and pollution;
- That promotes volunteer work and unpaid care-giving as social goods, and overwork and stress as social deficits;
- That puts a value on educational achievement, early childhood learning, economic and personal security, a clean environment, and social and health equity;
- That values a better balance between investment in health promotion and spending on illness treatment.
The CIW is that type of measuring stick. It is being built by a team of national and international experts, in partnership with leaders from the business, health and community sectors, around indicators that measure the extent to which we are realizing our values and goals as a society and whether we are leaving the world
a better place for our children.
For more information, see Canadian Index of Wellbeing: Measuring What Matters (PDF document). This is part of a global trend to "measure what matters" -- moving beyond traditional indicators of economic activity to trying to understand the important aspects of a community, which are much more closely linked to concepts of sustainability, quality of life, and even happiness.
Peter Conway, CTU Economist, writes:
[D]o the statistics we regularly use actually measure what matters? As Albert Einstein said “not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted, counts”. For instance Marilyn Waring, in her seminal book, Counting for Nothing, argues that monetary value needs to be attributed to unpaid work — productive and reproductive. Recently there has been more and more debate about how to measure sustainability and wellbeing. The Canadians are establishing an Index of Wellbeing which will measure: living standards, time allocation, healthy populations, ecosystem health, educated populace, community vitality and civic engagement. The first release is in October 2007.
Professor Richard Layard from the London School of Economics describes GDP as a hopeless measure of welfare and says it makes more sense to measure happiness. He argues that happiness is like noise – there are many different types but you can measure the decibels. There is also a Human Development Index which measures the average achievements across life expectancy at birth, adult literacy, and a decent standard of living as measured by GDP per capita in purchasing power parity. The GPI or Genuine Progress Indicator uses 26 social, economic, and environmental variables. The GPI assigns explicit value to environmental quality, population health, livelihood security, equity, free time, and educational attainment. It values unpaid voluntary and household work as well as paid work. It counts sickness, crime and pollution as costs not gains.
Some progress has been made in New Zealand with the MSD Social Report which also focuses on wellbeing. It has 10 areas which are measures and 42 indicators. The areas include: health, knowledge and skills, paid work, economic standard of living, civil and political rights, cultural identity, leisure and recreation, physical environment, safety, and social connectedness. And the Local Government Act requires a collaborative process every 6 years to identify community outcomes and for a report from 2009 every three years on whether or not the outcomes have been achieved.
Many of us involved in what Enrico Giovannini of the OECD described as the "global movement" of community indicators are faced with similar questions -- how do we measure what matters? This national efforts provide broad answers to these questions which we can then apply on a more intimate community level. If we're in the business of measuring, we ought to continually ask ourselves if we're measuring what matters most.