New measure of prosperity for Scotland: Oxfam Humankind Index Reply

Oxfam, the UK’s leading aid and development charity, has launched a new index for measuring quality of life and social justice in Scotland – the Oxfam Humankind Index (HMI). The index, developed by the Oxfam’s Scotland Office, is largely based on information from public consultations and surveys with a particular focus on seldom heard groups such as African refugee women, young people living in poverty in rural areas or people with learning disabilities.

Oxfam worked in partnership with the New Economics Foundation, who processed the compiled information from the public consultations to produce a series of weighted priorities set for Scotland by the people of Scotland. The index consists of 18 measures in five domains (Social, Human, Nature & Environment, Financial, Physical Resources) ranging from good family relationships, having secure and satisfying work, a decent home, good local facilities and transport to access to green areas.

Judith Robertson, the head of Oxfam Scotland, said the index “goes beyond simplistic economic measures like GDP. It reminds us that the economy should serve its people, not the other way around.”

The first assessment of Scotland’s performance using HMI showed that the country’s overall prosperity increased by 1.2% between 2007-08 and 2009-10, largely due to improvements in how people felt about their health and community spirit.

HMI is now being considered also by senior Oxfam executives for use across the UK and as part of the charity’s work on sustainable living and on new measures of inequality, as well as by Oxfam offices overseas in “middle economy” countries such as Brazil. The charity is also  encouraging local and national government to examine these results in order to plan and prioritize their future actions.

Link: Oxfam Humankind Index (HMI), Guardian article about HMI


Civic Exchange developing an index for measuring well-being in Asian cities Reply

Civic Exchange, a Hong Kong-based non-profit public policy think tank, has produced a new report titled “Measuring Well-Being in Cities – A Literature  Review.” This Asian think tank is working on creating a tool – a well-being index for Asian cities – that can harness the power of indices plus engage people on issues of civic importance. The newly released report reviews a range of existing indices of well-being, quality of life and liveability, which have been consulted by the think tank’s researchers in developing the new index for Asian cities.

The review identifies six “approaches” to developing indices for well-being, including:

  • Human development (e.g. GDP, Human Development Index, Gross National Happiness, or China’s Xiaokang Indicators)
  • City competition (e.g. rankings published by consultancies and magazines based on liveability indices)
  • City planning (very few internationally recognized)
  • Satisfaction (e.g. Gallup World Path, nef’s National Accounts on Well-being)
  • Health (e.g. a set of indicators under the WHO’s Global Health Observatory, The Australian Unity Well-being Index)
  • Sustainability (e.g. Happy Planet Index, Genuine Progress Indicator)

It is concluded that it would not be effective to create a new index that attempts to merge all of these six approaches. Instead, suggests the author, it could work around what Asian urban residents themselves identify as their priorities and needs, as well as incorporating both objective and subjective criteria for well-being.

As part of the index-development process, the researchers at Civic Exchange have collected and studied information on over 160 indices from around the world that measures various elements that may be said to broadly relate to the concept of “wellbeing.” The have summarized this information in a document with clear summary tables containing all the indices they have studied from September 2011 to April 2012.

Links: Measuring Well-Being in Cities – A Literature Review, Summary of indices

Centre for Bhutan Studies publishes a short guide to the GNH Index Reply

The Centre for Bhutan Studies has released a short publication, “GNH and GNH Index: A Short Guide to the Gross National Happiness Index” providing background on the concept of Gross National Hapiness (GNH) and its measurement. The authors – Karma Ura, Sabina Alkire, Tshoki Zangmo – present information on the origins of GNH and focus especially on the 2010 GNH Survey, the first official national survey on GNH in Bhutan. They then go on with  explaining the compounds of the GNH Index with its nine domains and 33 clustered indicators that are based on 124 variables. The domains include:

  • psychological well-being
  • time use
  • community vitality
  • cultural diversity
  • ecological resilience
  • living standard
  • health
  • education
  • good governance

As can be seen from the selection of the domains, the GNH Index is truly multidimensional and the authors really highlight this feature. They point out that “in the GNH Index, unlike certain concepts of happiness, in current western literature, happiness is itself multidimensional – not measured only by subjective well-being, and not focused narrowly on happiness that begins and ends with oneself and is concerned for and with oneself.” In Bhutan say the authors ” the pursuit of happiness is collective though it can be experienced deeply personally.”

It is also stressed, on the other hand,  that despite being a complex measure useful in the government policy settings,  the GNH Index can also be decomposed into the ‘building blocks’ and used by other organizations and citizens.

The authors of the guide also inform that the outcomes of the GHN Survey can be used to identify where unhappiness is arising from and for whom. These findings can then be used to determine groups of “not-yet-happy people” and improve their conditions. In the GNH Index, people are considered “happy” when they have sufficiency in 66% of the (weighted) indicators or more, those below 66% are considered “not-yet-happy.”

The results of the 2010 GNH Survey in Bhutan have shown that the insufficiencies of not-yet-happy people differ in different parts of the country. In rural areas, not-yet-happy people tend to attain less education, living standards and balanced use of time, while in urban areas, not-yet-happy people are typically insufficient in non-material domains such as community vitality and culture, and psychological well-being.

Links: A Short Guide to GNH and GNH IndexCentre for Bhutan StudiesGross National Happiness, Educating for GNH

EC opens a €34.8 million call for eco-innovation projects Reply

The European Commission has opened a call for eco-innovation projects for businesses and entrepreneurs from across Europe to help bring novel environmental projects to the market. The €34.8 million funding will support eco-innovative products, techniques, services and processes that aim to prevent or reduce environmental impacts, or which contribute to the optimal use of resources. The five main priority areas for this year include: materials recycling, water, sustainable building products, green business and the food and drink sector. Around 50 projects will be selected for funding and interested parties can apply until  6 September 2012.

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, highlighted that this programme “shows  how businesses can help our economies to grow in an environmentally sustainable way, once they have the right support.” There are already nearly 200 projects being set up or underway from past funding calls and include schemes such as converting old discarded TVs into tiles, new waste sorting mechanisms, innovative eco- packaging for milk, and a new technique for recycling textiles.

Link: EC press release

EESC’s Opinion on GDP and beyond Reply

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has recently produced an own-initiative Opinion document on “GDP and beyond – the involvement of civil society in choosing complementary indicators.”

The document reports that the EESC recognizes the advances made in recent years in devising complementary indicators to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), at both world and European levels. However, it is stressed that, in the view of the EESC, the process leading to a new definition of well-being and progress of societies – beyond economic growth alone – cannot be separated from current European policies to tackle the renewed impact of the economic and financial crisis. At present, there is a wide gap between economic policies and policies for well-being and societal progress at both national and European level, but the authors see a possibility of narrowing this gap in connection with the adoption of indicators complementary to GDP by official statistical services.

The EESC proposes that there needs to be a thorough debate on the fundamental meaning of progress and the concept of development, and any decisions have to be based on contributions from the civil society. The Committee also emphasizes its willingness to act as a meeting place between organized civil society and official European bodies as part of a participatory decision-making process to identify and design indicators of progress for  the European Union.


Wikiprogress drafts an overview of National Initiatives on Measuring Well-being Reply

Wikiprogress, a global virtual platform for sharing information in order to evaluate social, environmental and economic progress, provides a draft document listing initiatives on measuring well-being on the national level. Based largely on the content of the website, there are initiatives and examples from some 17 countries, including Australia , Belgium, Canada, China, Finland , France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands , New Zealand, Slovenia, Spain, UK  and the US.

The initiatives range from government-led projects to organization- and community-based initiatives, such as the Australian National Development Index, Canadian Index of Well-being, Findicator (Finland), World Database of Happiness (the Netherlands), the National Well-being Project (UK), or The State of the USA, to name just a few.


Planet Under Pressure 2012 sets out the science for Rio+20 Reply

At the end of March 2012, London saw the largest gathering of global change scientists leading up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) at a conference titled “Planet Under Pressure 2012.” More than 3,000 delegates were present at the conference venue and over 3,500 attended virtually via live web streaming. The conference set out the scientific background and presented new recommendations for the Rio+20 conference, including:

  • Going beyond GDP by taking into account the value of natural capital when measuring progress.
  • A new framework for developing a set of goals for global sustainability for all nations.
  • Creating a UN Sustainable Development Council to integrate social, economic and environmental policy at the global level.
  • Launching a new international research programme, Future Earth, that will focus on solutions.
  • Initiating regular global sustainability analyses

The first State of the Planet Declaration was issued at the conference, reflecting the key messages that emerged from the Planet Under Pressure conference. The statement warns that scientific studies show that current human activities threaten the functioning of the Earth system which support continued well-being of the human civilization. It suggests that global sustainability must become a foundation of society and points out important areas of new scientific understanding in this area – including the adoption of the term ‘Anthropocene,’ a new epoch, in which many Earth-system processes and the living fabric of ecosystems are now dominated by human activities. The statement also highlights the need for further inter- and trans-disciplinary research. The authors see the Rio+20 conference as an opportunity for taking action and bringing outcomes on these topic.

As a part of the preparations for the conference, a series of nine policy briefs were produced by the scientific community, specifically targeting policy-makers in the Rio+20 process. The briefs provide information on the latest scientific thinking in nine areas of sustainable development relevant to the Rio+20 conference: Water security, Food security, Biodiversity and ecosystems, Transforming governance and institutions, Interconnected risks and challenges, Energy security, Health, Well-being, and Green economy.

The  Green economy policy brief, titled “A green economy for a planet under pressure,” attempts to set out the guidelines for the social and technological transformations needed for a new economic system, as well as the new ways in which we will need to measure and monitor this system. One of the key points highlighted in the brief is that our economic system has to start to respect planetary boundaries of the Earth and be in line with people’s well-being at the same time. Based on these two points, the brief calls for a re-design of trade rules, financial flows and investment to improve our natural, social as well as human capital. It also suggests that there is a need for a social transformation process and that we need to strive for post-consumerism and post-materialist society.

In order to achieve this ‘economic transition,’ the report calls on governments, organizations as well as the United Nations to lead and support this process. It is suggested, for instance, that the United Nations Statistics Office should support countries to move beyond gross domestic product and develop Inclusive Wealth Accounts as a new macroeconomic indicator to measure progress in human well-being.

The Well-being policy brief, titled “Human well-being for a planet under pressure: Transition to social sustainability,” examines the need for urgent, innovative solutions and sets out key messages and recommendations that will guide humanity on the road to a more sustainable socioeconomic and ecological future. The authors stress that both social and environmental sustainability are needed for overall human well-being, since these are closely connected. It is underlined that despite being complex, multidimensional and context-specific, well-being is currently measured by the economic community in very narrow terms, most notably by focusing on the gross domestic product (GDP).

The brief suggests that policymakers need to go beyond single measures and develop tools, methodologies and metrics that are multidimensional and nationally standardized, while simultaneously acknowledging differing contexts, universal rights and freedoms. The transition to a ‘Green Economy’ is seen as an important means for improving overall human well-being. The brief concludes that a trans-disciplinary research effort is needed in order to improve understanding of the links among comprehensive human well-being, ecological and socioeconomic systems and sustainable development.


Gallup reports that more than one in ten is “suffering” worldwide Reply

The research-based consulting company Gallup has recently published the results of their well-being survey for 2011. The survey, conducted with approximately 1,000 adults in each of the 146 examined countries, showed that an average of 13% of adults worldwide rated their lives poorly enough to be considered “suffering.” This number varied greatly across the world’s countries, with values as high as 45% in Bulgaria and as low as 1% or less in the United Arab Emirates, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Canada, Thailand, and Brazil.

In the survey, Gallup uses the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale (0 to 10 scale) to classify respondents as “thriving” (wellbeing that is strong, consistent, and progressing), “struggling” (wellbeing that is moderate or inconsistent) or “suffering” (wellbeing that is at high risk). Gallup considers people to be suffering if they rate their current lives a 4 or lower and their lives in five years a 4 or lower. The respondents do not label themselves as suffering.

The survey shows that the countries where “suffering” is highest are primarily a mix of European, African, and Asian nations. In the majority of countries, the percentage changed little at the country level in 2011 compared with 2010, although exceptions exist such as rising number of people who “suffer” in El Salvador, or a decreasing number in Macedonia. On average, global suffering has remained relatively unchanged over the past several years.

Link: Gallup’s full article

World Happiness Report: ‘Happiness’ no longer seen as too vague for government policies Reply

The first “World Happiness Report” has been released at the UN High Level Meeting on Happiness in early April (Read more about the meeting here). The report, published by the Earth Institute and co-edited by the institute’s director, Jeffrey Sachs, reflects on the current state of happiness around the world and on the possible approaches to systematic measurements of happiness of a person as well as a whole nation.

The authors underline that there has been a shift from seeing “happiness” as far too subjective and vague to be used as a criterium for government policy to being seriously discussed at government meetings and beyond.  This is due to the fact that the research into happiness has shown that, “even though indeed a subjective experience, happiness can be objectively measured, assessed, correlated with observable brain functions, and related to the characteristics of an individual and the society.”

The report also presents three happiness case studies:

  • the Bhutanese Gross National Happiness measure
  • Measuring subjective well-being in the UK; and
  • The current development of OECD Guidelines on the Measurement of Subjective Well-being to be released towards the end of 2012.

The authors of the report really see happiness coming on the center stage and suggest four steps to improve policy-making in this area: 1. measure happiness, 2. explain happiness, 3. put happiness at the center of analysis, and 4. translate well-being research into design and delivery of services.


UN High Level Meeting on Happiness in search of ‘a New Economic Paradigm’ Reply

Hundreds of representatives from governments, academia, non-governmental as well as religious organizations from all over the world gathered on April 2 at the UN Headquarters in New York to discuss the topic of  “Happiness and Well-being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.” The participants of the meeting, convened by the Government of Bhutan, included the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as well as leading experts from the fields of economics, well-being and sustainability.  The notion of ‘well-being’ and ‘happiness’ in relation to the current economic system was discussed, along with the topic of measuring progress using alternative indicators such as the Gross National Happiness, pioneered by the Government of Bhutan, as well as others including New Economics Foundation (“nef”) and its Happy Planet Index.

At the meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted that “GDP… fails to take into account the social and environmental cost of so-called progress. We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.” He also stressed the need for further discussions and real outcomes in support of sustainable development at the up-coming Rio+20 conference in Rio de Janeiro.

The meeting saw also the launch of the first “World Happiness Report,” published by the Earth Institute, which reviews the state of happiness in the world today and shows how the new science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness (Read more about the World Happiness Report here).