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Measuring progress, true wealth, and the well-being of nations

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Reykjavik, the first city in Europe to adopt the Social Progress index

On April 28th, at the end of the international conference “Social Progress – What works?”, the City of Reykjavík and the Social Progress Imperative signed a memorandum of understanding to apply the Social Progress Index (SPI) to monitor the well-being of the capital’s residents. The SPI assesses social and environmental outcomes through 54 indicators complementing traditional economic measures such as GDP. The SPI has already been applied at national level in 161 countries, including Iceland, at regional (NUTS2) level for the European Union, and at subnational and local level in parts of Latin America. The Reykjavík initiative is the first one promoted at the urban level in Europe. Local authorities, businesses, civil society and academia will be involved in tailoring this new index.

Tweede Kamer

Report from the Temporary Committee on a Broad Definition of Welfare, the Netherlands

In October 2015, the Dutch House of Representatives established a temporary parliamentary committee to work on a “Broad Definition of Welfare”. The final report adopted by the committee in April 2016 stresses the negligible impact information on welfare has on public and political debate in comparison to GDP. This can be explained by the number and variety of existing initiatives and indicators, their lack of international harmonisation, the shortage of up-to-date information, and the way in which the information is presented. Instead of developing its own national indicators set, the committee suggests that the Netherlands should rather contribute to the harmonisation of the existing international initiatives. Moreover, to stimulate debate on welfare and political choices affecting it, Statistics Netherlands should annually publish a "Monitor on Welfare" to be debated once a year on a dedicated occasion.


All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Limits to Growth

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Limits to Growth was formed in United Kingdom in February 2016 to provide a new platform for cross-party dialogue on economic prosperity in a time of environmental and social transition. Its aims include contributing to the international debate on redefining prosperity and measures of growth. As with all informal cross-party groups, the APPG is run by members of both chambers of the UK Parliament. This group is made up of 7 members of the Chamber of Commons and 6 from the House of Lords. It is chaired by Caroline Lucas from the Green Party and co-chaired by representatives from the SNP, Labour and the Conservatives. The group firstly met on 19th April 2016 and launched “Limits Revisited”.

Nordic Council report

Nordic Council of Ministers report “Making the environment count”

The Nordic Ministers for the Environment decided in 2013 to measure development by moving away from focusing on economic growth. An ad hoc working group on “Complementary Measures for Welfare” involving the Ministers of Environment, Finance and Industry as well as Statistical Offices from all Nordic countries was established to complement GDP measures with statistics on environmental dimensions which were already in place. This group has worked in line with new developments in the field of sustainability, most notably the work within the framework of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals. In March 2016 the contributions resulting from the working group were published in the report “Making the environment count - Nordic accounts and indicators for analysing and integrating environment and economy”. 31 indicators covering 5 themes are proposed to examine the environmental and socioeconomic progress in the Nordic region and account for the links between the economy and the environment. According to the working group recommendations, future developments might include further evidence on social issues.

World Happiness Report

World Happiness Report 2016 Update

The 2016 update of the World Happiness Report, which ranks 156 countries according to their happiness, was published on 20th March, the International Day of Happiness. Five European countries score the highest in the ranking: Denmark followed by Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland. For the first time, the 2016 Update looks at happiness inequality both within and between societies, across regions and countries. The editors argue that well-being inequality reflects the overall inequality, since people living in societies where there is a less unequal happiness distribution are happier. However, in most countries and in 8 out of the 10 considered regions happiness inequality is increasing.

UN SDG Poster

UN Statistical Commission agrees on global indicator framework for SDGs

On 11th March 2016, the United Nations (UN) Statistical Commission agreed on a set of 230 global indicators to measure progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in September 2015. This set of indicators will have to be further discussed and adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the General Assembly. The UN Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, admitted that “refinements and improvements will be needed over the years” and that the SDG indicators “will require an unprecedented amount of data”. In July 2016, 21 countries will voluntarily participate to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, aimed at monitoring the national and thematic reviews of the 2030 Agenda implementation.


European Regional Social Progress Index

The Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission, the Social Progress Imperative and Orkestra – Basque Institute of Competitiveness, have developed a pilot regional version of the Social Progress Index for Europe. This is based on the same framework as the global Social Progress Index and provides spatially disaggregated information on the 272 EU “NUTS-2” regions. Using mainly Eurostat data, it scores each region on a scale of 0-100 across 50 indicators. The aim is to provide solid complementary metrics to GDP to support the European regions and Cohesion Policy development. A revised version of the regional Social Progress Index will be released in October 2016 based on stakeholders' feedback.


SDSN Sustainable Development Goal Index and Dashboard

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) has developed a preliminary SDG Index and a SDG Dashboard to complement the official monitoring process led by the United Nations. Both are unofficial measures assessing progress towards SDGs achievement not replacing official statistics. Based on currently available data, they are aimed at helping countries to mobilize stakeholders and identify priorities for early action. Both the SDG Index and Dashboard use the same metrics, though the methods of data analysis and aggregation differ. The Index allows to rank countries across the SDGs to assess the current state of progress relative to peers (e.g. countries at a given income level or in a given geographic region). The dashboard visually presents SDG data for each country and goal. Empirical evidence shows that even countries with a high ranking face significant challenges with respect to specific goals. Advice on how to fill some of the major data gaps will be collected until March 31st 2016 by the SDSN through a public consultation. A revised SDG Index will be issued before the High-Level Political Forum meeting in July 2016, aimed at reviewing progress towards implementing the SDGs.

CoR Opinion

Committee of the Regions adoption opinion – GDP and beyond

At the 116th Plenary Session of the Committee of the Regions (CoR), the own-initiative opinion, Indicators for territorial development – GDP and beyond, was adopted by the majority of CoR members. This was based on the draft opinion published last year and highlighted the urgent need for complementary indicators to GDP to be adopted for measuring progress and supporting regional and local policy development in Europe. In her address to the plenary, Catiuscia Marini, President of the Umbria Region (Italy), PES Group President and CoR rapporteur for the opinion, argued that, “going beyond GDP is above all a policy choice that permeates our vision for Europe's development and economic and social cohesion”. The proposals included discussing the use of Beyond GDP indicators for the allocation of Cohesion Funds in the review of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF); requesting the European Commission to set out a timeline to engage local authorities in target-setting and the delivery of the regional data needed to design, implement and monitor the renewed Europe 2020 strategy by setting territorially differentiated targets.


Belgium - Complementary Indicators to GDP

The Belgian Bureau fédéral du Plan (BFP /Federal Planning Bureau) has recently published a report presenting indicators complementary to GDP for measuring people's wellbeing and societal development at federal level, as requested by the Law approved on 14th March 2014. The indicators framework covers 12 themes, including ‘subjective well-being’ and ‘natural resources’, through 64 indicators in total. 26 of these indicators are also disaggregated by age, sex or other characteristics. The set of indicators will be annually updated.

US States Ranking

Research ranks well-being in the U.S. by state

The 2015 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index ranks U.S. states according to their well-being. Created in 2008, the Well-Being Index is a composite indicator on a scale from 0 to 100, based on interviews about five aspects of wellbeing: purpose, social, financial, community and physical. The 2015 index is based on 177,281 telephone interviews (in both English and Spanish) to adults across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Overall, the well-being level in the US remained almost constant from 2014 to 2015, at around 61.5. At 64.8, Hawaii had the highest level of well-being, followed by Alaska and Montana. West Virginia had the lowest mark at 58.5 and was the only state scoring below 60. The report underscores an ongoing consistency in this ranking, especially at the bottom of the spectrum. West Virginia and Kentucky have always taken up the end of the list since the index began. Overall, a number of wellbeing indicators have improved since measurement began in 2008, such as the share of people without health insurance. However, other metrics like obesity have been deteriorating over time.


Territorial well-being indicators in France

The French General Commission on Sustainable Development - GCDD (Commissariat général au développement durable) explores how well being indicators can support citizen mobilisation to a more sustainable economy. The journal edition includes the proceedings from a 2015 symposium entitled “Territorial Well-being: from measure to action for a more sustainable society”, which focused on the important role regions play in promoting sustainable development. The workshop discussed the importance of well-being indicators in supporting decision making and mobilizing stakeholders, and identified lessons and experiences of researchers, institution, and regions. The edition includes eight articles, with authors from the GCDD, the OFCE and a number of stakeholders from French regions and territories.

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The Beyond GDP Newsletter keeps its readers up to date on important developments related to measuring progress, true wealth and the well-being of nations.