Measuring progress, true wealth, and well-being
The Social Progress Index measures social and environmental progress independently of, but complimentarily to, GDP. The 2016 index introduces some methodological innovations with respect to the 2014 and 2015 editions. The index is based on 53 social and environmental indicators covering outcomes on 12 components. Data sources have been modified and some indicators have been replaced. As a result, the 2016 index covers 133 countries across all indicators of each component and other 27 countries with results for only 9 to 11 components. As a whole, 99% of the world’s population is covered. Countries are awarded an aggregate score between 0 and 100, a higher score representing a higher level of social progress. The best scoring countries for 2016 were Finland, Canada and Denmark. Findings reveal that countries achieve widely divergent levels of social progress at similar levels of GDP per capita. Hence, economic performance alone does not fully explain social progress. The index is also provided for regions, cities and communities. 2014 and 2015 scores have been recalculated according to the new adopted methodology for comparability reasons.
The German Federal Environmental Protection Agency (UBA) has updated the National Welfare Index (NWI). The NWI was launched in 2009 to provide complementary information with respect to GDP and firstly updated in 2013. Its current version (2.0) is built on 20 components measuring national welfare from 1991 to 2012. The NWI aggregates positive (e.g. consumption adjusted for income distribution, housework and voluntary work) and negative (e.g. traffic accidents and environmental damage costs - air and water pollution, soil degradation, etc.) contributions to welfare according to an accounting approach. GDP and NWI show a similar trend for Germany, throughout the 1990’s. Starting from around the year 2000, the NWI shows instead a decline, mostly due to increasing inequality and fluctuating private consumption.
Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, presented the draft of the country’s new strategy for sustainable development at the annual conference of the council of sustainable development. The new strategy is explicitly aligned with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), taking its 17 goals as a framework, and details what the German government can contribute on a national, international, as well as local levels. The new strategy applies 61 indicators, compared to 38 in the previous strategy, in order to give an up to date impression on the status of sustainable development across its objectives. Data will be published online by Germany’s statistical authority. Germany has had a national sustainable development strategy since 2002. Comments on the new draft will be accepted until 31st July 2016.
Rio de Janeiro has become the second city in the world (after Bogota, Colombia) to create a Social Progress Index (SPI) to monitor sub-city level performance on social progress. SPI assesses social and environmental outcomes, arranged in 3 dimensions (basic needs, foundations of wellbeing, opportunities) composed of 12 components that are measured with 52 indicators. The results released on the 17th of May were presented in a social map of the 32 administrative regions of the city. They revealed major inequalities between the different regions: the overall scores of two regions were higher than 85 out of 100, whereas six other regions scored lower than 45. The main weaknesses identified for the whole city regard access to higher education and sustainability of ecosystems.
The Swiss Federal Statistical Office has adopted a revised framework for assessing national progress towards sustainable development. In order to reflect the new national Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) 2016-19 and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, Switzerland has revised its MONET sustainable development indicator system. The system is comprised of 73 indicators, of these 22 are new. 36 indicators are used to monitor progress towards the national SDS, whilst nearly all of them can be linked to one of the SDGs. The 73 indicators are classified into twelve categories such as “labour”, “natural resources”, “production and consumption”, or “social cohesion”. The two latter categories incorporate the most new indicators, with five additional indicators for both groups respectively.
Produced by the “Institut Think” for the think tank “Fabrique Spinoza”, the Indicateur Trimestriel du Bonheur des Français (ITBF) measures the happiness of French population. Intended to be released on a quarterly basis in order to follow the rhythm of national GDP publications, its first edition was released on April 29. It draws on an online survey, consisting of 47 questions, carried out on 1001 adults considered to be a representative sample of the French population. The survey addresses three dimensions of happiness: individual happiness, environment elements (including nature and environment) and individual happiness functioning . The happiness of French population is found to be modest with an average score of 5.9 out of 10. 18% of people were found to be very unhappy (scoring less than 3), whilst 28% were found to be very happy (scoring more than 8).
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.
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.
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”.
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.
The Measuring Wellbeing in Northern Ireland Roundtable was established on the 24th March 2014 by the Carnegie Trust, a charitable organisation promoting sustainable social development in the UK. The objective of the roundtable was to establish a shared understanding of international and national policy debates on wellbeing, measurements of economic performance and social progress, in order to highlight their relevance for Northern Ireland decision makers. The first roundtable meeting held at the Queen’s University Belfast convened executives from Northern Irish think tanks, universities, NGOs and regional authorities. The results of this meeting were collected in a technical background report providing analytical comments and in a summary report proposing 10 recommendations. Recommendations include promoting wellbeing and its monitoring in public services, regular reporting and communication to the public through adequate tools, developing a training and capacity building programme for bodies responsible for implementation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.