Measuring the Progress of Societies

en françaisThe OECD hosted Global Project on ‘Measuring the Progress of Societies’ seeks to to measure, assess and foster societal progress – going beyond economic measures and investigating what really makes life better, for everyone (found on Weitzenegger’s Newsletter/websites of the moment, June 2010).

Is life getting better? Are our societies making progress? Indeed, what does “progress” mean to the world’s citizens? There can be few questions of greater importance in today’s rapidly changing world.  And yet how many of us have the evidence to answer these questions? … (full text Homepage).

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What we are doing /Mission statement: Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies exists to foster the development of sets of key economic, social and environmental indicators to provide a comprehensive picture of how the well-being of a society is evolving. 

It also seeks to encourage the use of indicator sets to inform and promote evidence-based decision-making, within and across the public, private and citizen sectors. The project is open to all sectors of society, building both on good practice and innovative research work.

Is life getting better? Are our societies making progress? Indeed, what does “progress” mean to the world’s citizens? There can be few questions of greater importance in today’s rapidly changing world.  And yet how many of us have the evidence to answer these questions?

The concept of progress (Latin: pro-gredi) was first used by ancient Greeks. And it is a concept that has exercised philosophers from many cultures ever since. Progress may refer to improvement. But to improve what? Since the enlightenment people have widely accepted that progress means an improvement in the overall well-being of humanity.  But for a good portion of the 20th century there was an implicit assumption that economic growth was synonymous with progress: an assumption that a growing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) meant life must be getting better.  But now the world recognizes that it isn’t quite as simple as that. Despite high levels of economic growth in many countries many experts believe we are no more satisfied with our life (or happier) than we were 50 years ago; that people trust one another – and their governments – less than they used to; and that increased income has come at the expense of increased insecurity, longer working hours and greater complexity in our lives. Much of the world is healthier and people live longer than they did just a few years ago, but environmental problems like climate change cast a shadow over an uncertain future.  Definitions of Progress.

Indeed, it sometimes seems that for every action to demonstrate societal progress, an equal but opposite reaction demonstrates precisely the opposite.  And when the experts disagree, what hope do the citizens have to engage in democratic debate about their future and make the right choices at the ballot box? Access to accurate information is vital when we come to judge our politicians and hold them accountable. But access to a comprehensive and intelligible portrait of that most important of questions – whether or not life has got, and is likely to get, better – is lacking in many societies.

Concerns about this have been growing. And over the past 10 years or so there has been an explosion of interest in producing measures of societal progress. Measures that go beyond GDP to represent a broader view of the ways in which societies are progressing and regressing. Measures which are based on the values of a society, not those of a single political party or an elite few. Such sets of progress measures can help governments focus in a more joined up way on what really matters: they can foster a more informed debate on where a society actually is, where it wants to head, and – crucially – the choices it needs to make if it is to get there. By measuring progress we can foster progress.

The Global Project’s goals: … (full long text What).

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