Most people would agree that (a) there is more to life than money; (b) there is more to progress than GDP growth; and (c) there is more to democracy than voting. But how can citizens make their voices heard and how can policy makers know if they’re addressing the issues that really matter?
The OECD Better Life Initiative was launched a year ago to address these concerns. The Initiative builds on a decade of international reflection on measuring the progress of societies. Its two principal elements are Your Better Life Index (BLI), an online tool that enables citizens to visualize well-being in OECD countries according to what is important to them; and How’s Life?, a report bringing together for the first time internationally comparable measures of well-being in line with recommendations in the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission report.
Users of Your Better Life Index “weigh” 11 topics that contribute to well-being – community, education, environment, governance, health, housing, income, jobs, life satisfaction, safety, and work-life balance – to generate their own Index. An overall description of the quality of life in each country is also provided, including how it performs across the 20 individual indicators that make up the 11 topics. Freely-accessible OECD reports and other sources of information are provided to assist those who want to learn more.
Since its launch last May, the Index has received nearly one million visits from practically every country on the planet and has been referenced internationally as a model for presenting material on measuring well-being. Feedback from users has enabled the OECD to draw initial conclusions on what is driving well-being. Users consistently rank “life satisfaction”, “education” and “health” the most highly, regardless of their country of origin, suggesting that no matter where we live, we worry and care about the same things.
There is also little difference between the sexes, or between generations, although younger people (15-34) put greater emphasis on “work-life balance,” “income” and “jobs”, whereas people over 65 prioritise “health” and “the environment.” Overall, “community,” “income” and “governance” rank far lower relatively.
Your Better Life Index will be widening its coverage as it enters its second year. The geographical range will be extended to include Brazil and Russia, bringing the total number of countries covered to 36. The Index is also widening its language coverage, with a full French version which we hope will be the first of a string of versions in different languages. This will be a critical element for expanding the global user community, exponentially increasing the feedback received through completed indexes.
In fact, each year Your Better Life Index will be enriched with more factors important for measuring well-being. In response to user findings, new indicators have been added in 2012 to strengthen the “education”, “jobs”, “environment” and “housing” dimensions. Users will also be able to compile their index taking account of degrees of equality between men and women across the topics. Why is that, for example, that men earn more and work more than women, but women live longer, are often better educated and often report greater overall happiness with life? Similarly, users will be able to see other inequalities, for example, whether their income level affects how healthy they feel or how likely they are to vote.
The capacity of Your Better Life Index to make a difference in how policies are developed depends on participation. With this in mind, enhancing the user experience to encourage participation and to make feedback more immediate are emphasized. Users will now be able to compare themselves directly with others based on location, gender and age. Comments and suggestions are more than welcome. Already, as a result of user feedback, we have added an embed feature which enables journalists, bloggers and others to capture their BLI and place it directly onto web sites and blogs.
Your Better Life Index provides an innovative way of empowering and educating everyone who cares about building a stronger, cleaner and fairer world. For the public this means being better informed about policies and their effects on well-being. For policy-makers, this means a better understanding of citizen priorities in order to shape better policies. For the OECD, this means making recommendations that more accurately reflect people’s concerns.
Our challenge is to encourage more public engagement and dialogue in order to make a more meaningful impact on what policies are needed. It is a voyage of discovery and a work in progress.