Your No. 1 priority: Life satisfaction

Even better on Monday

Since its launch in May, the OECD’s Better Life Index has been attracting a lot of media coverage and, even better, lots of interest from users: In just its first month, the Index generated over a million hits. 

A quick reminder of what it’s all about: As its name suggests, the OECD Better Life Index looks at a range of factors – not just economic wealth – that make for a decent quality of life in OECD countries. As Dean Robinson at The New York Times points out, the Index is “part of broader and quite serious movement to get beyond gross domestic product as the sole determinant of how a country and its people are doing.” 

But, rather than the OECD trying to tell you what matters most, the Index lets you, the user, set the priorities. Or, as the blog noted in May, it lets “you compare and contrast the various factors that determine people’s well-being – not just GDP, but a much wider range of things like education, income, housing, security and so on”.

The fact that this is a place where users set the priorities, not the OECD, has maybe got a little bit lost in some of the news coverage. That’s why you may have seen headlines like “OECD rates Australians as the happiest people in the world” or “Canadians can’t complain: Better Life Index”, or “USA comes up a bit short in global Better Life Index”.  

 Although it’s still fairly new, the Better Life Index is already giving some clues about the issues users think are most important to a good life. We know that because the Better Life Index has a unique, interactive feature: It lets you, as a user, create your own Index and share it with the world. When you do so, your Index joins a database, and the results can then be put through the number cruncher.

 That’s just what they’ve been doing over at the OECD Factblog, where analysis of data so far shows users are currently ranking “Life Satisfaction” as the most important of the 11 topics on the Index. At the other end of the scale is “Governance”. It’s interesting to speculate on why that is: “Life satisfaction” echoes the name of the Index, so that may possibly be steering users to favour it. By contrast, “Governance” – although important as a policy issue – may be a more abstract term.

Your Better Life Index: Some initial trends

With well over a million hits in its first month, the OECD’s Your Better Life Index has proven to be very popular since it was launched at the 50th anniversary OECD Forum on 24 May.

The interactive index lets users from the general public to weigh up the factors (initially from a list of 11) they feel matter most in assessing their quality of lives. They may assign greater importance to, say, life satisfaction than governance, for instance, and can then see how well or badly each OECD country performs against their preferred ratings. (more…)

OECD video competition: And the winners are here

Two months ago twenty entries were shortlisted for the OECD’s 50th Anniversary Video Competition. Produced by young people from around the world aged between 18 and 25 years, each of the films represents personal visions of progress in today’s world. After an international public vote to decide the most popular videos, six winners were invited to attend the OECD’s 50th Anniversary Forum. Paul Clare from the OECD’s Centre for Co-operation with Non-Members, one of the competition organisers, asked them for their thoughts on the whole experience.

That’s us – six young people, flown to Paris from places as far away as Australia, Colombia, India, Peru and Ukraine. Honestly, there had been a little uncertainty about what to expect, but we could never have imagined that we would soon be sharing such a unique and overwhelming experience.

We met people from every walk of life. Every time we turned a corner we encountered a new face with a story or idea to share. What we all found to be the most exciting was that we felt we were at the epicenter of a world exposition of ideas.

And we even had the opportunity to contribute our own ideas, in very diverse ways, such as at the launch of the extraordinary Better Life Index.

We think that the reason we were able to participate is because we portrayed a vision of progress that others could believe in. So, it’s important to realise where the OECD has come in its fifty young years, and where it is going next year, in the next decade and well into the future.

A university professor had told us: ‘Only ten years ago, the core function of such forums was to improve the finances of a select club of nations’. These past three days we have seen people excited about improving gender equality, the environment, and even measuring and improving the happiness of people around the globe.

The one over-riding vibe, however, is that the OECD is keen to break from its member country mould and allow its work to benefit billions of people. If this is not progress, then we don’t know what is.

Until the next time!

Alina, Desiree, Hew, Javier, Stephanie and Vidhya

Coming soon to a screen near you …

Even better on Monday

“That action is best which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers.” Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746)

What’s in a number? If the number is GDP, the answer is almost everything or not enough, depending on your point of view. To some economists, GDP is a good – or as good as we’re ever likely to get – measure of progress. If an economy’s growing, then people are (probably) getting richer and able to spend more on the things they need and the things they want. Ergo, progress.

But to others, not least the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, as well as a growing number of social scientists and  environmentalists, GDP leaves out a lot. (Indeed, the strengths and failings of GDP as a measure are being debated right now at The Economist.) Yes, it may show economic growth, but it doesn’t show if that growth is sustainable, if it’s creating unwanted side-effects like pollution, or who’s benefiting. To use an analogy from the WWF, GDP is a great speedometer, but doesn’t a car need other indicators – a dipstick in its petrol tank, brake lights, temperature gauge?

Such questions have come to the fore in recent decades. Increasingly, people are asking if we should pursue economic growth – rising GDP – for its own sake. In the eyes of many, growth has come to be associated with environmental disaster, growing social inequality and – especially in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown – instability. None of this is fully reflected in GDP.

Does that matter? Yes. “Statistics are not an end in themselves,” says the OECD’s Angel Gurría. “Their importance lies in the policy discussions they stimulate as much as the evidence they provide.” In other words, what we measure governs the things we strive for,  And if we can’t measure what’s really happening in our lives we won’t design  policies that best serve our economic, social and environmental needs. That’s why numbers matter.

But which numbers? Over the past 80 or so years, our societies have been gathering ever more hard data – first on the economy, then on the health of our societies and later about the environment – as well as “soft” data (like, “do you feel happy?”). Indeed, so much is now available that it can be hard to work out what matters and what doesn’t. In response, there have been numerous attempts to combine data to show the progress of people and societies, for example the Genuine Progress Indicator, the UN’s Human Development Index and the European Commission’s Beyond GDP project. Governments are getting interested, too: Late last year, the UK government announced plans to measure people’s “happiness”.

The question has also been the focus of a lot of work here at the OECD – since 2008, the OECD has hosted the Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies, which has its own wiki – wikiprogress.org

And next week, the story of measuring progress steps up a pace with the launch of  (drum roll, please) … Your Better Life Index

Unlike other projects, Your Better Life Index is fully interactive and reflects primarily the interests and concerns of you, the user. So, rather than the OECD ranking countries in terms of quality of life, it’s up to users like you to rate your country on the things you feel make for a better life – housing, income, education, the  environment and so on. You can share your findings with other users, and over time Your Better Life Index will build up a picture of the issues that people in OECD countries and, eventually, further afield, believe are most important to their societies.   

It all goes live here during OECD Week on May 24 at 10am in Paris (5pm in Tokyo, 9am in London and 4am in New York).

Useful links

Measuring Progress on YouTube