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.
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.