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Better policies for better lives – this time, in your region

12 November 2014

Regional wellbeing logoToday’s post is by Rolf Alter, Director of the OECD Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate.

Six years have passed since the beginning of the global financial crisis, yet a large number of countries are still playing catch-up. The impact of the crisis, however, was not only national. Many regions are also struggling to return to the levels of prosperity that they enjoyed before the crisis. Going beyond national measures, an in-depth analysis of OECD regions reveals massive disparities within countries, with some regions faring much worse than others. OECD countries have always had some level of spatial inequality, but these disparities increased significantly since the onset of the crisis, and reducing them is now more than ever an imperative.

In order to address this challenge, the OECD established a framework to measure well-being at the local level. “How’s Life in Your Region?” presents an innovative set of tools to help policy makers benchmark the performance of their region in terms of the key indicators that define well-being for citizens. The ability to benchmark the performance of their region against other similar places should help them better target their policies and investments in order to have stronger impact on people’s daily lives.

This initiative responds to an urgent need for governments to learn lessons from the crisis. First, through its Better Life Initiative, the OECD explicitly recognises that there are indicators other than the usual economic measures (such as GDP) that capture the real aspirations and expectations of citizens. Moreover, well-being is defined by issues such as education, environmental sustainability, safety and housing that are essentially local in nature. To be effective in improving well-being, therefore, public policy needs to reflect the regional and local differences across these dimensions of well-being. The challenge that OECD has taken on is to identify a set of measures that capture well-being trends at the local level.

If used correctly, these well-being indicators have the potential not only to inform on what reforms should be focusing on, but also to track how well the implemented policies are performing. For example, the latest OECD Regional Outlook shows that in 10 OECD countries, over 40% of the national rise in unemployment since the crisis was concentrated in one region –underscoring the need to adopt a place-based policy approach to solving the severe labour market problems affecting that region.

The regional well-being initiative is a tool for government, but it is also designed to inform stakeholders outside the central government and in the non-government sector as well. While it can be tempting to leave policy makers the sole responsibility of improving well-being, it is much more effective to include various actors of society when it comes to building better communities: regional policy makers, but also the scientific community, the private sector, civil society and citizens. Regional well-being data can also be a tool to promote debate around policy choices. For that reason, the initiative also includes an effort to present data simply and clearly via the regional well-being data visualisation tool.

An example of this collaborative process can be found in Italy: when the province of Rome developed a well-being strategy in 2011, it held various meetings, forums and workshops with its constituents in order to help prioritise and determine the scale of the policy. A web-tool was created, allowing citizens to select the well-being dimensions that mattered the most to them, and ensuring that the feedback process was maintained over time.

Designing and implementing a regional well-being strategy is an iterative process. Priorities have to be established, and indicators that correspond adequately to the objectives must be selected. Progress must be monitored over time by looking at the results of the policies put in place and their evolution. Engaging a large number of stakeholders from the beginning of the initiative allows for increased ownership of the project, and therefore better accountability, legitimacy and overall efficiency. The use of indicators helps to track progress and keep momentum among stakeholders who can see that the targets they set are being reached or that new solutions are needed in cases in which the targets are not achieved.

Fostering well-being at the local level is a way to build stronger and more sustainable communities. The OECD Regional Well-Being framework provides a tool to help governments at all levels design and refine the policies that will help achieve this goal.

Useful links

OECD work on Regional Well-Being

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