Where is the demand for ‘Beyond GDP’ indicators?


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BRAINPOoL (Bringing alternative indicators into policy) is an EU-funded project aimed at identifying and overcoming the barriers to ‘Beyond GDP’ indicators being used in policy.

During the project we are carrying out research and interviews, conducting workshops and knowledge-brokerage seminars and undertaking various action research case studies to explore ways to improve the uptake of Beyond GDP indicators.

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Where is the demand for ‘Beyond GDP’ indicators?

  1. 1. Where is the demand for „Beyond GDP‟ indicators? Funded by:
  2. 2. The Project BRAINPOoL (Bringing alternative indicators into policy) is an EU-funded project aimed at identifying and overcoming the barriers to ‘Beyond GDP’ indicators being used in policy. During the project we are carrying out research and interviews, conducting workshops and knowledge-brokerage seminars and undertaking various action research case studies to explore ways to improve the uptake of Beyond GDP indicators. All reports are available at: www.brainpoolproject.eu/research
  3. 3. Beyond GDP indicators - a definition “those indicators and indicator sets that have been proposed as necessary and central to the measurement of societal progress in a broad sense, other than those indicators, such as GDP or the unemployment rate, that are already playing this role.”
  4. 4. The project’s structure This presentation
  5. 5. The central questions How can we understand the demand, or lack of demand, for Beyond GDP indicators? What does this mean for those promoting these indicators? BWJones
  6. 6. Context The evidence in ‘What makes indicators successful’ (WP1 presentation) drew attention to the importance of: - Working with policy makers and other audiences from the start and of building alliances - Producing indicators that fit policy visions and strategies, and perceived need - Using the language of the economists and analysts who will use the indicators - Using public pressure – so that there is bottom up support - Avoiding being seen to have too strong an agenda – of having the legitimacy that comes with perceived neutrality - Small scale, local initiatives where it is often easier to have an impact - For headline indicators, simple messages and absence of taboo words
  7. 7. This presentation Given this, what is the state of the demand for alternative indicators? If indicator developers and promoters are to ‘work with policy makers and other audiences from the start’, where should they begin? What should they avoid doing? What are the problems to be overcome?
  8. 8. Research methodologies The results presented in this slideshow were gathered during two complementary research activities: 1) Desk research on the Beyond GDP landscape (actors, events, initiatives, indicators etc.) in a number of EU-member countries as well as selected international/European organisations with the aim of comparing the policy agendas that have built up around the development and promotion of Beyond GDP indicators. 2) Face-to face interviews and workshops with policy actors within and outside the Beyond GDP agenda aimed at understanding the perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the agenda. Both activities were predominantly conducted in the following countries: France, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic and Wales; as well as at the EU and OECD level.
  9. 9. Societal demand phillipe leroyer
  10. 10. Societal demand • An appetite exists in some parts of civil society for a (more or less extensive) transformation, both of our ‘world vision’ and of the system itself • This echoes a wider and growing discontent amongst the general public during the economic crisis. However: “the general public does not think in terms of indicators, but in terms of human dimensions” • In other words, ‘bottom-up’ demand is rarely for indicators themselves but the demand for change that is there should be taken into account in the creation of new indicators. • Alternative indicator producers should be responding to this demand.
  11. 11. Joseph Ho Political demand
  12. 12. Political demand • The transformational vision seen in some parts of civil society is not common amongst political elites. • However, there are demands for: – A single, simple, yet multi-dimensional indicator – Environmental indicators • Political demand is strongest – at the local and regional levels – when Beyond GDP indicators are seen to be compatible with the status quo or incremental change (e.g. enhancing well-being at work to support profit maximisation).
  13. 13. Political demand • Political demand is often associated with pressure from civil society, or with sustainable development strategies in which indicators often have a specific role to play. • Beyond GDP indicators are currently more likely to serve a conceptual or an assessment/communication role rather than a role in decision-making (where they are often applied too late).
  14. 14. Lack of demand waynep57
  15. 15. Lack of demand • Generally, however, demand for Beyond GDP indicators remains weak within institutions. The weak demand can be explained in terms of: – Lack of push factors – reasons to move away from GDP don’t hold much sway amongst potential users (user factors), and in the current political context (policy factors). – Lack of pull factors – concerns about the Beyond GDP indicators themselves (indicator factors).
  16. 16. Lack of push factors Todd Kravos
  17. 17. Lack of push factors No clear belief in the innovation of Beyond GDP On the one hand there is a general acknowledgement of GDP’s weaknesses, but many statisticians feel that there is nothing new about Beyond GDP: • GDP was never meant to measure welfare, there are plenty of other indicators already in use. • A sense that the Beyond GDP agenda has been “blown out of proportion” . The obsession with going Beyond GDP is not understood by many statisticians who see GDP as just one of many indicators. • The problem (according to statisticians and policy makers) is how GDP is portrayed to the public, particularly by the media. • As such, there is a perception that Beyond GDP indicators do not offer any social and/or statistical innovation.
  18. 18. Lack of push factors A belief that the well-known defects in GDP can be lived with • Actors did mention the lack of correlation between GDP and subjective well-being in rich countries and the negative environmental impacts of growth. • Therefore many agreed it needs complementing with indicators of new spheres not covered by national accounts • For some, these work best if they fit with current models, indicators and ways of thinking (e.g. C02 /GDP) • However many believe – GDP is a very robust measure – rising GDP is compatible with environmental goals – GDP is a good proxy measure for progress
  19. 19. Lack of push factors A belief that growth remains pivotal Ultimately, even if GDP is not seen as a good proxy for welfare, it is seen to be measuring something central to the current societal model. As such, it needs to remain in a central place • For most mainstream actors, quality of life improvements – on the social, human or ecological level – are impossible without growth. • Steady-state proposals of zero-growth are rejected as unrealistic. • The financial crisis has redoubled the focus on growth (even if it has highlighted weaknesses in the system).
  20. 20. Lack of pull factors JoePhilipson
  21. 21. Lack of pull factors Poor knowledge of the alternatives • Aside from the ‘Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi’ report, Human Development Index and Ecological Footprint, awareness of international Beyond GDP initiatives, events and indicators is generally poor. • For example, many workshop attendees had not heard about the OECD’s Better Life Initiative, or the EU’s GDP and Beyond Initiative. • In France some MPs thought it would be a good idea to have indicators of sustainable development, without realising they already existed.
  22. 22. Lack of pull factors Lack of trust in Beyond GDP indicators • No alternative societal model has been put forward that links clearly with Beyond GDP indicators, in the way that the Keynesian growth model links with GDP. • Hence perception of a lack of realism in the thinking underlying Beyond GDP indicators • Sometimes even a distrust of the ulterior motives behind the indicators. • Distrust of subjective data given its arbitrary dimensions and lack of comparability. • Concern that Beyond GDP indicators are just ‘a flash in the pan’, a transient interest, and unlikely to endure in the long- term.
  23. 23. Lack of pull factors Incompatible temporalities • One of GDP’s strong points is that it is published every three months and is considered timely. Beyond GDP indicators are currently published too irregularly and with too much of a time lag to impact on decision-making and political cycles. • Added to this is the fact that Beyond GDP indicators often incorporate long-term issues (such as sustainability) and long-term trends (such as changes in well-being), which struggle to attract the attention of politicians focused on the short term.
  24. 24. Graham_Smith Debates and issues within Beyond GDP There are some important issues where Beyond GDP actors (and allies) have mixed opinions
  25. 25. Debates and issues within Beyond GDP • Democratisation – All the discourses we analysed argue for a general democratisation of the construction and development phases of indicators and for greater access to statistical data. These demands, however, contrast strongly with the current technical nature of the agenda. • Composite vs. dashboard indicators – We found two groups: those that strongly rejected creating composite indicators, and those that felt that composite indicators were useful, particularly for communication purposes, provided they could be disaggregated transparently.
  26. 26. Debates and issues within Beyond GDP • Lack of conceptual clarity – Many terms are used in an unclear way, e.g. progress, well-being, sustainability – and often understood differently by different actors. • Multiple aims – Some Beyond GDP indicators have been used to improve the operation of the current economic model (e.g. using well-being at work to increase productivity) – although many see the goal of alternative indicators as being to help move beyond the current economic model. • Should we measure at all? – Some potential allies of the Beyond GDP agenda (e.g. Serge Latouche) criticise some Beyond GDP indicators for reducing happiness into numbers which can be controlled by the State.
  27. 27. Opportunities and hope However, our research did reveal some opportunities and reasons to be hopeful howardpa58
  28. 28. Opportunities and hope At the political level… • Institutionalisation – The existence of political programmes such as national sustainable development strategies in which indicators have a specific role to play has rendered indicators less dependent on the vagaries of policy cycles. • The influence of the ‘Stiglitz Report’ – The clear, readable and high profile synthesis of the current state of the art this report offered has undeniably contributed towards many institutions producing and/or using more new indicators. • Demand for composite indicators – particularly for assessment does exist e.g. in the Netherlands, Wales and France. • Pro-active approach – Statisticians and decision-makers are making increasingly proactive moves towards the production and use of alternative indicators.
  29. 29. Opportunities and hope At the societal level… • Role of the financial crisis – Whilst its impact has been mixed, it has called the economic model into question further. In France and elsewhere, demand for Beyond GDP indicators has increased since the crisis. • Recognition of the role of indicators in social change – Some interviewees noted the role of indicators in defining world visions, while a recent international survey showed that 68% of respondents favoured replacing GDP with a broader indicator that also incorporates health, social and environmental statistics. • Widening the debate – The measurement of progress is no longer just a topic for economists. Other disciplines are now involved (e.g. psychology, environmental science), and civil society actors have a role. The debate is happening at local and regional levels as well as national, creating more opportunities.
  30. 30. Summary • Demand for Beyond GDP indicators remains patchy. • There is a lack of push factors away from the status quo – many mainstream actors feel that GDP should remain the central measure of the state of a nation, and that other indicators already exist to measure a suite of other issues. • There are reasons for weak pull factors towards Beyond GDP indicators, including lack of knowledge, distrust, and timeliness issues. • However, social demand is growing, in some cases related to dissatisfaction with current economic model. • Political demand exists, associated with greater institutionalisation, reports such as that of the Stiglitz Commission, and more pro-active statistical offices.
  31. 31. For the full report, visit: www.brainpoolproject.eu/research For more information please contact: Alistair Whitby, World Future Council alistair.whitby@worldfuturecouncil.org Saamah Abdallah, nef (the new economics foundation) saamah.abdallah@neweconomics.org Géraldine Thiry, Université Libre de Bruxelles contact@geraldinethiry.be James Jordan