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OECD Perspectives on Well-Being and Development
Marco Mira d’Ercole
Minister Patel, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is for me a great pleasure to join this distinguished panel for this opening session. Martine
Durand, OECD Chief Statistician and member of the High Level Expert Group on Measuring
Economic Performance and Social Progress, could not be with us today because of other
commitments, so it is my pleasure to replace her. My name is Marco Mira d’Ercole and I am
heading the division in the OECD Statistics Directorate that contributes most directly to the
OECD work on measuring well-being.
The “E” in OECD stands for ‘economics’, and the organisation is probably best known for its
economic analysis and forecasting, and for its policy advice in a variety of fields, much of it
driven by concerns about increasing the efficiency of existing policies. The OECD is also
sometimes referred to as the ‘rich men club’, as its members include the most advanced
countries in the world.
However, but both ways of describing the OECD would miss some important elements of
our work. The organisation, under Secretary General Angel Gurria, has adopted a new
strategic vision, centred on the notion of a ‘resilient economy, cohesive society, green
environment’; a new motto (‘better policies for better lives’); and promoted ‘global
partnerships’ with key players outside the OECD region to advance its work.
Focus on the notion of ‘well-being’ is part and parcel with this re-orientation of OECD work,
and is one element of the ‘revolution’ that the organisation has made in recent years. Both
economists and statisticians had traditionally focused on market production as their main
focus of attention, using GDP as the overall metric of a country’s success. Today, we have
come recognise that maximising market output is an insufficient metric of the performance
of a country or community, as it leaves aside concerns on the quality of people’s life,
inequalities in life chances, and sustainability. A narrow focus on market output and
economic efficiency as sole criteria for policy design have also been a source of the growing
gap between people’s expectation of what a democratic system can deliver and the way it
effectively functions. Closing this gap requires recognising that GDP growth is only a means
to another end, and that that end should be what matters to people; and that, to achieve
that end, not all types of growth will do: growth must be inclusive and sustainable.
This change in mind-set has not been easy or smooth. As always, there have been reticence
and resistance, but the ‘revolution’ is underway. It is happening in countries and it is
happening in international organisations. At the OECD, high-profile initiatives such as NEAC
and the inclusive growth project embody a broad and multi-dimensional notion of well-
being as goal of policies. The World Bank has also moved beyond its traditional focus on
extreme poverty towards a concept of ‘shared prosperity’, operationalised in terms of the
income growth of the bottom 40% of the population. Finally, just a few weeks ago, the UN
General Assembly approved a set of (17) Sustainable Development Goals and (169) targets
that are meant to be ‘universal’ – i.e. relevant for both rich and poor countries. These goals
focus on ‘healthy lives and well-being’, ’inequalities within and between countries’, ‘decent
work and productive employment’, ‘effective, accountable and inclusive institutions’,
‘climate change’ and several others issues that were highlighted in 2009 by the Stiglitz-Sen-
Fitoussi Commission, established by the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The OECD had a strong association with the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission: our Chief
Statistician was one of its members and the OECD provided part of the Secretariat. The SSF
report played a major role in starting the revolution that I mentioned earlier. Because of this
role, the OECD was very happy to host the HELG when Joe contacted us in 2013 to pursue
the work of SSF.
The HLEG works through plenary meetings (1 or 2 per year) and workshops and conferences
on specific topics, financed by private foundations and other sponsors. We have organised
so far 6 of these workshops. This is the first workshop focused on measurement challenges
in a specific region, one region where most of these well-being challenges are especially
salient. Let me thank, on behalf of the OECD, Minister Patel as well as the several
organisation that have made today’s event possible.
Much of our work on well-being at the OECD Statistics Directorates aims at monitoring and
assessing people’s well-being in various OECD countries, at understanding the drivers and
consequences of various aspects of people’s life; and at developing new metrics to improve
upon the available evidence.
The main vehicle through which we pursue our monitoring and thematic analysis is our bi-
annual publication How’s Is Life?, whose 2015 edition was released just a few weeks ago at
the margin of the 5th
OECD World Forum on ‘Statistics, Knowledge and Policies’ held on 13-
15 October in Guadalajara, where Joe, Ravi, Pali were among our speakers.
We contribute to developing new metrics through:
o measurement instruments in specific fields, the best known examples being
the PISA and PIAAC tools for measuring learning outcomes of students and
adults that my colleague Montserrat Gomedio will describe tomorrow;
o developing measurement guidelines that NSOs could then implement in their
surveys and that provide a reference point for assessing differences in
statistical practices across countries: we have developed such guidelines for
measuring people’s SWB, the distribution of household wealth, the joint
distribution of people’s income, consumption and wealth; and (currently) for
measuring people’s trust in others and in institutions, and the quality of the
working environment.
o Finally, we support the implementation of new statistical standards, such as
the central framework of the System of Economic and Environmental
accounts which was adopted in 2012.
As important as measuring per se is using these measures in the policy process. In this
respect:
o We have been quite successful in feeding these new measures in OECD policy
analysis (economic surveys of individual countries, territorial reviews and
sectoral reviews, which have been broadened to look beyond inputs and
outcomes towards outcomes).
o There is a rapidly growing body of national experiences in using these
measures at different stages of the policy process, i.e. policy design,
budgeting, policy monitoring, auditing, with experiences ranging from France
to New Zealand, from Finland to Scotland and United Kingdom.
Throughout our work we have been driven by the belief that the agenda of measuring
performance beyond GDP is not limited to rich countries. Developing countries, and
Africa in particular, do confront a range of pressing challenges to their statistical system
(from getting population censuses done every 10 years, to creating civil registration
systems, to implementing the 2008 version of SNA). But this does not imply that we
should wait for all these essential elements of the statistical system to be in place before
considering how to develop better metrics of the many aspects of people’s life. The
SDGs goals and targets will require that we confront this challenge just now.
A key concern in our own work on well-being has been to reach out to countries at
different levels of development, making the case that the concept of well-being is truly
universal. We have done this in different ways.
o By organising a series of OECD World Fora on “Statistics, Knowledge and
Policies” since 2004, some of them in emerging countries such as Turkey,
Korea, India and Mexico to draw on experiences from a broad range of
emerging and developing countries.
o We have assessed the well-being framework that we use to assess
performance of OECD countries in the light of the development concerns of
poorer countries, concluding that, with the adaptations required to make
these dimensions more recognisable by emerging and developing countries,
none of the dimensions used by the OECD for assessing well-being is
irrelevant from the perspective of people living in less developed countries.
o We have the used this revised well-being framework as a basis of the Multi-
Dimensional Country Reviews undertaken by the OECD Development Centre.
The OECD Development Centre is part of the OECD-family of organisations,
but with different members (51, 24 developing and emerging countries, 10
African) and governing structure. Six MDCRs have been conducted so far, 1
for an African country (Cote d’Ivoire), 2 more planned (Senegal and Ghana).
o Finally, we recently launched a project to collaborate with non-member
countries in Latin America to develop a country-owned indicator set to assess
well-being among countries in the region. The goal is monitor these
indicators in a regular way through the Latin American Economic Outlook
published every year by the OECD Development Centre. The same model
could be used for African countries, using as vehicle the African Economic
Outlook produced every year by the OECD Development Centre, the African
Development Bank and the United Nation Development Programme.
The last point that I would like to make is that, while Africa may be lagging in many areas of
statistics, it is leading the way in the area of measuring governance. A number of African
countries have been conducting pilots to measure Governance, Peace and Security through
household surveys, and they have taken the lead in the creation of the UN Praja City Group
on governance statistics, to which the OECD is also contributing. While this is not among the
areas that we will discuss over the next 2 days, one driver of such work was the discussion
of ‘political voice and governance’ by the SSF report in 2009. These are very important
issues, for both new and established democracies, and one where the rest of the world can
only learn from African experiences.

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HLEG thematic workshop on Measurement of Well Being and Development in Africa, Marco Mira D'Ercole

  • 1. OECD Perspectives on Well-Being and Development Marco Mira d’Ercole Minister Patel, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, It is for me a great pleasure to join this distinguished panel for this opening session. Martine Durand, OECD Chief Statistician and member of the High Level Expert Group on Measuring Economic Performance and Social Progress, could not be with us today because of other commitments, so it is my pleasure to replace her. My name is Marco Mira d’Ercole and I am heading the division in the OECD Statistics Directorate that contributes most directly to the OECD work on measuring well-being. The “E” in OECD stands for ‘economics’, and the organisation is probably best known for its economic analysis and forecasting, and for its policy advice in a variety of fields, much of it driven by concerns about increasing the efficiency of existing policies. The OECD is also sometimes referred to as the ‘rich men club’, as its members include the most advanced countries in the world. However, but both ways of describing the OECD would miss some important elements of our work. The organisation, under Secretary General Angel Gurria, has adopted a new strategic vision, centred on the notion of a ‘resilient economy, cohesive society, green environment’; a new motto (‘better policies for better lives’); and promoted ‘global partnerships’ with key players outside the OECD region to advance its work. Focus on the notion of ‘well-being’ is part and parcel with this re-orientation of OECD work, and is one element of the ‘revolution’ that the organisation has made in recent years. Both economists and statisticians had traditionally focused on market production as their main focus of attention, using GDP as the overall metric of a country’s success. Today, we have come recognise that maximising market output is an insufficient metric of the performance of a country or community, as it leaves aside concerns on the quality of people’s life, inequalities in life chances, and sustainability. A narrow focus on market output and economic efficiency as sole criteria for policy design have also been a source of the growing gap between people’s expectation of what a democratic system can deliver and the way it effectively functions. Closing this gap requires recognising that GDP growth is only a means to another end, and that that end should be what matters to people; and that, to achieve that end, not all types of growth will do: growth must be inclusive and sustainable. This change in mind-set has not been easy or smooth. As always, there have been reticence and resistance, but the ‘revolution’ is underway. It is happening in countries and it is happening in international organisations. At the OECD, high-profile initiatives such as NEAC and the inclusive growth project embody a broad and multi-dimensional notion of well- being as goal of policies. The World Bank has also moved beyond its traditional focus on extreme poverty towards a concept of ‘shared prosperity’, operationalised in terms of the
  • 2. income growth of the bottom 40% of the population. Finally, just a few weeks ago, the UN General Assembly approved a set of (17) Sustainable Development Goals and (169) targets that are meant to be ‘universal’ – i.e. relevant for both rich and poor countries. These goals focus on ‘healthy lives and well-being’, ’inequalities within and between countries’, ‘decent work and productive employment’, ‘effective, accountable and inclusive institutions’, ‘climate change’ and several others issues that were highlighted in 2009 by the Stiglitz-Sen- Fitoussi Commission, established by the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The OECD had a strong association with the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission: our Chief Statistician was one of its members and the OECD provided part of the Secretariat. The SSF report played a major role in starting the revolution that I mentioned earlier. Because of this role, the OECD was very happy to host the HELG when Joe contacted us in 2013 to pursue the work of SSF. The HLEG works through plenary meetings (1 or 2 per year) and workshops and conferences on specific topics, financed by private foundations and other sponsors. We have organised so far 6 of these workshops. This is the first workshop focused on measurement challenges in a specific region, one region where most of these well-being challenges are especially salient. Let me thank, on behalf of the OECD, Minister Patel as well as the several organisation that have made today’s event possible. Much of our work on well-being at the OECD Statistics Directorates aims at monitoring and assessing people’s well-being in various OECD countries, at understanding the drivers and consequences of various aspects of people’s life; and at developing new metrics to improve upon the available evidence. The main vehicle through which we pursue our monitoring and thematic analysis is our bi- annual publication How’s Is Life?, whose 2015 edition was released just a few weeks ago at the margin of the 5th OECD World Forum on ‘Statistics, Knowledge and Policies’ held on 13- 15 October in Guadalajara, where Joe, Ravi, Pali were among our speakers. We contribute to developing new metrics through: o measurement instruments in specific fields, the best known examples being the PISA and PIAAC tools for measuring learning outcomes of students and adults that my colleague Montserrat Gomedio will describe tomorrow; o developing measurement guidelines that NSOs could then implement in their surveys and that provide a reference point for assessing differences in statistical practices across countries: we have developed such guidelines for measuring people’s SWB, the distribution of household wealth, the joint distribution of people’s income, consumption and wealth; and (currently) for measuring people’s trust in others and in institutions, and the quality of the working environment. o Finally, we support the implementation of new statistical standards, such as the central framework of the System of Economic and Environmental accounts which was adopted in 2012.
  • 3. As important as measuring per se is using these measures in the policy process. In this respect: o We have been quite successful in feeding these new measures in OECD policy analysis (economic surveys of individual countries, territorial reviews and sectoral reviews, which have been broadened to look beyond inputs and outcomes towards outcomes). o There is a rapidly growing body of national experiences in using these measures at different stages of the policy process, i.e. policy design, budgeting, policy monitoring, auditing, with experiences ranging from France to New Zealand, from Finland to Scotland and United Kingdom. Throughout our work we have been driven by the belief that the agenda of measuring performance beyond GDP is not limited to rich countries. Developing countries, and Africa in particular, do confront a range of pressing challenges to their statistical system (from getting population censuses done every 10 years, to creating civil registration systems, to implementing the 2008 version of SNA). But this does not imply that we should wait for all these essential elements of the statistical system to be in place before considering how to develop better metrics of the many aspects of people’s life. The SDGs goals and targets will require that we confront this challenge just now. A key concern in our own work on well-being has been to reach out to countries at different levels of development, making the case that the concept of well-being is truly universal. We have done this in different ways. o By organising a series of OECD World Fora on “Statistics, Knowledge and Policies” since 2004, some of them in emerging countries such as Turkey, Korea, India and Mexico to draw on experiences from a broad range of emerging and developing countries. o We have assessed the well-being framework that we use to assess performance of OECD countries in the light of the development concerns of poorer countries, concluding that, with the adaptations required to make these dimensions more recognisable by emerging and developing countries, none of the dimensions used by the OECD for assessing well-being is irrelevant from the perspective of people living in less developed countries. o We have the used this revised well-being framework as a basis of the Multi- Dimensional Country Reviews undertaken by the OECD Development Centre. The OECD Development Centre is part of the OECD-family of organisations, but with different members (51, 24 developing and emerging countries, 10 African) and governing structure. Six MDCRs have been conducted so far, 1 for an African country (Cote d’Ivoire), 2 more planned (Senegal and Ghana). o Finally, we recently launched a project to collaborate with non-member countries in Latin America to develop a country-owned indicator set to assess well-being among countries in the region. The goal is monitor these indicators in a regular way through the Latin American Economic Outlook published every year by the OECD Development Centre. The same model could be used for African countries, using as vehicle the African Economic
  • 4. Outlook produced every year by the OECD Development Centre, the African Development Bank and the United Nation Development Programme. The last point that I would like to make is that, while Africa may be lagging in many areas of statistics, it is leading the way in the area of measuring governance. A number of African countries have been conducting pilots to measure Governance, Peace and Security through household surveys, and they have taken the lead in the creation of the UN Praja City Group on governance statistics, to which the OECD is also contributing. While this is not among the areas that we will discuss over the next 2 days, one driver of such work was the discussion of ‘political voice and governance’ by the SSF report in 2009. These are very important issues, for both new and established democracies, and one where the rest of the world can only learn from African experiences.