What’s Happening in Wellbeing?

Here’s a post I wrote for the recently-launched Legatum Institute blog. The post provides a short summary of some of the current initiatives, reports, and programmes involving wellbeing … 

Right now wellbeing is very topical. Around the world governments are beginning to warm up to the idea of measuring something more than just economic progress. Countries currently engaged in measuring wellbeing in some form include Germany, Australia, Bhutan, Ireland, France, Japan, Korea, China, Germany, Norway, Italy, Spain, Slovenia and, of course, the UK.

Broadly speaking this new focus from government and policy organisations fits into what is known as the “beyond GDP” movement. Essentially, this is the belief that when we measure a country’s progress/success/development we should include more than just its wealth.

Different initiatives are currently being undertaken around this topic. I have listed some of these below. The first relates directly to policy making, while the remainder are mainly concerned with the issue of measurement:

1. Firstly (and most importantly!) is the Legatum Institute Commission on Wellbeing Policy. This high level commission – chaired by Lord Gus O’Donnell – will report in Jan 2014 on how wellbeing data can be used by central government during the policy making process. When the report is launched, the Commission’s recommendations will set the standard for using wellbeing data in policy making.

2. The OECD recently published a superb set of guidelines on measuring subjective wellbeing. The aim of these guidelines is to introduce uniformity in how subjective wellbeing is measured so as to be most useful to governments and other decision-makers.

3. UNICEF has just published a Report Card on Child Wellbeing, which places the UK 16th out of 29 countries. The summary of the UK findings does not make for pleasant reading: “high rates of teenage pregnancy, and high numbers of young people out of education, employment and training… one of the highest alcohol abuse rates among 11-15 year olds, and…in the bottom third of the infant mortality league table.”

4. The French government is getting ready to launch the first report into what it is calling the “Positive Economy”. This initiative, which was commissioned directly by President Hollande, is a “platform to develop relationships and create knowledge about an economy that seeks more than profit”.

5. Next month the German Parliament is set to vote on a new report entitled “Growth, Wellbeing and Quality of Life”. The report was drafted by a Parliamentary Inquiry Committee and proposes that societal welfare should be measured across three dimensions: material wealth, ecology, and social aspects including social inclusion. Further details are here.

6. Last month, the Social Progress Index was launched. This new index aims to measure how countries “provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens.” Comprising 52 separate indicators spread across three broad categories and including both subjective and objective data, this index is one to watch in the years to come.

7. And while new initiatives are emerging, several international organisations continue to provide cross-country measures of wellbeing. See for example the OECD Better Life Index, the UN Human Development Index, and our own Legatum Prosperity Index™.


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