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Assessing networked risks through the measurement of Social Capital – first lessons from the World Social Capital Monitor

This post has been contributed by Alexander Dill of the Basel Institute of Commons and Economics

Can trust, solidarity, helpfulness and friendliness have an impact on economic outcomes by lowering the costs for externalities such as security, peace and environmental damage? If the answer is yes, these supposedly ‘soft’ social goods should be given more attention.

The intuitive importance of the concept of “social capital” has long been recognised, but efforts to define and measure it have been less successful. In 1999, then Chief Economist of the World Bank, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz launched the Social Capital Initiative (with contributions from two other Nobel laureates: Amartya Sen and Elinor Ostrom), which led to a detailed 27-page household questionnaire being administered in a number of countries, but the complexity of the concept continued to be an obstacle to the meaningful application of results to policy and programme interventions.

So which are the aspects of social capital that should be made a priority for measurement? Social capital can be seen as relationships and social networks within groups (‘bonding’ social capital) or as social relationships, values and perceptions across ethnical, political and religious groups, also known as ‘bridging’ social capital. Bridging social capital can be seen to underpin such concepts as trust, solidarity and friendliness, and it is these phenomena which could be the most valuable to underpin the functioning of democratic, stable and resilient societies. More trusting and cooperative societies are likely to have to spend less on transaction costs and externalities.
This is why the World Social Capital Monitor started measuring eight indicators of bridging Social Capital in 36 languages and 141 countries, that serve to assess networked risks and to lowering the costs of externalities. Now the social climate, the willingness to co-finance public goods by austerity measures and taxes, the willingness to invest in local cooperatives and SME, trust, helpfulness, friendliness and hospitality can be locally scored on a ladder between 10 (high/excellent) and 1 (low/poor). You can test it yourself by scoring your town on on any Smartphone, PC or tablet.

From former surveys e.g. on trust by the WHO in 2012 (deviation 2.41 on the same ladder) we could expect a high deviation. But the deviation given by the Trust Your Place survey was much lower. In Cambodia the citizens of 18 provinces only differed by 1.5 points on average when they scored their bridging Social Capital. The poorest province of Kandal had better scores than the capital Phnom Penh. To better understand the Global distribution of Social Capital we may have a look at a comparison of interpersonal trust in four countries.

Dill Blog Image

Source: Social Capital Assessment, Basel Institute of Commons and Economics, 2012/2016

In Japan, high societal trust allowed to recover after the double disasters of the earthquake and Fukushima in 2012. The Basel Institute therefore published the results to argue against a downgrade of Japan in rating. In Ukraine in 2012 however, interpersonal trust was entirely down – and ended in the decline of economy and society in 2014 and the loss of Crimea and Donbass. At the time most of the analysts published positive outlooks on Ukraine and saw the country to becoming a candidate for the EU.

In Afghanistan trust with a score of 4.95 is the worst of the eight indicators of Social Capital but at the same level as in many Western countries.
So the level of trust can indicate high political and economic risks (Ukraine) as well as societal stability (Japan, Cambodia) and a promising base for reconciliation in a country being in war for decades (Afghanistan).

Related links

Basel Institute of Commons and Economics

Wiki article on ‘Social Capital’

Canadians’ wellbeing lagging far behind economic recovery, new report shows



TORONTO, Ont. (Tuesday, November 22, 2016) – Although Canada’s economy has recovered from the 2008 recession, our wellbeing has not, according to a new report from the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), based at the University of Waterloo.

“The 2008 recession stole our leisure time, our volunteer time, our living standards and our sleep – and we never got them back,” said Bryan Smale, director of the CIW. “There is a massive gap between how well the economy is doing and Canadians’ wellbeing, and that gap grew during the recession.”

In 2008, the gap between GDP and the CIW was 21 per cent. By 2010 it was 24.5 per cent. By 2014 had grown to 28.1 per cent.

The CIW tracks 64 indicators to provide a comprehensive analysis of eight domains of vital importance to our quality of life. While economic data are part of the model to capture changes in living standards, the CIW also reports on fluctuations in community vitality, democratic engagement, leisure and culture, education, environment, healthy populations and time use.

The 2016 national report analyzes data from 1994 to 2014 to provide a startling view of wellbeing’s overall evolution over the period as well as its components.

The report shatters the myth that economic growth translates into wellbeing. In some areas, such as Leisure and Culture and the Environment, we are worse off than we were in 1994.
Specific findings include:

• Living standards rose 23 per cent from 1994 until the 2008 recession, then plummeted almost 11 per cent. Now, despite an increase in median family incomes, more Canadians experience food and housing insecurity and employment is more precarious.

• Leisure and Culture is down 9 per cent. In 2014, household spending on culture and recreation was at its lowest point in the two decades measured. Canadians are spending less time away on vacation and participating or volunteering in leisure and cultural activities.

• Environmental progress declined by 2.9 per cent. Although residential energy use is down 20 per cent, there should be much more progress from industry.

• The time crunch is an ongoing challenge. We are spending almost 30 per cent less time with our friends. Our commute times to work are longer and only 35 per cent of us are getting enough sleep – down from 44 per cent in 1994.

• Life expectancy is up and ratings for mental health are slightly better, but Canadians’ overall health ratings are worse. Diabetes rates are two and half times higher than in 1994 and more than one in five people has a health or activity limitation.

• Education is the only domain to keep pace with GDP. Nine out of 10 students now complete high school; and by 2014, 28 per cent of Canadians held a university degree. Still, rising tuition fees and access to regulated child-care spaces remain important challenges.

• Community Vitality is strong but volunteering fell by 15% after the recession. Two in three Canadians have a strong sense of community belonging. People feel safer in their neighbourhoods and help one another. Yet, volunteering was a victim of the recession.

• Although voter turnout increased recently, barely one-third of Canadians in 2014 expressed a high degree of confidence in Parliament – down 14 per cent since 2003.

“When we shift to innovative, proactive solutions that consider more than one domain of our lives at the same time, we will start to see positive change that will enhance Canadian’s daily lives in the areas that matter most,” said Smale. “The report is a call to action to adopt wellbeing as a measure that is as important as GDP.”

The CIW regularly reports on the quality of life of Canadians at the national, provincial and local levels, and advocates for social change that reflects our values and places wellbeing at the heart of policy.


About the University of Waterloo
University of Waterloo is Canada’s top innovation university. With more than 36,000 students we are home to the world’s largest co-operative education system of its kind. Our unmatched entrepreneurial culture, combined with an intensive focus on research, powers one of the top innovation hubs in the world. Find out more at

Knowledge for a better world – the International Panel on Social Progress

International Panel on Social Progress
International Panel on Social Progress

How can social sciences and the humanities help in achieving better societies for all? This question is at the heart of the International Panel on Social Progress, an ambitious undertaking aiming to bring together the knowledge of hundreds of experts in order to set out the state of the art on how to foster social progress  – and they want to hear from you too.

The word ‘progress’ sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s certainly a difficult time to argue that social, economic and environmental trends inevitably move in a positive direction, and it’s also easy to find examples where development and modernization processes have brought about a deterioration rather than improvement in well-being for many people and the planet. It’s clear that social progress – understood as the sustainable and equitable improvement in well-being of all people – is not an automatic process. However, this only further underlines the importance of efforts to use evidence and knowledge to support positive social change. This is the philosophy behind Wikiprogress, and is also the driving force of the International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP), an ambitious initiative to take stock of the leading-edge of knowledge in the social sciences and humanities to assess what contributions they can make to shape a better, more just world.

Since 2015, the IPSP is bringing together almost 300 experts from every region in the world, and representing all social science disciplines and perspectives, to provide an interdisciplinary and cutting-edge view of the options available to achieve more sustainable and equitable social progress. Initiated by the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme and Princeton University, the IPSP will cover the full range of economic, political and cultural issues facing societies today including democracy, poverty and inequalities, globalization, work, migration, public and corporate governance, global and environmental risks, health, conflict, religion, education, integration and diversity.

Modeled in part on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPSP will also necessarily be quite different. Firstly, it has not been commissioned by governments, but is peer-led by scholars themselves. The work is being guided by a Steering Committee and a Scientific Council of leading international scholars, and supported by an Honorary Advisory Committee headed by Nobel-prize winner Amartya Sen. Secondly, given the role of values and normative frameworks in shaping social science discourse, the Panel will not aim to produce a definitive ‘consensus’ on the right way to move forward, but will aim to be transparent about the different options available when consensus is not possible.

The ultimate outcome of the IPSP’s work will be a comprehensive report to be published in 2018 addressed to all social actors, movements, organizations, politicians and decision-makers who can play a part in fostering social progress. It is hoped that the report will also encourage and guide further research in areas where it is needed.  The first drafts of many of the chapters are now completed, and between now and the end of the year, everyone with an interest in the issue of social progress is encouraged to read the report and provide comments. There are also other ways you can get involved in this process, such as taking part in the discussion forums or answering a survey on how you see different aspects of social progress. This is an exciting and potentially hugely influential initiative, and we encourage you to take part however you can!

How you can be part of the International Panel on Social Progress

Download the outline of the report

Read the chapters of the report and contribute your comments

Join in the discussion forums

Take a short survey on aspects of social progress


Welcome to the New Wikiprogress

On Friday 2nd October 2015, Wikiprogress was re-launched on a new, improved platform. The address stayed the same, but the site now has a different look with many new functions, making it easier to use and to add new content.

Why change?

Wikiprogress was launched in 2009, with the aim of collecting together the knowledge of the ‘beyond GDP’ community in one place, using the same model (and software) as Wikipedia. With all of your help, over the last six years, Wikiprogress has grown and grown: it currently consists of over 2000 articles, and receives an average of approximately 20,000 visitors per month.

However, as the site has got bigger, it has got more and more difficult for users to find the information they need. It has also become clear that the ‘Wikipedia’-approach is not the most effective way to manage the content shared by the community. While encyclopaedia-style articles work well for explaining terms and definitions related to progress, in fact the bulk of articles on Wikiprogress in recent years describe concrete projects and outputs (initiatives, reports, data, events, etc.) undertaken by organisations in the Wikiprogress community.

It has become clear that Wikiprogress needs to adapt to continue to make the most of your contributions.

What will be different?

First of all, let’s start with what will be the same:

  • The new site will still be a ‘wiki’  in that it will remain an open-source, collaborative endeavour, and the majority of content on the site will be crowdsourced.
  • We are migrating all existing content to the new site, so none of your hard work over the years will be lost. We have only deleted a few articles which seem clearly out of date, or which do not fit in with the scope of the site (e.g. commercial product placement).
  • It will also still be possible to create Wikipedia-style ‘articles’ (although the process of adding or editing pages with be much simpler).
  • It will also still be possible to visit an archived version of the old site for some time (although it will no longer be updated) at this link: http://vs-std-wiki-prod-1/

However, we are re-organising the logic of the site, and are introducing the use of templates for any content related to:

  • Organisations
  • Initiatives (i.e. the different projects undertaken by Organisations)
  • Resources (i.e. the different outputs of the projects)
    •  E.g. Data, Reports, Websites, etc.

The intention is that this will being more consistency to the way information is stored in Wikiprogress, making it easier for users to search/browse for information, and to add content.

One important feature of the new site is that it will be much easier to share and access data files.  This will replace the old Wikiprogress.Stat section of the website. Please note that if you have embedded data from Wikiprogress.Stat in your site, this will no longer be updated. The data portal that we developed in beta and launched last August as part of the Web-COSI project has also been integrated into the site and will no longer exist on a separate platform.

We have already started to migrate some relevant content from the ‘Article’ format to the more easily searchable templates, but this will be an ongoing task over the coming months. We encourage you to visit the new site, explore, and test it out.


The Progblog will be integrated into the new site, in the Blog section (where you are currently reading this post). If you are a subscriber to the blog, you will be able to find all the content here, and you will continue to receive alerts when a new blog is posted.  If you would like to follow future blog posts via the RSS feed, this is the correct link:

Will I need to register again for the new site?

You will not need to register again, but you will have to update your password. When the new site was launched, you should have received an email with an automatically generated password for you to change. If you did not receive this email, please contact and we will help you to re-register.

We are very excited about this new phase in Wikiprogress’s existence, and we hope you will be too! We are so grateful for all the contributions you have all made to Wikiprogress over the years, and we hope that these changes will make the job of contributing information about your activities to the site much easier!


Visualizing Well-being Data Visualization Contest: Meet the Winners

We hosted a data visualization contest as part of the EC-funded Web-COSI project that ran during the summer with the deadline on August 24th. The challenge was to create a data visualization that communicated key statistics about well-being and sustainability to a broad audience.  The contest was open to anyone, but there was a specific prize reserved for a winner under the age of 26. The submissions were judged on their clarity and rigour, concept, and originality. 

We would like to thank everyone who entered the Wikiprogress “Visualizing Well-being” Data Viz Contest over the summer. We received so many entries of high quality and we are delighted to be announcing the winners, who will be joining us at the 5th OECD World Forum in Guadalajara next month. The contest was held as part of the Web-COSI  project, which aims to improve people’s engagement with statistics beyond GDP. We particularly wanted to encourage young people to participate and offered a special prize for under 26-year olds. In the end, two of the winners were under 26 at the time of the competition and one had just turned 26!

The entries were judged with respect to clarity, concept and originality by our expert jury consisting of Kim Rees, Stefanie Posavec and Moritz Stefaner. The jury was very pleased with the diversity and inventiveness of the applications. The goal of the contest was to use creativity to communicate key statistics about well-being and sustainability to a broad audience.

To see more information about the winning entries, please head over to the winner’s page on Wikiprogress.

The Winners:
Click on their names to view their full submission on Wikiprogress

Andrew Mollica
Scattered Well-Being

According to Andrew, his “visualization shows how varied well-being measures can be within a country and consequently how country-wide statistics can over-simplify. While it’s convenient to characterize whole populations by talking about national averages, we are often masking a lot of important complexity. This visualization attempts to make understanding this complexity approachable by allowing users to view the overall distribution of different well-being indexes as well as let them focus on a particular area.”

Fidel Tomet
Seeking A Better Life

According to Fidel, his visualization “takes a look at what people say is most important to them in life and how this reflects in their choice for a new home. It thereby also raises the question how other aspects, like distance, language and immigration laws, affect the decision.”

Alice Feng
Access to Higher Education is Not Equal

According to Alice, the concept she is trying to show is, “that although young adults in developed countries have generally become increasingly well-educated over time, when we take a closer look at the family backgrounds of those young adults, we see that children of less educated parents are under-represented relative to children of highly educated parents.  Indeed, most college students come from already privileged backgrounds; children of parents with at most a secondary education are much less likely to enroll in higher education.  Since higher levels of education are linked with greater earnings and better economic outcomes, this situation perpetuates inequality.”

The winners of the contest will receive a free trip to Guadalajara, Mexico to attend the OECD 5th World Forum in October. If you are interested in following the discussions at the 5th World Forum, you can watch via live webcast on the official website during 13-15 October.

A huge thank you to our judges and to all of the contestants who sent in their work. We were overwhelmed by the number of entries we received, and the standard was very high in terms of design and originality.


Update for the Wikiprogress online consultation on Youth Well-being: Last few days to contribute!

The first Wikiprogress online consultation on Youth Well-being has gained a lot of momentum with over 400 comments to date, and we have decided to extend the deadline for commenting an extra few days to the 15th May. As we’re nearing the end of our consultation, we’re keen to hear what you think our key policy recommendations should be to tangibly improve well-being for youth. Sign up and contribute your opinion here: The post below by Laura Gillies of Bluenove, one of the moderators of the discussion highlights some of the key points in the discussion so far. We look forward to hearing from you!

We have had some fantastic contributions in the online consultation this week. Many issues seem to revolve around the themes of giving youth validity and better utilizing social media, such as:
  • Youth have many ideas and seem willing to engage but they are often not taken seriously. How can we fix this?
  • Social media seems to have great potential as a space for dialogue, a place where new ‘visual’ languages can evolve, and a repository of data that can be analyzed to improve youth well-being, but it is often currently seen as a place for shallow dialogue. Can it be better used for youth well-being purposes?

As we’re nearing the end of our consultation, we’re keen to hear what you think our key policy recommendations should be to tangibly improve well-being for youth. Below are some of the main points discussed in the consultation in the last week.
Recommendations for policy makers

This week the idea of what recommendations can be drawn from the discussion so far was raised. Current suggestions include:
  • Well-being as a universal right should be fundamental
  • International initiatives aimed at re-defining indicators of well-being for the younger generation
  • Mental health should be seriously treated by indicators
  • Data needs to be harvested and analyzed around youth indicators
  • University networks should be mobilized
  • Policies should be flexible
  • Economic needs should be discussed and incorporated

Giving youth validity
Youth seem to be willing to participate (Obama’s 2008 presidental campaign in the U.S., governmental departments in France, youth councils, university groups, etc.) but one issue they seem to run into is that adults don’t take them seriously. Specific points and questions raised include:
  • Obama did not make good on the suggestions youth made to his political platform
  • Student /youth groups are often disregarded
  • Older generations are not willing to accept the new ideas being proposed by youth
  • What can be done to help youth gain more influence?

Shared responsibility
The responsibility for youth well-being policy is shared between many different actors including NGOs, parents, the corporate world, governments, etc. How can these actors be convinced to take youth well-being more seriously?
Youth participation
How can youth be incorporated into the process?  Some great ideas were raised including:
  • Creating a debate at home via schools to incorporate parents into the process
  • Using the media to create a space for conversation
  • Helping older people to accept the new ideas of youth so they feel incentivised to share their opinions
  • Creating a culture of engagement from the get-go (raising kids who feel empowered to contribute)
  • What are some other ways we can incentivize youth to participate?

Data collection
This generation of youth are more connected than ever via online platforms.
What are the possibilities for harvesting and analyzing the vast amounts of public data that can be found on social media?
What is the potential for this type of data in determining what is important for youth well-being? 
Intergenerational dynamics
This week the topic of inter-generational issues was discussed in greater detail. Some key ideas emerged including how to bring older generations on board with the new ideas of youth and how to incorporate the wisdom of elderly generations in the process. This was put into the context of paths to efficient governance for youth, and the idea of inter-generational mentoring programs was raised. 
Mental health
Mental health, alcohol abuse and drug abuse are often interwoven issues. Can alcohol and drug use be used as an indicator of youth well-being? Do higher levels of alcohol consumption equate to lower well-being? Does higher drug use? ​
Employment and well-being
This week the idea that employment problems for youth is an issue that is impossible to solve was raised. Do you believe this is true?
The idea that having an education system that values professional training rather than formal degrees may help with employment was also raised.
We strongly encourage you to add your thoughts to the debate, and regularly check back and see how the debate is progressing! Thank you again to everyone who has contributed thus far! We look forward to hearing from you in this final week!
Sign up and join in the discussion here:
Related blogs


Wikiprogress Online Consultation on Youth Well-being

From the 30 March to 8 May, Wikiprogress will be running a 6-week online consultation on Youth Well-being in co-operation with a number of partners. This consultation will be quite different from previous discussions held on Wikiprogress, and the aim will be to cover a very wide range of topics in as much detail as possible in order to produce a report for policy makers and practitioners. We intend for the results of the consultation to be presented at the OECD Forum in Paris in June – and we are counting on your participation to make sure we have as wide a range of contributions as possible.

Register for and access the consultation here.

There are more young people living in the world today than at any time in human history and there is an urgent need to better meet their needs through more effective policy-making and societal action. Last December, Wikiprogress held a 2-week online discussion on Youth Well-being Measurement and Policy. We were overwhelmed by the reaction to this topic, and it was quite clear that there was much more to discuss than the usual format allowed.
A new tool for online consultation

From Monday 30 March to the 8 May, we will be running an online consultation to explore in more detail the many questions raised by the December discussion. In order to this, we are experimenting with a new open-source tool, which will allow us to bring more structure to the conversation, and keep track of the key ideas that emerge over its 6 weeks.
Those who have taken part in previous Wikiprogress discussions will notice that this consultation looks quite different from our usual discussion pages. The idea is that by using a tool that has been specially designed for large-scale online debates, we will be able to organise contributions by theme and by question, making it easier for people to participate in the areas that most interest them. It will also make it easier to highlight key points and summarise pertinent information when it comes to communicating the knowledge gathered to policy makers. Every week we will produce a short summary of the key points of the consultation to help participants keep track of new contributions.
Anyone is free to take part, and we are especially interested in hearing from:
  • Practitioners, researchers and representatives of organisations that have a particular interest in any aspect of youth well-being and youth participation.
  • Young people themselves, who want to have a say about what matters most to them.

An evolving discussion

 The principal objective of the consultation is to gather knowledge from as wide a range of informed people as possible about how to better understand the needs of young people and how to implement policy and other actions that can improve their lives. The consultation is designed so that it can evolve, with new questions and ideas emerging as more people contribute. However, the consultation will open on Monday with a number of starting questions, in the following areas.
First, what does “youth well-being” really mean? Or in other words, what are the key drivers for their well-being and how do the needs of the under-25s differ from the general population in key well-being policy areas (health, employment, personal safety, etc.)? What resources can we use to get an accurate picture of young people’s well-being and where do data gaps exist?
Second, what actions can we take to make young people’s lives better? What do we know works and what lessons can we learn from successful examples of policy and grassroots initiatives? What are good case studies and where do we need better approaches? How can we move from rhetoric to making a real impact when implementing the Sustainable Development Agenda and other commitments?
Third, how can we improve the process of designing and implementing effective policy for young people? How can we ensure that young people’s voices are heard in the policy process, and what changes are needed in government mind-sets and institutions to improve the lives and opportunities of young people?
What will be the outcomes of the consultation?

We intend for the findings of the consultation to be presented at the OECD Forum in Paris in June, and for a report of the consultation to be made widely available for policy makers, foundations, civil society organisations and others in the Wikiprogress network.

The consultation is being held in partnership with a number of organisations working on youth well-being issues, currently including:
·        Restless Development
·        Youth Policy
We are also be adding more partners throughout the consultation. If you work for an organisation that would be interested in partnering with us, please email
And to all Prog Blog readers, we hope that you will join us in this exciting experiment! Sign up now, and we look forward to your contributions in the coming weeks.
Related blogs


Why statisticians must produce a measure of “clean GDP”

This article from previous contributor, journalist Donato Speroni, argues the case for an adjusted GDP measure that excludes socially and environmentally harmful modes of production to give a clearer picture of countries’ sustainable growth.

Eleven years after the 1st OECD World Forum in Palermo, economists and statisticians, politicians and representatives of civil society will again meet – this time in Guadalajara, Mexico  – on the 13-15 October 2015 for the 5th OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy jointly organised by the National Statistics Office of Mexico (INEGI) and the OECD.
A lot of work has been done in the past decade thanks to OECD, and I have already written about it in my previous post on ProgBlog. But I have come to the conclusion, already presented in my Italian blog on the Corriere della  Sera website, that we are now facing two different directions of research.
1)  The first one is the production of sophisticated dashboards for measuring progress across all the components of collective well-being, taking into consideration objective data and subjective perceptions, the current situation of societies but also their sustainability into the future, average  well-being but also the range of inequalities in order to evaluate the inclusiveness of  societies. This has been the main challenge in recent years, and has been widely discussed in all the World Forums, from Palermo to Istanbul, from Busan to New Delhi.
2) The second one is a new way to measure production, in order to take into account its effects on the different kinds of capital (environmental, social and human) which together represent the total wealth of a nation. The purpose is to have a measure of “clean GDP”, or in other words new wealth produced, net of consumption of irreplaceable natural resources and of the fraying of the social fabric.

I say this because, after all the work that has been done, we have to face an unpleasant truth. Gross domestic product, the ubiquitous measure of wealth production that influences the policy of all states, will not be, at least in the shortand medium term, replaced by an all-encompassing measureof welfare. Neitherthe legendary Happiness Index of Bhutan, norother complex indexes to measure progresswill undermine GDP.
This does not mean that progresses made in recent years, including indicators of BES, (Benessere equo e sostenibile) developed in Italy, are not important. Butindicators of well-being may coalesce into a dashboard” presenting many different data with limited impact on politicians and media: in the Italian BES there are 135indicators. They cannot be synthesized into one composite indicator. As Nobel Prize Joseph Stiglitz once said, “it would be like pretending to have in your automobile only one indicator which tells you simultaneously the speed at which you are going and how much gasoline is left in the tank”. There are also big difficulties in international comparisons of well-being dashboards, because what matters most to an Italian can be very different from priorities of aFinnish and even more from those of an Indian person. It is for this reason, I think, that the OECD Better life index leaves the choice of the weights of the different dominions of well-being up to the user.
Yet GDP alone is not enough, as Robert Kennedy had already declared nearly 50 years ago, and it is less and less useful to measure the actualprogress of a society. The new book by Naomi KleinThis changes everything, dramatically raisesthe issue of the type of growth that can be compatible with the increasingly difficult objective of containingclimate change within the limit of two degrees centigrade.
We don’t have to agree with all the political proposals by Ms Klein to recognize that we have a big problem, which requires an urgent solution. No one can propose a generalized “degrowth”, because the world certainly needs more development. But theopinion of Ms Klein is that the richest 20% of the world should contain their consumption to leave room for other countriesand decrease their emissions by 8 – 10% yearly.

However, (in my opinion) the reduction of total consumption, even as a result of virtuous practices, could result in a disaster for our national economies. Imagine for example the impact of the spread of the “car sharing” practices, inducing many families to give up their car. It would result inreducing car manufacturing and consumption and therefore a significant drop in GDP. If the parameters of international assessment remain attached to GDP (e.g. financial ratings and ratios between GDP and the stock of sovereign debt, as in Europe), the country that had courageouslyembarked on the path of reducing the use of automobiles would lose its credibility on the international markets.
Yet, somehow we have to deal with this problem. We know from the Global Footprint calculations that mankind actually consumes 1.5 times the resources that the Earth can produce in one year: we already need one and a half planets to meet our consumption needs and we will need even more when in the next 20 years the middle class of the world, earning from 10 to 100 dollars a day, will move from 1.8 billion to 4.8 billion people.

It we take GDP as a measure of consumption, we can calculate that a reduction of one third of the average world per capita GDP (down to a measure comparable with “consuming” the resources of only one planet per year) would result in a per capita GDP similar to that of Kosovo or Mongolia. For a country like Italy, this would mean going back to the GDP per capita rate of fifty years ago.
How to make this transformation, without falling into aGreat Depression, but rather promoting, to use the language of Klein, aGreat Transformation’? Probably the first thing to do is to look beyond the aggregate figure of GDP to get a more accurate picture of production and consumption patterns. In fact there are different kinds of GDP. The quality of our consumption is much different in comparison to50 years ago. Cars travel more miles on less fuel and fewer changes of lubricant, refrigerators require less electricity and can be partially sourced from renewable sources. So, getting back to the GDP level of50 years ago (or more correctly, to the level of exploitation of planetary resources that was needed to produce the GDP of 50 years ago) would not necessarilymean returning to the quality of life of 50 years ago.
Here is the challengethat arises for economists and statisticians. Alongside dashboards measuring overall well-being, we must have a specific measure ofgood GDP“, i.e. that part of the production of wealth that does not impact on the environment and corresponds to an effective progress of the community. Recall, for example, thatGDP measures not onlythe production of goods (which almost always requires the use of natural resources and results inharmful emissions into the environment) but also that of services, which (usually) do not have these drawbacks. Paradoxically, if we exchanged poemson the Internet for a fee, we wouldincrease GDP.
Of course we cannot live on poetry: we need goods, starting with food (which requires consumption of land, water, agricultural machinery and fertilizers) and beyond. But the attempt to measure the production of wealth through the lense ofsustainability deserves more attention, because “good GDP” could grow even if “GDP overall” might decrease. In the OECD World  Forum in Busan, in 2009, Stiglitz told the audience that during the Clinton administration he had proposed a way of measuring GDP net of carbon dioxide emissions, but said he was stoppedby the reaction of the American oil companies.
Recently, in an interview to an Italian newspaper, Stiglitz said: “GDP is a good measure for industrial, commercial and financial production, but measures only the amount. Instead you must calculate the quality of production, taking technology into consideration”.  
This is preciselywhat we mean by good GDP“: a numberthat measures not only the quantityof goods produced, but also theirtechnological quality, because a GDP that destroys the resourcesof future generations is not real wealth creation.
I don’t underestimate the methodological problems. In practice we would need to calculate a value addedthat notonly subtracts the use of raw materials and semi-finished productsfrom total production, as happens now, but also emissions and other negative impacts on the natural and social environment. Of course it is not easy to “give a price” to the destruction of the environment or to other negative impacts of production on society, but GDP calculation already includes difficult estimates (for example the value of the production of the public sector, or the value of the black economy and of some criminal activities), so I think that statisticians could do it. The Genuine Progress Indicator is already an effort in this direction.
Why do I think that this is important? Because such a revolution in national accounting would change political priorities, with significant consequences in the balance of power, helping the world to face the difficult challenges of the future.
Donato Speroni


Open Data Day – get involved!

This post is part of the Wikiprogress series on Data and Statistics in the lead up to Open Data Day on 22 February.

Open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and distributed by anyone, only subject to (at the most) the requirement that users attribute the data and that they make their work available to be shared as well.
Hosted and supported by the Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Data Day Hackathon is an annual day where people around the world celebrate open data by hacking, holding forums, analysing data and hosting workshops. Going on since 2010, the event aims at raising awareness for the open data debate by showing support for and encouraging the adoption of open data policies by the world’s local, regional and national governments.

How does it work?

Be it online or in person, if you’re interested in taking part in the activities of the Open Data Day you just have to go to the wiki page, register your event and tag it onto the world map. The organisers are centralising the local initiatives for each city, so people can boost the sharing ideas experience. 

Rules of the game 

Events for the day can be of many kinds, they have only to follow these principles set by the organizers:
  •  Events should happen on the same day  (This year it´ll be happening on the 22nd February)
  • Events should be open, inclusive and welcome diversity (epistemic, geographic, socio-demographic, of language and gender)
  •  Anyone can organise a local event  (the person just has to add its name to the relevant city on the wiki list)
  •  People can hack on anything that involves open data (it could be a local or global app, a visualisation, proposing a standard for common data sets, scraping data from a government website to make it available for others or even creating your own data catalogue of government data)
  • People are invited to share ideas and experiences  (each event should come up with at least one demo, brainstorm, proposal, to share online with the Open Data Day crowd)
  • Virtual party!

For more info visit