Category Archives: wellbeing and progress

6th OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy: The Future of Well-Being

For well over a decade, the OECD World Forums on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy have been pushing forward the boundaries of well-being measurement and policy. By bringing together thousands of leaders, experts and practitioners from all sectors of society, the Forums have contributed to an ongoing paradigm shift that emphasises people’s well-being and inclusive growth as the ultimate focus for policies and collective action. The years since the first OECD World Forum in 2004 have seen huge advances in our ability to measure the aspects of people’s lives that matter for inclusive and sustainable well-being, and to strengthen the link between statistics, knowledge and policy for better lives. However, while we now have a much more sophisticated grasp of what metrics and actions are needed to foster well-being today, we know much less about how the drivers of well-being will be transformed in the coming years. The aim of this 6th OECD World Forum, is to look ahead to the Future of Well-being, and to ask what are the trends that will re-shape people’s lives in the decades to come?

The future of well-being in a complex, interconnected world

The world we live in today is more connected, and yet more fragmented than ever. Online networks flourish, but as well as bringing people together they also engender political polarisation, “fake news” and distrust between groups. Rising inequalities have become a fact of life, with the gaps between the “haves” and the “have nots” growing ever wider, and spanning multiple dimensions of well-being. And many of the most pressing well-being challenges facing governments around the world – including climate change, mass migration, and the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals – demand increased international cooperation at a time when nationalist and separatist ideologies are gaining traction in many countries.

Looking to the future, it is likely that these issues of complexity and interconnectedness will continue to define society in increasingly unpredictable ways.  Ensuring inclusive growth and well-being in this new landscape will require policy makers and actors from across society to think and act creatively, anticipating new risks and opportunities, and opening up to new approaches and new forms of partnership and collaboration across sectors.

Focus on digitalisation, governance and business

The 6th OECD World Forum will take a broad perspective to addressing the future of well-being, but will put a particular emphasis on three important trends – the digital transformation, the changing role of governance,  and the emergence of the private sector as an important actor for ensuring sustainable and inclusive well-being – as well as looking at the interplay of these three factors. As always, the Forum will showcase innovations and experiences from pioneers in well-being measurement and policy from around the world, but will explore the issues from a much more forward-looking perspective. By taking a wide-ranging approach to consider how life will be in tomorrow’s world, it will aim to map a plan of action for people, government and businesses today.


Confirmed speakers include OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, Statistics Korea Commissioner Hwang Soo-kyeong, Nobel Prize winner and economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean at the United Nations, and many other global leaders.

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The Wellbeing of Nations: Meaning, Motive and Measurement

This blog by Paul Allin, Professor at Imperial College London, discusses a new book that explores the meaning of wellbeing and why it should be measured, the authors look at over 200 recent initiatives and summarise the different approaches taken in this area. 

The desire to explore and understand the territory ‘beyond GDP’ is gaining momentum all the time as we seek more relevant and meaningful measures of wellbeing and progress.  The topic features not only in ProgBlog and WikiProgress, but increasingly in social media channels and in many on-line forums.  A new book “The Wellbeing of Nations” reflects this interest and records many local, national and cross-national initiatives to build measures of wellbeing and progress that go beyond purely economic measures, and the headline measures of GDP and GNP in particular.
The authors, statisticians based at Imperial College London, take the view that national wellbeing – how a country is doing – embraces quality of life, the state of the environment, development and sustainability, as well as economic performance. All  these aspects are important to people, so measures of real progress need these dimensions. (The same applies if attention is focussed on a city or a neighbourhood, rather than on the nation overall).

The book opens by asking what is national wellbeing, and why measure it?  These are not new questions, as we can see from a “short” history of national wellbeing and its measurement, from Plato in Ancient Greece through to current developments to replace the Millennium Development Goals.
Looking across some 200 or more recent initiatives, several different broad approaches to measuring wellbeing and progress are summarised in the book.  These range from making greater use of the full national economic accounts, including with extensions beyond the core accounts, through various sets of social and environmental indicators.  Survey-based data on personal wellbeing are also now being collected by some national statistical offices and other organisations, either as a new overall measures of wellbeing, or to include with other measures.

However, the fundamental point for the authors is to ask what we mean by wellbeing and progress, and how we will use new measures.  A key message is that we are still learning how to use wider measures in public policy, business decision-making and in everyday life.  Until we establish the requirement for new measures, we are unlikely to be able to construct measures that will last in the way that GDP has done.

The UK Measuring National Well-being programme is featured as a case-study in the book. The authors are two of the technical advisors to the ONS work. In the photo above, author Paul Allin (on the left) is seen presenting a copy of the book to Glenn Everett, his successor as director of the programme, during a recent meeting in the UK Office for National Statistics. 

The authors conclude that there is much research and development around the world to help understand what people mean by wellbeing and by wider measures of progress.  There are a variety of motives for going ‘beyond GDP’, including concerns about sustainability as well as current quality of life.  Robust and valid measures are starting to appear.
However, the authors report that they “have not found full, clear or widely accepted” answers about the meaning of national wellbeing, the motive for measuring it, and how it should be measured.  There is more to be done and more that should be done including, they suggest, widening the system of national accounts (SNA) to become a system of national wellbeing accounts.  This should be taken forward by the international organisations involved in SNA working with the many other organisations and developers who already have a stake in all of this.
Allin P. and Hand D.J. (2014) “The Wellbeing of Nations: Meaning, Motive andMeasurement“, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. 
Paul Allin, CStat, FRSA
Visiting Professor, Department of Mathematics, Imperial College London