How is well-being measured?
What is a data visualization?
What makes a good data visualization?
What will the judges be looking for?
How many entries can I submit?
Do you accept joint or team entries?
The aim of the competition is to increase awareness of well-being measurement and to show how a focus on people’s well-being, rather than, say on economic growth alone, can provide a more meaningful and nuanced view of societal change and progress.
But what is well-being? There is no single definition, but in general terms well-being refers to the conditions in people’s lives that allow them to lead happy, fulfilled and productive lives. Well-being is often seen as a very personal issue, as what makes one person happy may have the opposite effect on someone else. However, as research into well-being has increased in recent years, a certain consensus has emerged around the fact that while well-being is complex and multi-dimensional, it is possible to identify some key dimensions of well-being that matter for all, or almost all, people. These dimensions may include, but are not restricted to, the following issues:
- Basic needs (e.g. food, shelter)
- Material living conditions (e.g. income, economic security, decent housing)
- Health (including mental health)
- Human rights and freedom of expression
- Love and relationships
- Employment and decent work
- Safety and resilience (e.g. freedom from harm, or ability to withstand harm and adversity)
- Environment and surroundings
Well-being cannot be reduced to one single thing therefore, and to get a full picture of people’s lives, it is usually necessary to take into account a combination of different factors related to people’s lives.
Different frameworks highlight different dimensions of well-being, but in general there is a lot of commonality between approaches.
Well-being today or well-being tomorrow?
The conditions which support people’s well-being today may be different from the conditions which support people’s well-being into the future. The sustainability of well-being is therefore important to consider as well as current well-being. The Brundtland definition of Sustainable Development is equally applicable in a well-being context, defined as meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. For the Sustainable Development Agenda, currently being discussed in the UN context as the replacement for the Millennium Development Goals, people’s well-being is at the heart of the new proposed goals.
Examples of well-being frameworks
In the absence of a single accepted definition, there are a range of well-being frameworks developed by different organisations and projects that highlight slightly different aspects of well-being, or choose to label the dimensions in slightly different ways. Despite these variations, there is also a great deal of similarity between frameworks.
Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress
For example, the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, a high-level initiative headed by Nobel Laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, as well as French Economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi, and which released an influential report in 2009, outlined 8 domains to be taken into account when defining well-being:
1) Material living standards (income, consumption and wealth); 2) Health; 3) Education; 4) Personal activities including work; 5) Political voice and governance; 6) Social connections and relationships; 7) Environment (present and future conditions); and 8) Insecurity, of an economic as well as physical nature.
OECD Better Life Framework
The OECD Better Life Framework, which was influenced by the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report, instead highlights 11 dimensions of current well-being:
1) Income and wealth; 2) Jobs and Earnings; 3) Housing; 4) Health Status; 5) Work-Life Balance; 6) Education and Skills; 7) Social Connections; 8) Civic Engagement and Governance; Environmental Quality; Personal Security; Subjective Well-Being.
The Better Life Framework also considers the sustainability of well-being, and uses a capital-based approach to describe the factors that underpin long-term well-being conditions, encompassing natural, economic, human and social capital.
More recently, the OECD has adapted its framework to be applicable to developing countries, highlighting the following dimensions: 1) Consumption possibilities; 2) Work; 3) Housing and infrastructure; 4) Environmental conditions; 5) Education and skills; 6) Health; 7) Vulnerability; 8) Social connections; 9) Empowerment and participation , 10) Life evaluation, feelings and meaning.
UN Sustainable Development Agenda and Draft Goals
One of the main outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference was the agreement by UN Member States to launch a process to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will build upon the Millennium Development Goals and converge with the post 2015 development agenda. According to the UN Synthesis Report, ‘The Road to Dignity’, the new Sustainable Development Agenda will be people-centred and planet sensitive, and will be guided by 6 essential elements:
- Dignity: to end poverty and fight inequalities
- People: to ensure healthy lives, knowledge, and the inclusion of women and
The SDGs will be officially announced in September 2015, but the draft goals are people-oriented and take into account issues affecting both current and future well-being, befitting their focus on sustainability. The cover issues including: poverty, hunger and food security, health, education and learning, gender equity, water and sanitation, sustainable energy, inclusive growth and decent work, infrastructure and innovation, inequality, climate change, ocean conservation, ecosystem preservation, and peace and inclusive institutions.
There are many other examples of well-being measurement frameworks, see the Tools, Resources and Data section for more examples of indices and indicator dashboards to see what other frameworks choose to focus on in their approach to well-being.
Well-being measurement is an evolving science, but huge progress has been made in the last decade in terms of our understanding of how to understand and measure people’s well-being. There are many different approaches, but some common features have emerged.
Well-being measurement is about people rather than the economy as a whole. Economic measures, such as income and employment, are important but only in so far as they help us to understand the situation of individuals and households. One common feature of well-being measures is that they go “Beyond GDP”, as although GDP is a widely-used measure of national progress, it actually tells us little about the conditions of people’s lives in different countries.
Focus on inequalities and distribution
Well-being measures often aim to look beyond national averages to better understand patterns of distribution and inequalities between different groups within a country or community. Income inequality is deservedly getting more and more attention, but inequalities can also exist in other dimensions of well-being such as health and education. Many different factors can affect inequalities such as socio-economic status, gender, age, location, etc. Some measurement approaches focus on a specific sub-group of a population (e.g. youth, the elderly, the poor) in order to get a better picture of their lives and the issues which matter most to them. The ability of well-being data and statistics to shed light on inequalities and the situation of sub-groups will depend on whether information such as age, and other defining characteristics are included in the dataset.
Objective and subjective measures
Well-being can be measured through both objective and subjective measures. Objective measurement refers to the observable, quantifiable circumstances of people’s lives. Examples of objective indicators include: years of schooling, life expectancy rates, the gender wage gap, or poverty measures.
Subjective measures, on the other hand, describe people’s own perceptions and assessment of their lives. This can also include emotional states such as happiness. Indeed, for many people, happiness is the most important measure of well-being, and some approaches focus principally on this aspect of well-being. However measuring happiness is itself complex, as people’s emotional states can change from moment to moment even within the same day. To deal with this issue, a common measure of subjective well-being is rather based on people’s considered assessment of their level of overall life satisfaction. Subjective measures can be used to complement objective measures in any dimension of well-being to give a more nuanced picture of people’s quality of life. For example, while many objective measures of health status exist, it can also be relevant to look at data that measures people’s own assessment of their health status, to have a better understanding of their well-being.
Objective and subjective measures provide different perspectives on people’s well-being, and many well-being frameworks use a combination of both.
Focus on outcomes
As much as possible, well-being measures should focus on outcomes in people’s lives rather than on inputs or expenditure. For example, just because a country spends more than others on its education system, it does not necessarily mean that its people are the most skilled or have the highest level of education.
Indicators, indices and dashboards
It simply isn’t possible or realistic to measure every single aspect of people’s lives that contribute to their well-being, and so it is necessary to select certain indicators to represent specific aspects that we assume can tell us the most important information we need to know.
As well-being is multi-dimensional, it is usually necessary to combine more than one measure (or indicator) to tell a meaningful story about people’s well-being. As mentioned above, for some people, subjective well-being (or in other words, whether or not people themselves feel good about their lives) is the only thing that matters, in which case a meaningful picture of well-being can be given through the use of a single indicator, such as reported life satisfaction levels.
However, most approaches try to find ways to combine information from many different indicators in order to reflect the multidimensionality of well-being. Too much information can be overwhelming though, and there are two main ways of dealing with this complexity, each with their own advantages and drawbacks: Indices and Dashboards.
The first approach is to combine the different information into a single number or index. While creating indices can be technically difficult, this is an appealing approach as indices are very easy to communicate. By condensing a complex amount of information into one number, it is possible to rank countries easily and identify low- and high- performers. The downside to indices is that they can over-simplify the information communicated, and don’t allow for a great deal of transparency about what is actually being measured.
The second major approach is to create a “dashboard” of headline indicators, highlighting one or more measures in each dimension. While this allows for the communication of more detailed information and can help to show how outcomes can vary for different countries or groups depending on the measure selected, it is also more time-consuming for the user to understand the overall picture.
Examples of well-being measurement
Data visualization allows for statistics and analytical results to be presented in a visual format. This presentation allows for a broad audience to actually see the data in a way that may be more obvious. This clear presentation of data allows for new ideas to be presented effectively.
For the Visualizing Well-being Contest, we will be accepting entries in two categories: 1) Static infographics and visualizations and 2) Interactive visualizations.
Static infographics and visualizations
A static visualization is a graphical representation of data that may combine several different types of graphs and icons to convey a specific message to an audience. These types of data visualization require no input from the viewer, unlike the interactive data visualizations.
Infographics tend to include a combination of charts and text to present a number of different facts about an issue, or to tell a story. See, for example, this infographic from the UK Office of National Statistics showing key statistics on well-being in the UK.
Data visualizations can also be very simple, but use design to tell a powerful story with the numbers. See, for example, this data viz of the death toll of staging the World Cup in Qatar compared to other major sporting events.
Interactive visualizations are designed for digital media and aim to be dynamic and interactive. They often require input from the user, allowing people to see different views of the data depending on criteria they select.
- 2014 Legatum Prosperity Index Table Rankings
- OECD Better Life Index
- OECD Regional Well-being
- UNESCO e-ATLAS
- World Bank Income Distribution
- The Refugee Project
David McCandless, creator of the Information is Beautiful site, says that there are 4 elements to a good data visualization: 1) Information, 2) Story, 3) Goal, and 4) Visual Form.
You need to choose your data well. The Tools, resources and data section provides links to suggested datasets. Entrants are free to use any publicly available dataset they choose, either official or non-official statistics, but they are invited to think critically about the quality of the data they use. Academic rigour is one of the criteria judges will be using to make their selection, and entries based on dubious or unreliable data will receive lower rating.
What meaning can you find in the data and what is the story you want to tell? The challenge has proposed some questions to be addressed by the contest entries, but there are many different ways of approaching these questions. Entrants are encouraged to think of original ways show how data on well-being can give a more meaningful picture of the progress of societies.
Think about why the ‘story’ you have chosen to tell with the data is important to show. What message do you want to convey to the viewer? This can help you determine which information to include, and which to leave it. Some of the most powerful data visualizations have very simple concepts, and use only the data they need to achieve their aim.
Design and aesthetics are key to making a good data visualization. The form that the data viz takes can provide a visual metaphor to help guide the viewer to better understand the data and the story conveyed.
Submissions will be judged on the following criteria:
Clarity and rigour
The infographic or design must convey a clear idea and should be accessible to a wide audience, including non-specialists, while remaining academically rigorous (full referencing of sources used, sound data treatment)
The submission should address a powerful, thought-provoking and/or awareness-raising concept. Particular attention will be given to submissions that successfully link various thematic areas together in order to highlight the multidimensionality of well-being.
Be creative! Submissions that draw unexpected links, use innovative design techniques and display unique thinking will be preferred.
You can submit up to a maximum of three entries.
We do accept team entries, however only one prize will be awarded. That means if your team wins only one person will be able to go to Guadalajara. Your team then must decide who will go. Please keep this in mind when submitting team entries.