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Vesa Puoskari. The author is a freelance journalist and a regular contributor to Tieto&trendit magazine.
"The world and economies are changing, and our activities must reflect that change," says Martine Durand, OECD Chief Statistician and Director of Statistics since 2010.
In June, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, published a set of indicators, the so-called "Better Life Index" on its website. Using this interactive service, citizens can examine the current status of quality of life and well-being in their home country and make comparisons with other countries. "The aim is to focus on issues that are important for the citizens in various countries," says Martine Durand, OECD Chief Statistician and Director of Statistics.
Efforts to measure and compare well-being and quality of life have been found challenging, and they have in recent times sparked a lot of debate and a number of experimental indicators among economists and statisticians, so far with meagre results.
"We have decided to move forward in terms of measurement and provide some concrete indicators," Martine Durand explains the background to these efforts.
The OECD has put together a large number of indicators of well-being in collaboration with the national statistical offices of the member states. Based on these, the organisation has set up an interactive service on their website where the citizens can build their own "Better Life Index". Durand emphasises that this work specifically aims at covering issues that are important to citizens.
"It sounds obvious when you say it, but it is not just money that counts for people. There are many other things that make a good life. Depending on what aspects you value the most, the indicators include dimensions such as participation in political life or being able to spend time with your friends and family."
"If you value social connections, you will find that countries such as Mexico or Turkey have a very high quality of life, despite the fact that their GDP is low. It very much depends on the weightings you put on the different dimensions of the indicators," Durand stresses.
In the background of this work is the initiative of French president Nicolas Sarkozy about Measuring Economic Performance and Social Progress. On this basis, a working group led by the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz published a report that created a solid political and academic background for the statistical development of well-being in 2009.
Martine Durand explains that the Better Life Index has two objectives.
"One is to inform the public about the situation in their country. According to their own preferences, they can compare their country's performance in terms of education or health care, for instance, and perhaps let their policy-makers know."
"Policy-makers in turn can use the indicators to obtain information about best practices and apply these in their home countries," she adds.
Romina Boarini, responsible for the work on Measuring Progress at the OECD, notes that there naturally is a strong correlation between Gross Domestic Product measuring economic activity and well-being. However, there is a whole range of issues beyond the GDP that matters to people.
"Economic growth matters, especially when the country is very poor or developing. The GDP can explain part of the citizens' well-being, but you need to take into account many other aspects of what is going on in people's lives. You also need to invest in health and education and develop labour market policies," Boarini stresses.
Durand explains that an effort will be made to update the indicators on a regular basis. "For instance, we have not covered the whole issue of sustainability."
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