Friday, 28 May 2010

The technical update #4

Here we are again Progress People, time for another update on technical developments in wikiprogress, or more particularly in the wikiprogress.stat data warehouse we’ve put in place so you call all upload your progress-related data to share and compare. And thatw we’ve been busy doing in the last few weeks – gathering data and getting ready to put it in place. Some 200 indicators covering all aspects of progress should be added to the data bank in the very near future – so watch this space… we’ve also got a more powerful new server ready to go AND a data uploader wizard to make it easier for you to get your data out there.

On a related note, we’ve recently come across a very cool visualisation tool . Its called StatPlanet and it allows you to view and compare indicators across a wide range of well-being issues. Well done to whoever developed it !

Friday, 21 May 2010

This Month in Progress

This month there has been quite a flurry of activity in papers and the blogsphere on GDP as an indicator of how well a society is doing. From here we are seeing that the conversation is paused at yes we think that GDP is not a good enough measure to alone measure the well-being of a society; however, it seems that people are wondering what to do about it and how to do it. For example:

The Rise and Fall of GDP article in the New York Times
In this article, Rebecca Blank, the under secretary of commerce for economic affairs, says “But some of the constraint is we don’t have the money to do it. Some of the constraint is we know how to do it, but we need to collect additional data that we don’t currently have. And some of the constraint is that we don’t really know how to do it quite yet.”

From the Well-being Index
Americans' wellbeing score climbed to 67.0 in April, the highest level so far in 2010 and tying the all-time high scores found in August 2009 and February 2008 for this measure initiated in January 2008. The April Well-Being Index score is an improvement from the 65.8 in April 2009 and the 66.7 in April 2008.

Happiness beats GDP Gauge, New Zealand Herald.
The New Zealand Government was "not as committed as others" towards broadening its approach to progress away from GDP, McDonald said. It was also mentioned in the article that A 2008 Euro-barometer poll indicated that more than two-thirds of European Union citizens believed social and environmental indicators should be used, alongside economic measures, to evaluate progress.

From the Gallup Management Journal
Gallup conducted a comprehensive global study of more than 150 countries. Upon completion of the research, five distinct statistical factors emerged.These elements are the currency of a life that matters . They do not include every nuance of what's important in life, but they do represent five broad categories that are essential to most people:

Career Wellbeing
Social Wellbeing
Financial Wellbeing
Physical Wellbeing
Community Wellbeing

It is reported that while 66% of people are doing well in at least one of these areas, just 7% are thriving in all five.

The Huff Post looks at Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness and askes questions like “How are Americans escaping their lives”

The Aljazeera Business Blog suggests, “perhaps the next step might be to examine the dominant capitalist mantra of maximising corporate profits and individual wealth at any cost, and the effect that has on economic and social realities”.

For more articles on progress visit the wikiprogress community portal.
Feel free to suggest other articles to add to the collection.

Its a long weekend here in France.
Off for a little well-being of my own.

Bon week-end

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

It ain’t what you do…

After exhaustive discussions at the UN you know what you want to measure to represent child well-being. You have even convinced your government to maintain spending on children at pre-crisis levels.

Well done you! But you can’t go home and celebrate because people are now bothering you about the bit in the middle. You need to address the dreaded ‘how’ question.

In a desperate bid to make it out of the office you ask “why is this ‘how’ important?” The answer you expect is given… “Your problem is that you are advocating for changes in ‘spending’ without understanding the what, how and why of the interaction with ‘outcomes’. You lack detailed recommendations for informing how changes can be made to your outcome measure, blah, blah, blah”…

Dejected, off you go to contemplate this problem (fearful that somewhere Prof. Goodhart will be wringing his hands).

It is likely some countries get more “value” for their money, some systems are more efficient. Two countries spending the same amount of money may not achieve the same well-being outcomes… so how do you unpick the link between spending and well-being?

To address this question we need a working example of inputs to outcomes: family cash benefits / tax breaks and child poverty will do. Although child poverty is also affected by policies to help families work (childcare), and other services such as free school meals, the idea that by giving someone money - or reducing the taxes they pay - will free up disposable income is not a great leap. So stay with me!

We also need an analytical frame, for this we can turn to reasonably well known 80s hit song. Allow me to paraphrase: ‘in order to get results, it is not what is done per se, but rather the methods, timing and place of your intervention that matter’. Unfortunately there wasn’t much more to glean from Bananarama’s sojourn into system analysis, but at least we have a starting point from which to consider different policy approaches across the OECD.

It’s the way that you do it… Family cash benefits in the OECD fall into two categories: targeted schemes and universal schemes. Targeted systems focus transfers to parents in most need, often with a range of conditions. If, for instance, work is a condition, what do we do about those who cannot work because of illness, where work may have negative effects for the child, or where work is simply not available? If work is not a condition, concerns arise about high payments removing incentives for parents to work, or trapping them in benefits. Means-testing can also lead to some kids missing out if parents are put-off by the application process because of inflexibility or complexity. On the other hand, universal transfers provide money to parents of all children, giving money to many who don’t need it, and limiting the impact on relative child poverty - that said this is one way to try and ensure at least some money is always designated as child money.

It’s the time that you do it… Some OECD countries (e.g. Belgium, The Netherlands) provide more for cash benefits to families as children age some (fewer) reduce support payments (Denmark for instance). Some OECD countries (e.g. Ireland) pay the same amount of money to a family regardless of whether the child is aged one or 18 years old. Some can support families if children are out-of-school but training (the UK), others, like Germany, prefer the Higher Education incentive, and pay for children attending university. With child poverty outcomes on your mind, you should ask: Do older children (12 to 17) cost more than younger children (0 to 6)? Perhaps directly in terms of clothes and food, but evidence suggests young children cost the most overall. The big cost of being time spent caring by parents, which reduces earning or leisure time.

It’s the place that you do it… There are some geographic considerations in some OECD countries when paying child benefits: in Norway children living in the Arctic region get some more money, federal states and cantons can pay benefits at different rates. In some countries families can claim if the child is living abroad (in the EU mainly), in others they have to be living with their parents to get a benefit (some can be at University).

It ain’t what you do?… well sometimes it is, at least at the family level spending matters. Indeed family benefits paid for children can be as high or low relative to other forms of assistance or indeed average earnings. Family size variations also make a difference – countries can increase or reduce increments per child as families grow. For an entirely unscientific example, Euro Disney’s Donald Duck (under the French system) gets relatively more under Allocations Familiales for Riri, Fifi and Loulou than Florida Donald whose increments in Earned Income Tax Credits for Huey, Duey and Luey are substantially reduced as for the third pesky nephew in his charge (we should assume the families have a similar number of bills).

All OECD member countries support children in different ways to achieve similar goals, and they all want to do it better. The examples above, limited though they are, can all impact on how far their cash benefit dollars go. To complicate things further, cash benefits are clearly not the only policy lever - they interact with other benefits and taxes (such as child care support to help labour market access) to address problems like child poverty. Nonetheless these complications are no excuse for resisting progress, if things are not working as you would like them to, at what point should you say “this tool has done all it can, now to revisit and refine”.

Though not as catchy as the lyrics in that 80s hit single, a slightly amended ‘progress’ version might be – it is what you do, and the way that you do it, how you assess it, and then how well you implement the necessary changes… Perhaps that’s what gets results…