What opportunities lie behind this week’s ONS wellbeing data releases, and why might it profoundly matter to our collective future?
Last week 238 leading international academics publically called on the European Union and its member states to plan for a future in which human and ecological wellbeing is prioritised over GDP and growth.
They are among a growing movement around the world that recognise that our collective obsession with GDP growth as a measure of progress, has driven a debt and consumption model of development with devastating costs to people and planet. The urgent need to start ‘measuring what matters’ is becoming a clarion call for groups across political, geographical and social divides.
The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) have been global pioneers in collecting data on the wellbeing of citizens since 2010. This week they released their annual data on individuals’ sense of happiness, worth, anxiety and satisfaction. In the past this work has often been characterised as a ‘league table’ of happiness: winners and losers in the endless pursuit of ‘more’ of anything – in this case wellbeing.
This year the ONS are doing it a little differently. Instead of just outlining where data is rising or falling they have been working with Happy City’s Thriving Places Index (TPI) to get under the skin of what it means for local places to thrive.
Looking at data from across the UK, the TPI explores the conditions in which people are living their daily lives: the quality and security of work and the vitality of the local economy, the social relations in neighbourhoods, the quality of education and opportunities to learn, the safety of the streets, and the capacity to breathe clean air. These and many other elements are balanced against how equitably they are distributed and how sustainably they are delivered – helping to focus not just on the happiness of current citizens but future ones too.
This data is not just there for statisticians to pore over. It is helping better decisions to be made on the ground. What has real ‘value’ when it comes to local investment? What delivers dividends in the form of better lives for more people and for generations to come? How can we profit from greater understanding of the conditions for wellbeing in the communities in which we all live and work? And how can different data drive better choices, at every level?
It’s not just academics and governments looking again at our concepts of ‘growth’. Just this week, two of the most powerful city Mayors in the world called on cities everywhere to divest from all fossil fuels – a major driver of the endless GDP growth model of ‘prosperity’.
Major campaigns and rallies also took place worldwide to mark 10 years since the financial crash including inspirational and practical changes to our whole banking system being put forward by Positive Money and partners on the steps of the Bank of England.
And the largest collective ever assembled of organisations working to deliver a ‘Wellbeing Economy’ was launched in New York. WE All aims to support a shift from a growing number of different voices calling for change – to a global movement to deliver it.
It’s been quite a fortnight!
While all this was taking place, a group of leaders from civil society, indigenous peoples, global health and development experts, visionary writers and entrepreneurs gathered in Italy to look at ways to move from ‘measurement to action’ for a wellbeing economy.
While data can give us a mirror on what IS, innovation and action can move us to a place of what WILL BE.
Key figures in the OECD and WHO sat together with indigenous leaders from three continents, and activists from the US to Palestine shared examples of how to make this real. From enterprises for social good in Malaysia, to building wellbeing alongside resistance in a war zone. What everyone agreed is we need new ways to measure progress, like those released this week in the UK, to build momentum and provide practical support for change on the ground.
There is a growing sense of a crossroads ahead. Will we use the 20thcentury compass of GDP to strive for ever-growing and unequal consumption – or urgently pick up a new compass, that points towards the conditions for people and planet to thrive? Could the use of such a compass and set of measures help create a 21stcentury we will be proud to have played our part in?
Liz Zeidler, chief executive and founder, Happy City