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The OECD Better Life Initiative. Romina Boarini, Head of Monitoring Well-Being and Progress OECD Statistics Directorate London School of Economics 20 June 2013. Outline. Context OECD Better Life Initiative What’s next. The demand to go “beyond GDP”.

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the oecd better life initiative

The OECD Better Life Initiative

Romina Boarini,

Head of Monitoring Well-Being and Progress

OECD Statistics Directorate

London School of Economics

20 June 2013

  • Context
  • OECD Better Life Initiative
  • What’s next

The demand to go “beyond GDP”

  • From a statisticalperspective: GDP is a key measure to monitor macro-economic activity but it is not a good metric for people’s well-being
  • From a normative perspective: GDP/economic growth is an important means to people’s well-being but it is not the ultimate end
  • From a public policy perspective: disconnect between what policy makers may seek and what people want
the response to go beyond gdp
The response to go “beyond GDP”
  • At the OECD:
    • Long-standing tradition of work on social indicators
    • World Fora on Progress
    • Global Project – Wikiprogress
    • OECD Better Life Initiative
  • Beyond the OECD:
    • UNDP Human Development Reports
    • Stiglitz-Sen-FitoussiCommission
    • EU comunication: GDP and Beyond
    • Eurostat sponsorship
    • UN Resolution calling for “holistic approach to development” to promote sustainable happiness and well-being
    • Many national initiatives for measuring well-being in all countries of the world
a global agenda
A global agenda

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

inspiration of the better life initiative
Inspiration of the Better Life Initiative
  • Latest OECD response to the need to go beyond GDP
  • Opportunity of OECD 50th Anniversary: Better Policies for Better Lives
  • Shift the emphasis from measurement to actionable well-being:
    • Well-being focus in policy-making
    • Connecting people with policies
oecd better life initiative
OECD Better Life Initiative

Your Better Life Index

A tool for learning what matters most topeople’s well-being

How’s Life

First attempt at an international level to present a comprehensive set of well-being indicators

defining well being theoretical roots
Defining well-being: theoretical roots
  • Well-being is about “end states”, i.e. is your life good? (Welfarism)
  • Well-being is about “freedom”, i.e. are you free to choose the life you think is good to live? (Non-welfarist theories, e.g. capabilities)
the better life initiative framework
The Better Life Initiative Framework
  • The BLI framework is close to the capabilities approach:
    • Capabilities (enabling factors)
    • Functionings (end states)
    • It defines well-being in terms of dimensions of life that are both:
      • Instrumental to choose a better life
      • Intrinsically important

Which dimensions?

Personal Security

Work-Life Balance

Social Connections

Income and Wealth

Civic Engagement






Life Satisfaction


Why these dimensions

  • Largely those of the SSF Commission Report
  • Review of common practices of NSOs and other Indicators Projects (WIKIPROGRESS)
  • Consultation with the OECD Committee on Statistics
four key features
Four key features

The OECD well-being framework focuses on:

  • People rather than the economic system
  • Both averages and inequalities
  • Both objective and subjective aspects
  • Both today and tomorrow
measurement approach 1
Measurement approach (1)


  • Relevance of indicators

-face-validity: outcome indicators

    • easily understood, unambiguous interpretation
    • amenable to policy changes
    • possibility of disaggregation by population groups
  • Quality of supporting data

- official and well-established sources; non-official data used as place-holders in a few cases

- comparable/standardized definitions

- maximum country-coverage

    • recurrent data collection
measurement approach 2
Measurement Approach (2)
  • Dashboard (and traffic lights)
  • Not a synthetic index (for now) as:
    • There is no individual-level information from the same survey comparable across OECD countries
    • There is no consensus on how to set weights:

- The OECD should not set weights normatively

- There is no first best method to set weights based on people’s preferences: ongoing OECD work to test various approaches to elicit people’s preferences

selected results from how s life 2011
Selected results from How’s Life? 2011
  • No countryis a champion in well-being but some trends emerge
  • Life in 2011 better on average in the OECD than fifteen years ago
  • Inequalities in all dimensions of well-being
no country is the champion of well being
No country is the champion of well-being

Good performance, percentage of green lights

Poor performance, percentage ofred lights

Source : OECD calculations

global participation
Global participation

Top 10

United States



United Kingdom







Nearly two visits from over 180 countries

what matters most to people
What mattersmostto people ?

Weightsgiven by users (in %)

Source: OECD calculations

2013 2014 developments of the oecd well being agenda
2013-2014 developmentsof the OECD well-being agenda
  • Moving forward the statistical agenda
    • Update of How’s Life? (Fall 2013): focus on sustainability, gender and well-being, and jobs quality
    • Country Monographs on Well-Being
    • Analytical work to understand the determinants of well-being outcomes: towards a theory of change
    • Two OECD horizontal projects will make use of these findings for policy:


- Inclusive Growth

    • Well-Being for Development
measuring the sustainability of well being
Measuring the sustainability of well-being
  • Sustainable development: meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland Report, 1987)
  • - well-being gives us a way to operationalise “needs” : WHAT do we want to sustain?
  • Measurement focus: the potential for well-being in the future
  • - Requires going beyond current outcomes, to look at drivers
  • - Measuring the stock of resources passed on to future generations
  • (“wealth accounting”/ the “capital approach”)
  • This means we need to know:
  • - What are the key resources that matter for well-being?
  • - How can we monitor those resources consistently over time?
measuring sustainability proposed how s life approach
Measuring sustainability: proposed How’s Life? approach
  • Dashboard of physical and monetary measures of “capital”
  • Different spatial levels (local, national, regional, global)
  • Flows and trans-boundary impacts
  • Distribution of stocks
from measurement to policy
From measurement to policy

“Our fundamental assumptions about the functioning of economies, our policies and structural reforms, our systems and institutions, need to be re-oriented towards one supreme objective: improving the well-being of people”

OECD Secretary-General, May 2013

how well being informs the policy agenda the what to do
How well-being informs the policy agenda: the “WHAT” to do
  • Amore comprehensive and balancedview of what matters to people
  • New relevant and previously overlooked well-being areas that deserve policy attention (e.g. social connections, jobs quality; governance, etc.)
  • Identification of policy priorities:
    • Examining differences between groups in the population
    • International Benchmarking: cross-country comparisons on well-being performance indicates strengths and weaknesses
    • Better evaluating the trade-offs between current and future well-being
how well being informs the policy agenda the how to do
How well-being informs the policy agenda: the “HOW” to do
  • A better understanding of well-being drivers (including people’s behaviour and values), that helps design more effective policies and choose the best policy instruments
  • Helps evaluating policy impacts
  • Aiming at well-being fosters joined-up, more coherent approach to policy-making
  • Increases legitimacy and public acceptance, of policies and ultimately their effectiveness
examples of oecd work on policy uses of well being
Examples of OECD work on policy uses of well-being
  • Understanding well-being policy drivers
    • New Approaches to Economic Challenges: policy interactions, trade-offs and synergies
    • Inclusive Growth: pro-growth and pro-wellbeing policies with benefits shared across social groups and over time
  • Workshops on Policy Use of Subjective Well-Being measures
    • Cost-Benefit Analysis based on SWB
  • Going national:
    • Well-Being Country Reviews (Austria, Israel, the Philippines, Uruguay)
      • Stocktaking of national initiatives
      • A well-being toolkit for policy-making
continued interaction with research community and civil society
Continued interaction with research community and civil society
  • 5th World Forum in Mexico in 2015

A platform for global discussion on well-being; Research Networks in many regions