Looking beyond GDP with the Humankind Index

Posted by Charles Seaford Head of Well-being at the new economics foundation (nef), Juliet Michaelson Senior Researcher and Programme Co-ordinator at the new economics foundation (nef)

8th Oct 2013

The road outside the Scottish parliament building. Credit: Mike Grote flickr.com/photos/mikegrote

As we launch the Humankind Index policy assessment tool, guest bloggers Charles Seaford and Juliet Michaelson of the new economics foundation explain how the Humankind Index is helping to make measurement matter.

The 'Beyond GDP' agenda - the idea that we need to correct the current policy bias towards pursuing growth above all else - has gathered considerable pace in the last few years. Since the publication of the final report of the 'Stiglitz Commission' in 2009, there has been a wave of activity, by governments and civil society, to develop better ways and means of headline measurement. The UK has been at the forefront with the Office for National Statistics' Measuring National Well-being Programme  launched in 2010, while the OECD - the organisation bringing together the world's richest countries - has developed its Better Life Index, and other countries, from Italy to Mexico, have similar alternative measurement plans in development.

All this leads to the question - what real difference is this all making? The answer is probably 'not enough, yet'. Certainly this is true in the UK, as we reported to the Environmental Audit Committee's inquiry this summer on the use of well-being evidence in policy-making:

"Current government action on the well-being agenda is best characterised as 'pockets of activity', with mainstreaming the use of well-being evidence across all policy-making representing a considerable challenge."

The new Humankind Index tool

So that's why we were really pleased to get the opportunity to work on a tool explicitly designed to address this issue. In 2011 Oxfam Scotland launched its alternative headline measure of progress - the Humankind Index  (HKI) which nef played a small role in helping to develop. The Index was based on an exercise which asked people from different communities across Scotland what mattered most to them. It has achieved considerable attention across different sectors of Scottish society and sparked a host of conversations about what genuine prosperity in Scotland would look like. But Oxfam was determined to ensure its impact went further, to fundamentally change the way policy-makers thought about the decisions which are the focus of their working lives.

Oxfam was determined ... to fundamentally change the way policy-makers thought about the decisions which are the focus of their working lives

So they asked nef and Happiness Works to help develop the Oxfam Humankind Index policy assessment tool, which is being launched today. It is designed to encourage policy makers to consider a broader range of issues during policy design and development than they otherwise might, allowing them to rate their policies on whether they have a net positive, negative or neutral effect on the full set of factors measured by the HKI. The tool is based on a simple website that guides users through a series of prompts about the policy they are working on. The tool is not intended to produce a precise analysis or definitive screening assessment - instead it helps people to thinkabout the range of impacts a policy may have on people's ability to live well in their communities.

While a primary audience for the tool is policy makers within and outside government, we expect that many others will also find it useful including campaigners, community organisers and members of the public. And while it's designed for the Scottish policy context, we think it's also useful for people based elsewhere. So why not try it out now to broaden your thinking on how your top policy ask would contribute to the things that really matter?

Let us know what you think using the comments section below.

Blog post written by Charles Seaford

Head of Well-being at the new economics foundation (nef)

More by Charles Seaford

Charles Seaford

Blog post written by Juliet Michaelson

Senior Researcher and Programme Co-ordinator at the new economics foundation (nef)

More by Juliet Michaelson

Juliet Michaelson