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Heading Towards Higher Well-Being for all Citizens of the World

Monday, November 19, 2012

Martine Durand is Chief Statistician at OECD.

On October 16, 2012 almost 400,000 babies were born in the world. On that same day, approximately 1000 people from around the world, including economists, statisticians, policy-makers and representatives from business and civil society, met to talk about the future lives of these babies. The 4th OECD World Forum on Measuring Well-Being for Development and Policy Making was held in New Delhi, featuring around 70 presentations, four roundtables, and several keynote lectures. The Forum provided a great opportunity for sharing knowledge and networking on Well-Being and Development.

Issues discussed by participants included: factors shaping trends in poverty and inequalities; business models and practices holding greater promise to improve well-being at work and beyond; links between effective and responsive institutions and people’s well-being; obstacles to gender equality and the type of environment needed for the start-up and success of women-owned businesses; policies helping children and at-risk youth to move into adulthood; preventing environmental degradation; improving the capacity of people, business and policy-makers to manage the consequences of disasters and conflicts; how to strengthen social cohesion.

The OECD World Fora on ‘Statistics, Knowledge and Policies’ have become one of the most important rendez-vous of the global community working on Well-Being. The 4th OECD Forum followed those held in Palermo (2004), Istanbul (2007) and Busan (2009). However, this forum marked a shift in the international well-being agenda. While previous Fora focused mainly on the “why” and the “how” to measure well-being, the 4th OECD Forum looks at how well-being can be made actionable. The OECD Better Life Initiative, launched in 2011 on the occasion of the Organisation’s 50th Anniversary—under the motto Better Policies for Better Lives—lies at the heart of this attempt to use improved well-being metrics to influence policy making. The OECD Better Life Initiative combines advanced statistical tools for measuring well-being with information on people’s aspirations and needs, as collected through the Better Life Index, a new innovative interactive platform.

But knowing what matters to citizens and where societies want to go is not enough to ensure that we will get there; this is one of the main messages coming out of the discussions held in New Delhi. We need to build our knowledge regarding what works or does not work to achieve better lives. We need new evidence and models to understand how people think and behave, and how policies can raise well-being given our new understanding. Part of the evidence is already there, though, and models are being developed. But the journey is long and will require the involvement of all actors—researchers coming from a range of disciplines, decision-makers, business, ordinary citizens.

Four additional key messages came out from New Delhi, and you can read the summary of conclusions here. The first is that the well-being agenda has made giant steps all over the world and that it is based on a common understanding of the issues. The second is that progress in measuring well-being has been uneven, with great advancements in areas such as subjective well-being but much more modest ones on measuring sustainability for example. The third is that more research is needed on the determinants of well-being, particularly on the role of policies. The fourth is that the well-being agenda is relevant for both developed and developing countries, although priorities may differ. The next OECD World Forum will take place in 2015 and be aligned with discussions on the outcomes of Rio+20 and the post-2015 agenda.. The 5th Forum will thus be an important landmark to judge whether Development Goals will have become, indeed, Well-Being Goals for all.

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