The Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies
The Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies was established in 2008. The OECD-hosted Global Project on “Measuring the Progress of Societies” was a successful vehicle for raising awareness and mobilising political support towards better progress measures. The Global Project existed to foster the development of key economic social and environmental indicators to provide a comprehensive picture of how the well-being of a society was evolving. It also sought to encourage the use of indicators to inform and promote evidence-based decision-making, within and across the public, private and citizen sectors. The Global Project was proceeded by Wikiprogress and its Global Networks, who continue to build upon the projects work.
Is life getting better?
Are our societies making progress?
Indeed, what does “progress” mean to the world’s citizens?
There can be few questions of greater importance in today’s rapidly changing world.
And yet how many of us have the evidence to answer these questions?
The concept of progress (Latin: pro-gredi) was first used by ancient Greeks. And it is a concept that has exercised philosophers from many cultures ever since. Progress may refer to improvement. But to improve what? Since the enlightenment, people have widely accepted that progress means an improvement in the overall well-being of humanity. But for a good portion of the 20th century there was an implicit assumption that economic growth was synonymous with progress: an assumption that a growing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) meant life must be getting better. But now the world recognises that it isn’t quite as simple as that. Despite high levels of economic growth in many countries many experts believe we are no more satisfied with our life (or happier) than we were 50 years ago; that people trust one another - and their governments - less than they used to; and that increased income has come at the expense of increased insecurity, longer working hours and greater complexity in our lives. Much of the world is healthier and people live longer than they did just a few years ago, but environmental problems like climate change cast a shadow over an uncertain future.
Indeed, it sometimes seems that for every action to demonstrate societal progress, an equal but opposite reaction demonstrates precisely the opposite. And when the experts disagree, what hope do the citizens have to engage in democratic debate about their future and make the right choices at the ballot box? Access to accurate information is vital when we come to judge our politicians and hold them accountable. But access to a comprehensive and intelligible portrait of that most important of questions - whether or not life has got, and is likely to get, better - is lacking in many societies.
Concerns about this have been growing. And over the past 10 years or so there has been an explosion of interest in producing measures of societal progress. Measures that go beyond GDP to represent a broader view of the ways in which societies are progressing and regressing. Measures which are based on the values of a society, not those of a single political party or an elite few. Such sets of progress measures can help governments focus in a more collobarative fashion regarding what really matters: they can foster a more informed debate on where a society actually is, where it wants to head, and – ultimately – the choices it needs to make if it is to get there. By measuring progress we can foster progress.
The Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies Goals
The Global Project Mission Statement said that “the project is open to all sectors of society” and the Istanbul Declaration urges “statistical offices, public and private organisations, and academic experts to work alongside representatives of their communities to produce high-quality, facts-based information that can be used by all of society to form a shared view of societal well-being and its evolution over time”.
See more about "Who signed the Istanbul Declaration."
 How to measure?
Working with experts from around the world the Project aims to develop a better understanding of how progress can be measured – especially in emerging and complex areas not yet covered by statistical standards. There is consensus that these areas (such as safety, human rights, different aspects of quality of life, etc.) are important but much less consensus about how progress in them should be understood and assessed.
 Ensuring that the measures are used
When good statistics exist they too often go unnoticed or are misunderstood by a broad audience. New ICT tools have the potential to bring dramatic improvements: the Project aims to foster the development of new tools and approaches to help decision makers and citizens develop a better knowledge of their society using statistical information.
 Why is this agenda important
Citizens are increasingly concerned with their quality of life. A consensus is growing around the need to develop a more comprehensive view of progress – one that takes into account social, environmental and economic concerns - rather than focussing mainly on economic indicators like Gross Domestic Product, which, while an important measure of economic activity, was not developed to be the sole measure of a nation’s progress. There is also a broad recognition that the development of cross-cutting, high quality, shared, accessible information about how a society is doing is crucial to ensure that decision-making is simultaneously responsive and responsible at all levels (policy makers, businesses, citizens, etc.). This is a key issue for democracy. The better an electorate is able to hold its policy makers accountable through evidence of their performance, the greater the incentive for policy makers to make better policy. And smarter indicators of progress could help society to achieve more relevant goals with fewer resources.
Initiatives to measure progress are being created in many countries, developed and developing. A Global Movement of initiatives are happening in all areas of societies. Initiatives are being created by governments, by civil society, by academics and the private sector. Some of the most successful have been created in novel partnerships that span the different sectors. They are being created at the country and international levels. Some are being done for local communities. But for the most part, those working in this field are working in isolation. They have few opportunities to discuss with their peers their common experiences or develop best practice. When practitioners do meet their vocabularies and methodologies differ to such a great extent that discussions usually result in more heat than light.
Several international and supranational organisations have established collections of statistical indicators to measure economic, social and environmental phenomena. Some of these measures are used to design sectoral policies and/or to monitor their effects. Private and public research institutes and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have also developed indicators to measure particular phenomena and use these measures for analysis and advocacy.
The MDGs are perhaps the most famous set of global “progress” indicators. The Wikiprogress Community aims to make a key contribution to the international discussion in the run-up to 2015 when the set of existing MDGs and indicators (mainly designed for developing countries) could be enhanced. The Wikiprogress Community will foster the integration of the current top down approach to the development of international indicators with a bottom up effort, to take into account cultural, social and economic differences around the world. Therefore, the two processes are not in conflict: on the contrary, engaging societies in a bottom-up process and showing the similarities between the nationally selected themes and MDGs can improve the acceptance of the indicators selected by the UN General Assembly and foster the investments in statistical capacity building.
OECD World Forums and the Istanbul Declaration
In June 2007, three years after its 1st OECD World Forum on “Statistics, Knowledge and Policy” held in Italy, the OECD, in collaboration with other international organisations, ran the 2nd OECD World Forum in Istanbul on “Measuring and Fostering the Progress of Societies”. Some 1200 people, from over 130 countries attended. Presidents and ministers rubbed shoulders with the leaders of civil society. Captains of industry met the heads of charitable foundations and leading academics. They shared a common interest in wanting to develop better measures of how the world is progressing.
The conference led to the Istanbul Declaration, (English version), signed by the European Commission, the Organisation of the Islamic Countries, the OECD, the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF, UNESCO, the United Nations Fund for Partnership, the World Bank, and several other organisations, which calls for action to identify what “progress” means in the 21st century and to stimulate international debate, based on solid statistical data and indicators, on both global issues of societal progress and how societies compare. In particular, the Declaration calls for actions to:
- encourage communities to consider for themselves what “progress” means in the 21st century;
- share best practices on the measurement of societal progress and increase the awareness of the need to do so using sound and reliable methodologies;
- stimulate international debate, based on solid statistical data and indicators, on both global issues of societal progress and comparisons of such progress;
- produce a broader, shared, public understanding of changing conditions, while highlighting areas of significant change or inadequate knowledge;
- advocate appropriate investment in building statistical capacity, especially in developing countries, to improve the availability of data and indicators needed to guide development programs and report on progress toward international goals, such as the Millennium Development Goals.
The Forum participants shared the view that the world needs leadership in this area and hence the Global Project on “Measuring the Progress of Societies” was established. See more about People and Organisations who signed the Istanbul Declaration.
The 3rd OECD World Forum on “Statistics, Knowledge and Policy” was held in Busan, Korea on 27-30 October 2009.
The 3rd OECD World Forum focused on Charting Progress, Building Visions, and Improving Life, and attracted high level participants with a mixture of politicians and policy makers, opinion leaders, Nobel laureates, statisticians, academics, journalists and representatives of civil society from many countries. The 3rd OECD World Forum, was organised by the OECD and the Government of Korea (Korean National Statistical Office).
The Forum focused on three major questions:
- What does progress mean for our societies?;
- What are the new paradigms to measure progress?;
- and How can there be better policies within these new paradigms to foster the progress of our societies?
The Forum gathered close to 2000 participants from more than 100 countries including; politicians and policy makers, opinion leaders, Nobel laureates, statisticians, academics, journalists and representatives of civil society.
It is during this Forum that the OECD RoadMap was presented. The RoadMap outlines the core of OECD's strategy and commitments to measure and foster well-being and progress, including: • setting priorities for the statistical agenda;
• developing measures, methods and tools;
• improving and enhancing policy making.
The Indian Statistics Office hosted the 4th OECD World Forum in New Delhi, India on 16-19 October 2012.
 A Global Movement
A global movement is emerging and the linkage between statistical indicators, policy design and democratic assessment of the performance of a country (a region, a city, etc.) is at its core.
According to a survey carried out by UNDP, more than 150 composite indicators have been developed by public and private institutions to measure country performance in economic, social and environmental terms. Moreover, hundreds initiatives have been launched around the world to use indicators to make national and local politicians accountable, and this is happening in developed and in developing countries.
This global movement is characterised by a great many similarities. Globalisation and old and new media (especially the use of the internet) are allowing more cultural exchange than ever across different continents and communities. Some indicator-based initiatives have already created networks to share good practices, well beyond the national boundaries. International research societies have stimulated discussion among scholars and practitioners, resulting in growing similarities in the taxonomies of indicator-sets used around the world.
Organisations all over the globe are developing new indicators to measure the progress of societies, focusing on sustainability, well-being and quality of life, which are all terms closely related to progress.
Work is being done at the sub-national, national and international level, involving the public and private sectors, civil society, academia, and media, in both developed and developing countries. In this broad view, the Global Project on "Measuring the Progress of Societies" seeks to become the world wide reference point for those who wish to measure and assess the progress of their societies.
Although political scientists disagree about much, there is a widespread agreement on three key constraints to the organisation of a democracy:
- The inclusive constraint: all those voting should have equal entitlement to vote.
- The judgemental constraint: those voting should deliberate on the basis of common concerns about the issue.
- The dialogical constraint: they should conduct this deliberation in open and unforced dialogue.
Of course evidence is a key part of the decision-making progress. And the parallels between the organisation of democracy and the need for a shared set of information about key issues of concern are clear. It is a natural corollary to argue that:
- The inclusive constraint: all those voting should have equal access to the key information.
- The judgemental constraint: that information should relate to the key issues of common concern.
- The dialogical constraint: the information should have been constructed objectively and transparently
 Who was involved?
The Global Project was hosted by the OECD and wasun in collaboration with other international and regional Partners. A representative from each Partner organisation sits on the Global Project Board. The Board had two Co-Chairs: the Chief Statistician of the OECD (ex-officio) and another member of the Global Project Board, elected every two years. The partners were major International/supranational Organisations that played a key role in the overall Global Project, investing substantial resources – financial or in-kind – over several years and assuming responsibility for the management of the Global Project and/or for specific tasks.
 Technical Advisors
Technical advisors had an official seat on the Global Project Board. They are drawn to represent certain professional communities or sectors and have an advisory role to the Board.
The role of Correspondents was to act as the focal point of the Global Project's growing "network of networks" for their country and/or subject area.
This networks ensureed that the rest of the large and growing global movement can learn from common initiatives. Correspondents undertake to assist others in the same country, region or subject area to learn, share and achieve common goals.
Please click here to see a full list of Correspondents.
Sponsors were organisations which provide financial or in-kind resources for the overall Global Project, or who sponsored specific tasks or events.
 Other Organisations
Below is a list of some of the other organisations that co-operated with the Global Project on common goals.
Korean National Statistical Office (KNSO), Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC), PARIS21, The Lisbon Council, Andean Democratic Audit, Province of Trento (ITA), Unicredit Bank (ITA), Institute for Tropical Scientific Research (POR), International Institute for Sustainable Development (CAN), STATEC (LUX) , Swivel.com (USA), Metaweb.com (USA), Michigan University (USA), Applied Survey Research (USA), Young Foundation (UK), RMIT University (AUS), Hewlett Foundation (USA), Ministry for Economic Development (ITA), Statistics Sweden (SWE), University of Siena (ITA), Hans Boeckler Foundation (GER), North-Eastern University (USA), Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (United Kingdom), University of East Piemonte (Italy), Institute of Pierre Werner (Luxembourg), University of Durham (United Kingdom), ROSSTAT (Russia), Boston Foundation (USA), Global Foundation (Australia), UN Economic Commission for Africa, Oxfam International.
 1. Was the project about a common set of progress measures for the world?
No. The Global Project’s main aim was to foster the development of different economic, social and environmental indicators to provide a comprehensive picture of how the well-being of different societies is evolving. It also seeks to encourage the use of indicator sets to inform and promote evidence-based decision making, within and across the public, private and citizen sectors.
 2. What is the Istanbul Declaration?
In June 2007, the OECD in collaboration with other international organisations, ran the 2nd OECD World Forum in Istanbul on “Measuring the Progress of Societies”. The conference led to the Istanbul Declaration, signed by the European Commission, the Organisation of the Islamic Countries, the OECD, the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF, UNESCO, the United Nations Fund for Partnership, the World Bank, and several other organisations. The declaration, which calls for action to identify what “progress” means in the 21st century and to stimulate international debate, based on solid statistical data and indicators, on both global issues of societal progress and how societies compare.
 3. Was the project also about measuring happiness?
The Global Project seeks to foster and measure progress in different dimensions of progress. Some believe that objective indicators are key to this process. But some people believe that, just as important as knowing whether these objective aspects of society are improving, is knowing whether people actually feel their well-being has improved, that is whether people are happier or more content. Although measuring subjective well-being is recognised as challenging it is the subject of increasing attention by many experts.
The Global Project did not aim at providing a global single definition of progress, but hoped to measure and foster progress as defined by each individual society. Thus, if a society includes happiness as a dimension in their framework of progress, our goal is to provide that society with knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of different ways to measure it.
 4. What was the Global Project about?
The Global Project on "Measuring the Progress of Societies" existed to foster the development of economic, social and environmental indicators to provide a comprehensive picture of how the well-being of a society was evolving. It also sought to encourage the use of indicator sets to inform and promote evidence-based decision-making, within and across the public, private and citizen sectors. The project is open to all sectors of society, building both on good practice and innovative research work. Initiatives to measure progress are happening all over the world. The Global Project, was hosted by the OECD, and was a “network of networks”, that sought to better co-ordinate work in this area, provide a forum for discussion and develop best practice around understanding what progress looks like in different countries, how to develop the statistical indicators to measure it and how to ensure those measures are used and understood by a broad audience.
 5. What is the aim of the OECD World Forum Conferences?
In 2004, the OECD recognised that initiatives to measure progress (quality of life, well-being, sustainable development, all terms related to progress, etc.) at the international, national and local levels were proliferating all over the world. To focus discussion the Organisation held the 1st World Forum on “Statistics, Knowledge and Policy”, in Palermo (Italy). The second OECD World Forum on “Measuring and Fostering the Progress of Societies” took place in June 2007 in Istanbul, and attracted more than 1200 people from 130 countries. The 3rd OECD World Forum was held in Korea from October 27-30, 2009. The aim of the World Forums is to create a global community who come together both at events and virtually to share best practices and build capacity to answer key questions on how to measure the progress of societies. The World Forums offer an opportunity for in-depth discussions among a broad group of interested actors – statisticians, policy makers, NGOs, academics and so on – who do not often get the chance to discuss issues of common concern.
The Indian Statistics Office will host the 4th OECD World Forum in New Delhi, India on 16-19 October 2012.
 6. Why do we need to measure progress?
What we measure affects what we do, and if our measurements are flawed, then the decisions we make may be distorted. For many years ‘Gross Domestic Product’ has been the dominant way in which a nation’s progress has been measured and understood, and yet this approach has failed to explain many of the factors that most impact people’s lives. GDP only measures what the world ‘produces’ – taking a narrow view of economic activity and failing to account for the well-being of individuals, of our societies and of our environment. Other measures have received much less attention by media and politicians, leading people to underestimate their value. It is only through understanding what is happening in our society – all parts of the society – that policy makers will be able to better understand how to improve life. This understanding will be even more important as politicians go about rethinking policies in the wake of the global financial crisis. It will help ensure that societies protect what is precious to them, taking account of a simple truth: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
 7. Is it possible to measure progress?
Measuring Progress is possible, and it is already happening. Of course, to measure progress one needs to know what progress looks like. And there is no single answer: progress means different things to different societies and spans different aspects of life – social, environmental and economic. But many societies are now designing sets of progress measures that are objective and/or subjective to help citizens assess whether or not life is getting better. The Measures of Australia’s Progress is a good example among many existing initiatives on measuring progress.
 8. Where can I get more information?
Measuring progress activities are happening all over the world. The Global Project was run as a “network of networks” to share information and develop best practice. Wikiprogress contains hundreds of documents describing initiatives around the world. The wiki depends on your contributions, we encourage you to submit material.
 9. Why is it important for developing countries to Measure Progress?
African societies, like any other societies indeed, have to measure progress. But more importantly they have to define what is meant by progress. They have to hold a dialogue in a way that has not been done before. -Pali Lehohla (Director General of Statistics South Africa).
Although the OECD is an organisation whose members are developed countries, the Global Project is working with countries at every level on the development spectrum. Discussions about progress are not just a luxury for the rich. They are equally important – perhaps more so – in poorer countries which are looking to “develop”. Because “development” is not well defined and is sometimes seen as synonymous with simply growing GDP or becoming “more like the West”. As countries develop it is important that they develop a solid understanding of what development means – or ought to mean – for that society. Then and only then can they decide which aspects of life should be improved and which aspects should be protected, and appropriate measures set up to track this progress.
This short movie (in two six-minute segments) describes the OECD-hosted Global Project on "Measuring the Progress of Societies". It was made during the second OECD World Forum on "Statistics, Knowledge and Policy" held on 27-30 June 2007 in Istanbul, Turkey.
 Other videos
- Jon Hall Community Indicators Summit on "Measuring the Progress of Australian Communities", 22-23 July 2009, Brisbane. Please see video and presentation.
- The importance of Measuring the Progress of Societies was discussed at the NatStat Conference 2008. E. G., former Chief Statistician to the OECD, examined key issues for policy making and democratic governance. Please see video and powerpoint presentation.
 Papers and Presentations
- "We have known for years that human economic activity exhausts our natural resources and damages our fragile environment, yet economists and governments have been slow to incorporate them into their measurements." written by Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz.
Read his inspiring paper on "Progress what Progress?"
- The importance of going beyond GDP is underlined in the snapshot OECD and Progress - Beyond GDP
- Developing Societal Progress Indicators: A Practical Guide, 2010, Jon Hall and Denis Trewin, OECD
- A Framework to Measure the Progress of Societies, 2010, Jon Hall, Enrico Giovannini, Adolfo Morrone and Giulia Ranuzzi, OECD
- Indicators of "Societal Progress" Lessons from International Experiences, 2010, Katherine Scrivens and Barbara Iasiello, OECD
- Global Project of Measuring the Progress of Societies, Keynote Presentation
See more from the Global Progress Research Network.
Visit the Wikiprogress ProgBlog for the latest in research, data, initiatives and developments on the wiki. As well, for a list of Blogs and Bloggers who are working on issues related to measuring the progress of societies, please go to Progress Blogs.
See also/ Further reading
- The Global Project Past Events
- The Beyond GDP Conference is one of the main events which looks for complementary indicators, clear and appealing as GDP but more inclusive of other dimensions of progress – in particular environmental and social aspects.
- 1st OECD World Forum, Palermo, 2004
- 2nd OECD World Forum, Istanbul, 2007
- 3rd OECD World Forum, Busan, 2009
- 4th OECD World Forum, New Delhi, 2012