What could a new National Index of Progress look like?

Posted on Wednesday, 24 June 2020
progress indicators

The commitment to using wellbeing indicators alongside economic indicators in the Programme for Government is welcome.  Creating a sustainable Ireland requires the adoption of new indicators to measure progress. To reflect this, the wellbeing indicators that the new Government has committed to developing must include new indicators measuring both wellbeing and sustainability in society, to be used alongside measures of national income like GDP, GNP and GNI.

It is internationally recognised that governments must look beyond growth and take a new approach to economic policy which recognises the equal importance of social and environmental issues[1].  Moving towards an economy and society built on sustainable development principles requires that we develop new metrics to measure what is happening in society, to our natural resources, to the environment and in the economy.  We need to move away from the assumption that growth should be the driver of policies. Instead we should be moving towards the OECD metrics of wellbeing as a driver of policies.  We cannot tackle climate change and continue to pursue a growth model based on consumption. 

The United Nations High Level Panel on Global Sustainability recommends that the international community measure development beyond GDP and that national accounts should measure (and cost) social exclusion, unemployment and social inequality and the environmental costs of growth and market failures. Some governments and international agencies have picked up on these issues, especially in the environmental arena and have begun to develop 'satellite' or 'shadow' national accounts that include items not traditionally measured.

The new Government should develop a new National Index of Progress encompassing environmental and social indicators of progress as well as economic ones. By measuring and differentiating between economic activities that diminish natural and social capital and those activities that enhance them, we can ensure that our economic welfare is sustainable. 

This would involve moving beyond simply measuring GPD, GNI and GNI* and including other indicators of environmental and social progress.  Indicators such as the value of unpaid work to the economy and the cost of depletion of our finite natural resources among others would be measured. Wellbeing indicators such as health (physical and mental), economy and resources, social and community development, participation, democracy and good governance, values, culture and meaning and environment and sustainability would be an appropriate frame for developing a new National Index of Progress.  This would allow us to move beyond a purely financial approach and look at the value added to or subtracted from our natural and social resources as a whole by the policies that we pursue.  The use of such indicators would ensure that issues such as climate justice and balanced regional development, among other key indicators of wellbeing, are given the priority they deserve by policymakers.

Social Justice Ireland’s Sustainable Progress Index which is based on the Sustainable Development Goals could be used to inform this process[2].  Government should implement in full the commitment in the SDG Implementation Plan to identify areas of departmental expenditure which support specific SDGs and expand this to badging all policy decisions with the relevant SDG. 

In order to develop a sustainable society services and infrastructure must be well-planned and capable of adapting to the changing needs of the population over time.  This means that policy planning and design should, from the very beginning, include potential future changes, and as far as possible should be designed with these in mind. 

[1] https://www.oecd.org/naec/averting-systemic-collapse/SG-NAEC(2019)3_Beyond%20Growth.pdf

[2] https://www.socialjustice.ie/content/publications/sustainable-progress-index-2020