On 4 November 2015, the RSS Merseyside local group hosted Professor Paul Allin, a visiting professor at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Imperial College London. There were 18 people in attendance, including 10 RSS members. Most were from the University of Liverpool with additional representation from the Health and Safety Executive and United Utilities.
Paul’s talk was imaginatively titled “Third Time Lucky? – What can we learn from earlier attempts to measure more than GDP?' He began with an overview of gross domestic product (GDP) and explained that social indicators have been in existence since the 1790s. However, it is challenging to ensure new measures are used in government, business and everyday life. Paul went on to explain that although there are a wide range of benefits and positive attributes to GDP, and the fact it is used widely, it is an entirely “made-up entity” with assumptions about the nature of work that do not reflect today’s society’s wellbeing.
In November 2010, the Office for National Statistics introduced the ‘Measuring National Wellbeing Programme’, for use in addition to GPD (nicknamed Mr Cameron’s Happiness Index). This led to two further pieces of legislation in Wales concerning social well-being. Several other worldwide initiatives also exit. However, it is non-trivial to establish how this data is used, and what lessons can be learned for statistical production, and beyond statistical production.
Measures of national wellbeing, Paul explained, have potential political and policy applications and are not new. He concluded by saying: 'If we do not come up with better measures for how countries are doing, it is difficult to see how we can understand what progress we are making, and what sort of world we are handing over to future generations. However, if we come up with new measures but do not use them, it is possible that we are already compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' The meeting concluded with a lively discussion regarding the merits of the various approaches.