New organisation to redefine measurements of progress and wellbeing

| September 19, 2012

Traditional measurements of wellbeing and progress are losing their relevance in today’s world. Following a taskforce on progress in society, Global Access Partners (GAP) has established the Australian Society for Progress and Wellbeing. Andrew Gale launched the Society on 13 September.

It is my great pleasure to launch and announce the establishment of the Australian Society for Progress and Wellbeing. Hopefully this will become a moment of historic significance in due course. We are well progressed on the Society’s formation, but have some important matters to finalise such as its Constitution, so this really represents the soft launch of the Society.

The Australian Society for Progress and Wellbeing will be a permanent, membership-based organisation to drive the co-ordination of existing and new measurement frameworks, facilitate collaboration between interested parties and channel appreciation of these measures to decision makers and the general public.

The formation of the Society provides strong evidence that Global Access Partners or GAP initiatives and forums produce meaningful outcomes, which have the power to shape society.

The genesis of the Society was indeed a presentation made by Prof Bob Cummins Professor of the School of Psychology at Deakin University, at the very first National Economic Review Summit in 2010 which highlighted the need for broader measures of progress, notions of wellbeing.

Economists, statisticians and social commentators alike have long recognised that traditional economic indicators, such as gross domestic product (GDP) and per capita income, are insufficient measures of a country’s wellbeing. Such ‘hard metrics’ fail to capture personal satisfaction, happiness, wellbeing, or other indications of quality of life, including health, education and environmental considerations.  However, the problem is that there is no consensus on what measures to use to capture wellbeing.

International attempts to study this problem include the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress in France, initiated by President Sarkozy and led by Nobel Prize winners Dr Joseph Stiglitz and Dr Amartya Sen. There is now an extensive and growing body of research into ‘the economics of happiness’.

Australian investigations in the past decade include the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Measures of Australia’s Progress, focusing on governance and social, economic and environmental indicators. The Australian Treasury has developed its own wellbeing framework, while Australian Unity, in partnership with the Australian Centre for Quality of Life at Deakin University, regularly monitors life satisfaction in the general population with the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index. In addition, there are dozens of other such instruments or programs, many at local level, demonstrating a growing hunger for understanding the dynamics that contribute to social progress.

Despite these efforts, the measurement of wellbeing remains highly contested and the concept lingers at the fringes of national debate, with a lack of serious attention paid to its implications for domestic policy.

In early 2011, and inspired by the 2010 Global Access Partners (GAP) Summit, public policy think tank GAP brought together a taskforce of senior executives from government, business and academia to consider fresh and inclusive definitions of economic and social progress and discuss their integration into national policy making. The original intention was to investigate and resolve differences between competing measures of social progress, understand points of agreement or controversy, and highlight areas where further work was required.

The GAP Taskforce on Progress in Society was chaired by Stephen Bartos, a public policy expert and executive director of ACIL Tasman.
The Taskforce found a high level of support among policy makers for use of measures of social progress and wellbeing which go beyond monetary measures, as the denominator for the effectiveness of policy. For example, the Australian Treasury’s wellbeing framework already recognises the vital importance of such considerations.

The high level of goodwill and the willingness of researchers, public servants, business leaders and others to devote time and energy to measurement of social progress and wellbeing provide a firm foundation for action. The Taskforce believed that high level of effort currently expended can become more effective through better communication and coordination.

In its June 2012 Report, one of the Taskforce’s key recommendations was to move the wealth of research work out of academia into the mainstream of Australian social, commercial and political life. The Taskforce advocated the creation of a permanent, membership-based organisation – the Australian Society for Progress & Wellbeing.

International organisations in Canada, France and Britain have indicated that they will be willing to work with a single body offering a community of interest in Australia.

GAP has established a working group of leading academic, government and business representatives to scope the new Society, and drive its establishment.

The founding partners of the Society are the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia (ICAA) and the Australian Government Consultative Committee on Knowledge Capital (AGCCKC). I would like in particular to acknowledge Lee White, CEO of ICAA and Rohan Mead, Managing Director of the Australian Unity for their support of this initiative.

Purpose & Objectives

We are currently finalising the Constitution for the Society, its membership categories, its strategic and business plan, funding and strategic partners.

The Australian Society for Progress and Wellbeing will be a not-for-profit, membership-based organisation which operates as a forum where key stakeholders with an interest in social progress and wellbeing issues can engage, influence and advocate change.

The key objectives of the Society are to:

  • Ensure wellbeing receives equal prominence to economic considerations in determining the progress of Australia and Australians – at an individual, family, community, business and government level;
  • Shift social progress and wellbeing considerations from government departments, supra-national organisations and academia into ‘mainstream’ consciousness and decision making;
  • Build an influence bridge between the designers of progress and wellbeing frameworks and users of those frameworks, especially major decision makers in government, public policy, corporations and significant not-for-profit organisations.

Next Steps

As the Society will be a strong member based organisation, we would very much welcome your involvement – either in an individual capacity or on behalf of your organisation.

This Global Access Partners initiative has the potential to really change the manner in which people think about progress, significantly improve decision making at a government, organisational and individual level, and ultimately lead to a better society. We welcome your involvement.

Andrew Gale is Principal and Executive Director at Chase Corporate Advisory, a specialist M&A advisory firm focused on the financial services and accounting sectors. His most recent prior role was Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer for Count Financial. Other roles have included Managing Partner, Deloitte Actuaries & Consultants and senior executive roles in distribution, marketing and strategy, and divisional/general management with two of Australia’s leading financial services organisations, namely MLC and AMP. Andrew is a member of AGCCKC, was President of the Institute of Actuaries of Australia in 2005 and a founding director of the Society of Knowledge Economics in 2006.