An Idea and a Tool

The Australian National Development Index (ANDI) is a community and research-based wellbeing index which helps us to think about, track and plan our society’s progress.

Today the issue of redefining progress beyond GDP and  new progress measures with citizen engagement is an established global concern. It is an issue with which Australia has been closely engaged for nearly two decades, and in which we have shown some leadership which will have crucial implications for Australian society, democracy, and public policy. 

Putting people’s wellbeing at the centre of policy requires developing better data, but it also requires including these data into the government decision making and national development strategies. Wellbeing indexes are usually developed to reflect the way a country thinks about progress and what it means to have a good life.  

The Idea

How can we tell that we are making progress as a community or a society? And who should decide this? These are pretty important questions for a democracy. The answers affect the wellbeing of everyone and the kind of nation we are.

The debate on the relevance of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as a measure of people’s wellbeing is almost as old as the measure itself. This is illustrated by the famous quote from Robert F. Kennedy below:

The Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials…it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

Robert Kennedy, 1968

Its limitations as a welfare measure have been recognised by several academics, including by its architects, Simon Kuznets and Richard Stone. In Australia, we are used to thinking about our progress in terms of GDP.  GDP measures the value of the goods and services we produce. It’s a monetary measure, devised mainly by economists. It doesn’t tell us very much about how we are going on the other things that matter to us. 

A wellbeing index is a bigger idea. It measures progress much more broadly – in human, environmental, economic and democratic terms. And if citizens are genuinely involved in deciding what to measure, it will reflect what matters to us all, and the kind of society we want. It will be a more useful tool to inform us, to improve our lives and point to the future we want. And it will strengthen our democracy.

ANDI aims to do all these things. It will track our overall quality of life, and the progress we are making on improving life for everyone and ensuring the health and sustainability of the environment.

ANDI is a long-term national collaboration. It will work with the community and with governments, universities and industry to identify our key shared values and the priorities that should be measured by the index and its ‘domains’ (our main areas of concern). They will reflect what is important to us, as individuals, families, communities and as a nation, including health, education, justice, the environment, and civic engagement, to name a few. ANDI will highlight areas where our progress is slow, and our wellbeing is languishing.

The Tool

ANDI will be a trusted and multi-purpose tool for all Australians: governments, policymakers, businesses, the media, community groups and ordinary citizens. 

It will provide a platform for all Australians to express their views about the kind of Australia we want.

It will be a regular and reliable source of information about the wellbeing of our people, communities, environment and institutions. 

It will help to guide decision makers in the community, public and private sectors, in planning, allocating resources and evaluating policies for improved wellbeing.

It will help make government more transparent and more accountable.

It will help keep our country on track over the long term, with regular, reliable and detailed reports on all aspects of our lives, measuring our true progress against our values and goals.

And over time, it can become a powerful and concrete statement of our shared vision for Australia’s future.

Ultimately, we envisage the ANDI and similar state wellbeing and progress frameworks being integrated into the policy and legislative frameworks in each state and territory, to ingrain thinking about policy impacts across all the different dimensions of wellbeing. This is how similar wellbeing frameworks are now being used in advanced countries such as New Zealand, Wales, Scotland and Canada.

The work to date

In order to establish whether progress is being achieved it must first be defined and measured. Australia has played an important role in the development of a broader approach to measuring progress. Australian Bureau of Statistics’ ‘Measures of Australian Progress’ (MAP) released in 2002 provides an informative dashboard of information and it has been internationally acknowledged as the best practice model in this area (ABS, 2010). The MAP approach provides an important conceptual framework that underpins the notion of progress by showing whether progress is being made across the social, economic, and environmental domains of life. Other approaches, such as the Canadian Index of Well-Being (CIW) and the OECD’s ‘Better life index’ have aimed to influence the debate on progress by providing information to make people more aware of the indicators beyond GDP. However, these approaches have not tried to aggregate the indicators to a single   index that captures the overall movements within or between domains. 

The ANDI project is based on a citizen’s initiative with the aim of engaging Australians in a national debate about what progress means to Australians. The ANDI project targets expanding the measurement of wellbeing beyond the scope of current and readily available income measures of national wellbeing. A fully developed ANDI will produce a holistic measure of progress that reflects the views and priorities of all Australians. The index will measure Australia’s wellbeing in up to 12 domains with results reported publicly on an annual basis and a progress update on one domain in each month of the year.

How we answer the question of whether or not life is getting better depends crucially on how we define and measure ‘a better life’.

Eckersley, 1998.