ANDI (Australian National Development Index)
What kind of Australia do we want and how do we know if we are making progress?
We all want a better life, for ourselves and our children. We also care about the progress of our communities and our country. We like to think that we will leave a positive legacy for the generations that come after us. But how do we know if we, as a nation, are on the right track? What does progress really mean? How do we decide what counts as progress? How can we measure how well we are succeeding? By definition, the progress of a nation or a community is measured by how well it moves towards set goals and values. Until recently, most of the national conversations about our progress have been focused on economic growth or GDP as the key goal for Australia. Now, more than ever, human progress is increasingly being understood as much more complex than this, including the values that underpin our life together, goals that relate to our wellbeing as individuals and as communities, and the effective and sustainable use of our resources for the wellbeing of future generations. Deciding what progress means for Australia and how to measure it isn’t simply a matter of policy for lawmakers or a technical question for experts. It’s a democratic question for all Australians, and The ABS was the first national statistics office in the world to develop an integrated set of national progress measures and this project itself became one of the main inspirations for the OECD's global project. Last year the Australian Government commenced on the development of Australia’s Wellbeing Index.
Progress is more than economic growth
GDP was never designed to measure the overall progress and wellbeing of the nation. It is the sum total of the goods and services bought and sold in our economy. Certainly, it is an important statistic in its own right for reasons such as national economic planning. But as a measure of the overall progress and wellbeing of the nation, it is not just inadequate but misleading. GDP doesn’t distinguish between those things that add to our wellbeing, and those that diminish it. It doesn’t account for the depletion of our natural resources, sovereignty and sustainability. In the past decade, there has been increasing recognition that national wellbeing is based more than just economics. This movement is being driven by citizens, policymakers, academics and statisticians working together globally and locally and championed by international organisations like the OECD and the United Nations. This has stimulated research to define fulfillment and quality of life through measures related to social, cultural, spiritual and environmental dimensions. A focus on wellbeing recognizes that increased economic wealth is not always positively aligned with increased health and happiness of an individual or the wider community.
The global push to measure real progress:
US: Community Indicators Consortium
UK: Young Foundation
France: FAIR, PEKEA
Latin America: Como Vamos, Porto Alegre Community Budget
Australia: Tasmania Together, Community Indicators Victoria, CI Queensland, Santos Maranoa and Gladstone Wellbeing Study, Parramatta (CSI), City of Sydney Community Wellbeing Indicators
New Zealand: Major Cities Indicators Project
Canada (‘Canadian Index of Wellbeing’)
Australia (‘Measures of Australia’s Progress’, with pioneers such as Hugh Mackay)
Bhutan (‘Gross National Happiness’),
France, Sarkozy (‘Stiglitz-Sen Commission on Measuring Progress’)
US (‘Key National Indicators Act 2010’)
UK: (‘Happy Planet Index 2.0’ and work by nef)
Ireland, South Africa, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand etc.
OECD Global Project ‘Measuring the Progress of Societies’
EU: Council of Europe ‘Beyond GDP’
International Association of Supreme Auditors
WEF Global Council “Benchmarking the progress of societies”
Hazel Henderson put it aptly that, ‘statistical codes become the DNA of our nations’ and that ‘they reflect society’s values and goals and become the key drivers of economic and technological change’. So, who should decide what progress is, our values and goals are for our nation or communities? Why should citizens be engaged in that task? And how can they be best engaged? And, why should we measure our progress (national, community) and how best to?
Wellbeing is a holistic concept that is closely related to ‘quality of life’. Having worked on the development of community wellbeing indicator frameworks as a more robust social impact assessment processes for development projects, we employed an asset-based approach by engaging all community stakeholders in exploring the issues and opportunities inherent to that local area. An understanding of genuine progress requires multi-dimensional measurement. Each of these dimensions is a ‘domain’. Within a domain, there are numerous specific indicators of progress. Through an inclusive approach we were able to meaningfully engage people about they value, what their aspirations are, and worked collaboratively to develop a sustainability indicators framework that would help mitigate potential negative impacts across economic, social, environmental and cultural domains for each local government area. The application of a transparent framework for measuring progress over time is a journey that involves all stakeholders within a local context to establish agreed priorities for the community, thus creating a shared vision for the future. Results of indicators in each domain are transparent, and publicly released. The intention is to provide complete data to the public to enable further research of key areas of progress. In time, indicators within each domain may be reviewed in aggregate or as ‘disaggregated’ datasets. This will allow a national view as well as some local, regional and state level breakdowns. These plans serve to highlight community concerns, aspirations and priorities for the future of their area and community – which is really, everyone’s business.
The need for a locally supported approach
Redefining progress requires a contextual approach, and whilst common wellbeing framework methodologies exist, perhaps the biggest barrier is that these initiatives are not being driven or supported at the community and local government level. The measurement of community wellbeing requires the development of a location-specific wellbeing study. And, although data research has sought to highlight certain indicators, for example, financial exclusion, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that truly reflects other meaningful priorities and indicators for sustainability from one community to the next. This is why a shared cross-sectoral commitment by State and Local Government is urgently needed in building momentum for the development of community wellbeing action plans. Ultimately, it is hoped a richer evidence base from local governments across Australia will inform and guide government on strategic funding and policy decisions.
Right now, there are tremendous opportunities for advocacy, social investment, crowdsourcing, volunteering and matched funding for community development programs via a combination of online and participative engagement around focused indicator frameworks as an evidence base for establishing community needs through deeper research and due diligence. There are a number of benefits from a national index which reflects more holistic local priorities. With the capacity to distil multiple dimensions of progress measures, it will also attract high levels of public, political and media attention referenced frequently. The single number result will be the doorway through which people will start thinking about which elements of progress matter most to them. It will also challenge the specificity of economic measures that are currently used.
Progress on measuring progress – an Australian National Development Index (ANDI) is underway
This is what the ANDI project is about. Its development has been a long process in Australia going back 16 years, with some members providing international input since the 1970s. It is an independent, citizen-led, community initiative to revitalise our democracy and engage all Australians in a national debate about our shared vision for Australia. Based on the idea of an ongoing national conversation about what kind of society we want to be, it’s aim is to help develop clear, ongoing measures of our progress towards increasing equitable and sustainable wellbeing through an Australian National Development Index. ANDI’s is interim National Organising Committee comprises a large collaborative of distinguished practitioners from government, non-profit and academic institutions, with key advisors and sponsors from across the sectors. ABS is a key partner to ANDI for development of the Australian Wellbeing Index. ANDI seeks partners from the private, not-for-profit, academic, government and philanthropic sectors. ANDI and ACIN are built around the notion of using the web as a powerful tool for citizens to be engaged in developing measuring, planning and discussing their own communities, whether local or national and is currently seeking to form a partnership with an information technology company to support the technical development of ANDI and its website, as well as media partners to advocate this national initiative.
For more information please see the ANDI website:
ACIN (Australian Community Indicators Network): http://mc2.vicnet.net.au/home/acin/web/Frontpage.html