New Economy Journal

Measuring the Kind of Australia We Want: the Evolution of the Australian National Development Index (ANDI)

Volume 4, Issue July 2023

July 4, 2023

By - Geoff Woolcock - Mike Salvaris

Piece length: 1,121 words

Article Theme : Rethinking Value

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The Australian National Development Index (ANDI) is a measure of wellbeing and progress. ANDI reflects the values and priorities of Australians. ANDI measures what matters to us in a way that GDP and other economic measures cannot.

ANDI developed out of an informal community-research alliance focused on citizenship and wellbeing, which was set up in 1995. In 2008, the idea of a national wellbeing index with citizen engagement at the center was proposed by ANDI and endorsed at the 2008 National Ideas Summit in Canberra.  In 2012, ANDI Limited was incorporated as a not-for-profit public interest organisation, established to develop a national wellbeing measurement and policy framework — based on research, community engagement, and best practice. ANDI’s formal and informal partners include around forty Australian organisations, representing  a wide range of fields from health, welfare, human rights and local government to the environment, issues affecting Indigenous populations, and children's wellbeing.

Over the past twenty-five years, ANDI and its earlier research team have provided advice and prepared reports for a wide range of Australian and international organisations, including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations; the governments of New Zealand, Canada, and Bhutan; the Senate and state and local governments of Australia; and the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA). From 2018 to 2019, ANDI worked with the University of Melbourne to develop a pilot process for a full national development index focusing on two key domains: education and health. In the past three years, ANDI’s main focus has been the creation of the West Australian Development Index, as well as  supporting other community and research projects to promote wellbeing measurement and policymaking in Australia and internationally.

ANDI is part of a global movement. According to the OECD Statistics Directorate (2008), over the past two decades there has been, “an explosion of interest in producing measures of societal progress that go beyond GDP.” ANDI could be described as a part of the beyond GDP movement because it aims to present a broader view of how societies are progressing and to engage citizens in the process. Projects which do this have been developed all around the world—at local, provincial, and national levels. Social indicator research and efforts to measure societal progress have been part of the international landscape since the late 1970s. Yet this field of research has received only periodic public attention: insufficient interest during economic slowdowns and modest traction at the national level.

In the 1990s, a new interest in the use of broader measures of wellbeing began to develop among the public and academia. This interest was spurred on by growing social and environmental problems, and increasing dissatisfaction with total economic output as the primary measure of a national progress. Academics, public institutions, governments, social action groups, and local communities became engaged in finding a solution. Ideas and projects from many diverse sources began to converge: the United Nations’ Development Programme and the Human Development Index; the Kingdom of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness program; the environmental movement; the women's movement; the community planning movement; Canada’s pioneering community-research project, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing; organisational management concepts such as the ‘Triple Bottom’ and ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’; happiness research in psychology; and quality of life studies. Much of the beyond GDP movement has come to focus contemporaneously on the notion of wellbeing economies, with several nation-states producing wellbeing budgets. Some countries, like Wales, have built  wellbeing comprehensively into their legislation, policy making, planning, budgeting, and education processes.

Some of the basic arguments and the most important ideas and evidence behind the ANDI project (see extended paper here) can be encapsulated in six broad propositions:

  1. Progress is a powerful and influential political idea and the statistical indicators which define and measure progress are therefore also very influential. This means these measures are often used to serve particular political interests but their ultimate legitimacy in a well governed state should be as a means to improve people’s lives.
  2. GDP is currently our most politically powerful progress indicator, but it is a poor measure of the true progress of societies.
  3. It is time to change the way we define and measure progress: this means, first, shifting focus from production to wellbeing.
  4. Today a global movement to redefine progress is developing.
  5. The task of developing new measures of societal progress necessarily includes both logical and democratic requirements. Logically, we must first be clear about what progress means, and what our goals and values are, and especially what kind of future we want to progress to so that we measure what is important, not just what is easily measured.
  6. But also, in a democracy, the task of re-defining national progress has fundamental democratic requirements starting with the need for a shared and honest understanding of reality and moving to a broader debate on the meaning and goals of progress. This means that citizens must be engaged in that debate and in developing the new measures of progress, working with different stakeholders across society to develop a shared model of better, fairer and more sustainable societies.

At the time of writing this article, ANDI has renewed its commitment to embed holistic wellbeing into legislation, policy making, planning, and budgeting by doing our utmost to engage citizens as authentically as possible in these processes. The Building Wellbeing into Policy Workshop in Canberra, November 2022, provided a more cohesive and concerted platform to advance these goals. There is discernible enthusiasm for what might be achieved by progressing this ambitious agenda, amidst welcome Federal Government interest via Treasury’s Measuring What Matters consultation.

In our 2018 national survey (sample 1,850), 87% of respondents thought that in charting our national progress—health, social, and environmental measures were equally as important as economic ones. Comparatively, only 43% of respondents felt that Australia was “heading in the right direction.”  ANDI remains confident that Australia can fulfil the desires reflected in this survey.

We believe the following quote by UNICEF (1998) summarises ANDI’s practical hopes and present-day approach to change, as well as our values as an organisation. It can be read as a kind of mission statement for those looking to understand what it is ANDI does.

The day will come when nations will be judged not by their military or economic strength, nor by the splendour of their capital cities and public buildings, but by the wellbeing of their people: by their levels of health, nutrition and education; by their opportunities to earn a fair reward for their labours; by their ability to participate in the decisions that affect their lives; by the respect that is shown for their civil and political liberties; by the provision that is made for those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged; and by the protection that is afforded to the growing minds and bodies of their children.

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