Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The UK riots and social exclusion: Let’s focus on a well society.

The UK’s Coalition Government has done many things since coming to power to try to distinguish itself from the last administration, one of which has been the decision to try and measure community well-being as a way of informing policy decisions.  The Prime Minister, ministers, the Office of National Statistics, commentators and just about everyone else have found it difficult to come to some consensus on what well-being is.  Where everyone can agree is that last month’s riots in many English cities are about as far away from community well-being as you’d ever want to be.

So why have some communities been left looking like war zones? Well-being theory can help identify some of the main issues and hopefully inform the response to what is a very complex problem.

The new economics foundation has developed the Five Ways to Well-being as a self help guide to promote increased individual well-being[1]. The rioters may indeed have the means to keep connected with the people around them, but something is stopping these individuals from learning more, nurturing their curiosity and feeling that doing something for their community is worthwhile in itself.  Similarly, Professor Martin Seligman’s recipe to Flourish[2]  notes the importance of relationships in an individual’s life, like the Five Ways to Well-being.  The other ingredients in Professor Seligman’s recipe include getting involved in something that brings positive meaning to your life or developing a sense of achievement.

Many commentators have highlighted the role that gangs have played in the riots.  Gang culture can bring meaning, achievement and relationships to their members, like any club or social network.  Being in a gang can make you feel very good about yourself and draw you closer to your peers, while insulating you from conditions on the ‘outside.’  This goes to the heart of the very subjective nature of well-being, where gang members would probably report that at least their short-term quality of life has been improved by gang membership and newly acquired material goods.  Those who have suffered at the hands of the criminal rioters would strongly disagree.  It is this mismatch that illustrates perfectly why public policy needs to focus on community well-being rather than individual short term happiness or merriment. 

MacDonald[3] has written about social exclusion, noting that the young adults in his research were very much part of a local community, but that the characteristics of that community, and the behaviours and attitudes required to be socially included within it, could be the very things that made those young people excluded from wider society. Again, like gang membership, this suggests that aspects of wellbeing are setting specific.

Lles Cymru Wellbeing Wales has worked with a number of organisations with the Exploring Sustainable Well-being Toolkit – which has a model of sustainable well-being at its core (See figure 1).  We would argue that the complex underlying problems uncovered by the recent riots need to be viewed through the lens of sustainable well-being in order to help work out what’s going on, rather than narrowly focusing on individuals and their ‘feckless mothers’.  We would also advocate asking people where they are as the first step in informing future policy decisions.  This information would give a real sense of the community’s well-being and help decision makers understand what the issues are at the sharp end of government policy delivery.  Even better, evidence demonstrates that this approach can galvanise a community to get involved and make a positive difference - streets full of volunteers clearing up after the riots illustrate the potential.

Figure 1

All of this might sound a bit fluffy and in sharp contrast to the scenes of destruction played out on the news.  But NEF’s work is founded on the 2008 Foresight Programme’s Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project and Professor Seligman has been commissioned by the United States Army to deliver the world’s most psychologically fit Army under the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness programme.  These principles are applicable to this situation and there is evidence to demonstrate the successes of this approach.

US Democrat congresswomen Patricia Schroeder spent 24 years in the House of Representatives focusing on family and work related issues.  She is quoted as saying “you measure a government on how few people need help.” I would say that a lot of people need a lot of help based on recent events.

Finally, as a father, its distressing to read so many comments about unemployable and worthless youths.  Surely we need to move on from thinking about everyone’s contribution to society in purely economic terms.  We’re currently stuck in the rut of assessing social progress and government success by focusing on the country’s economic activity.  To get more economic growth, we all have to be more ‘economically efficient.’  As a result, if you don’t get the grades, you don’t get the career and have less value to society. That’s going to make a lot of people very scared. It is no surprise that the key focus of the riots was on looting the goods that our society values as the symbols of economic power. At a time when we have a greater gap between the poorest and wealthiest in society than ever before, we also have a media that offers us constant reminders of what flexing that economic power looks like.

The fact of the matter is that promoting constant economic growth is difficult to manage and focuses on the wrong things - just ask the Chancellor.  According to Robert Kennedy in 1968, using economic growth to mark our society’s progress ends up measuring “everything ... except that which makes life worthwhile”.  I hope we can avoid knee jerk reactions or clever sound bites in response to the riots and continue to look at how best to promote more well-being for all of our communities.  Recent evidence suggests this approach is needed more than ever.

Article was written by Dafydd Thomas from Wikiprogress Correspondent, Wellbeing Wales Network.

[1] http://www.neweconomics.org/projects/five-ways-well-being
[2] Seligman M (2011) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Free Press.
[3] Macdonald, R & J. Marsh (2005) Disconnected Youth? Growing Up In Britain’s Poor Neighbourhoods, Palgrave Macmillan.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Correspondent "Editor's Choice"

Our new monthly feature will be adding a selection of highlights from our UK-based Correspondent to the ever-growing discussions on well-being and progress.

From Dafydd Thomas of Wellbeing Wales Network.

Mid July saw the Office of National Statistics in the UK launch the results from their extensive consultation regarding a National Wellbeing Index. After receiving 34,000 responses to this national debate, The Telegraph reported that the respondents felt “the most important elements of life for wellbeing and happiness were health, relationships, work, education and training.” BBC Breakfast also pointed out that equality was a key issue in wellbeing, with the nef’s Charles Seaford being quoted saying “national wellbeing depends on quite a high level of equality.”

As the results were published, Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service, sent guidelines to all Whitehall departments calling for “a culture change” and ordering officials to consider the implications for people’s happiness when drafting new policies. Two areas picked out for special attention were the workplace and the classroom. Sir Gus wanted workers to feel less stressed about the workplace and for children to value more than the latest iPod. The results from in-depth consultations will be published next year. It’ll be interesting to see if that information will affect Government thinking in the future, because it's not that obvious at the moment.

For example, those busy people at ONS also published details on the state of the UK economy. They felt that “the economic mess” wasn’t the Chancellor’s fault, but down to dastardly warm weather, an extra bank holiday and royal street parties as reported by The Independent.

So in summary, GDP goes down when people do things that boost their wellbeing. And policies designed to increase GDP have little effect on the economy … but dramatic effects on health, work, education and training.

Fortunately, the UN General Assembly thinks it's time to change. Surprisingly, it was the China’s People’s Daily which ran the story as the British press and public were focused on events at the News of the World.  It seems that the UN has decided to “pursue …. measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding public policies.”  The new resolution calls for a ““balanced approach” to economic growth that would lead to sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and well-being of the planet.”  Lhatu Wangchuk, Bhutan’s ambassador to the UN, whose country was a cosponsor of the resolution, said it was “inspired by the belief that we need to begin discussing a topic whose moment has come.”  I couldn't agree more.

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Week in Review

Welcome to the Wikiprogress week in review, a round-up of media highlights from the busy and eventful week that was. Be sure to see the Wikiprogress community portal for all media and news from the progress community.

On Libya
UN Chief stresses unity and national reconciliation during transition (UN News Centre 23.08.2011)
The short-term future of Libya was discussed in a meeting between the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and leader of Libya’s Transnational Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, earlier this week. Importance was placed on maintaining national unity and fostering reconciliation in this period of transition.
See more on Libya, the first in a series of articles mapping the progress/regress of the nations involved in the Arab Spring revolutions.

On data
South Sudan launches its first GDP estimate (World Bank Blog 23.08.2011)
The republic of South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, released the country’s first estimate of GDP last week. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows South Sudan has done well compared to neighbouring countries in East Africa. See more and please contribute to our country article on The Republic of South Sudan

On child well-being
Millions of Nepal's children risk statelessness - U.N. (Reuters, 23.08.2011)
If the government of Nepal approves strict citizenship criteria as part of its new constitution, up to two million children will become stateless. If it goes ahead, Nepal will be the second country in the world, after Bhutan, to demand both parents to be nationals for a child to gain citizenship.
See more on Nepal

On gender equality
End of history and the last woman (The Economist 22.08.2011)
An article from last week’s edition of the Economist (The flight from marriage) showed that many Asians are marrying later in life, which is having a profound impact on women. This follow up article looks at fallen fertility rates, not just in Asia, but in 83 countries and territories around the world, and what sort of future this is shaping.
See more on sex ratio

On happiness
Happiness: the real purpose of economic development? (The Conversation 24.08.2011)
This article, written by Wikiprogress community member John Wiseman, gives a detailed overview about who’s doing what in the international progress community. It also gives a short analysis of the history of the movement and projections for the future of the progress community and its work.
See more on progress initiatives around the world

That’s all from us this week. Be sure to tune in the same time next week for another round-up of weekly highlights.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Is life in Australia getting better?

These are the sorts of questions we are asking the Australian public this year - to find out and help articulate the public's aspirations for Australia's national progress.

I work on a publication called Measures of Australia Progress (MAP) by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Our aim is to help people answer the question "Is life in Australia getting better?" While this may be of no interest to someone living in Denmark for example, the principles of what we do, can be applied to any country or community. And we hope that people use what we do for their community's progress and wellbeing.

This year we're hoping to create a public conversation on Australia's progress. We are asking Australians from all walks of life about their goals and aspirations for Australia's progress. What kind of country do we want to live in? We're calling this consultation MAP 2.0, as we want to update our publication with the feedback we receive.

Why are we doing this?
The reason we're asking for the goals and aspirations of Australians is if we want to know if Australia is progressing, we have to know what it is we are progressing towards. Once we know our progress goals, we can better measure how we're tracking towards them. It's our role, as statisticians to measure our progress, but it is the role of the community to determine what progress means. What is appealing about this process is that it applies to any level and any community. There can be national aspirations which a publication like MAP can measure, and there can be local community aspirations which local projects can measure. As the goals and aspirations of each community might be different, this approach allows to take in that diversity.

Progress so far... ?
We're hoping to generate a national conversation about Australia's progress, similar to the global dialogue that the Stiglitz, Sen, Fitoussi Commission called for. The ABS has been a leader in this field for some time. We first released MAP in 2002 and it was seen as a groundbreaking and somewhat controversial publication back then - raising the profile of environmental statistics. Now that has become the norm. The ABS would like to continue to be a leader in this field so we're having a fresh look at MAP. Plus there are many other projects that are looking at the progress and wellbeing of societies, so we'd like to learn from their experiences. We've created some maps, calling them "Indicator Land" maps to demonstrate the number of projects. They're not a comprehensive list of projects, more of a visual aid to demonstrate the explosion of interest in this field.

Blog to be released soon...
As part of our consultation, we're launching our blog on 29th August, with help from several prominent Australians to start a national dialogue. I won't tell you who they are as we're in the process of finalising the list. Our aim is that people will provide comments and share their goals and aspirations for Australia's progress on our blog. This post is a bit of shameless self-promotion by us :)

As part of the consultation we've already visited each ABS office in the state capitals in Australia and held workshops to collect people's goals for Australia. Also, we've gathered groups of experts to help refine progress aspirations for Australia. The aspirations we collect, along with the comments and feedback we hope to receive on our blog, will feed into a report and eventually a new version of MAP. We hope to release our report in time for the next World Forum in India.

If you can't wait for the launch of our blog and would like more information, you can read our submission booklet or the feature article in MAP 2010 to get a better idea of what we're doing.

Stay in touch! measuringprogress@abs.gov.au

Serhat Turut

Friday, 19 August 2011

The week in review

Welcome to the Wikiprogress week in review- a round-up of media highlights from the busy and eventful week that was. Be sure to see the Wikiprogress community portal for all news, blogs, reports and debates about measuring progress.

On progress
The Guardian data blog have visualized how former USSR countries have progress/regressed since the USSR broke up 20 years ago. 15 soviet states became independent in 1991; the data team from the Guardian have pulled together data from the World Bank, UNHCR, UN Crime Trends and the Happy Planet Index to measure the progress and compare the performance of these countries.
See more on progress

On data
The power index (launched 15.08.2011)
Launched this week, the Power Index is a nation wide initiative that seeks to answer the question ‘who really runs Australia’? The index has 24 categories of influence and power that rank 10 people per category according to their level of influence. The index was created by Paul Barry, a well known investigative journalist in Australia and is hosted on an interactive website that details a thorough explanation of the methodology behind the index.

On child well-being
Kids Count data book (released 17.08.2011)
The Kids Count 2011 data book was released on Tuesday detailing national and state-wide indicators of child well-being in the US. Kids Count aims to provide an ongoing benchmark that demonstrates how states have progressed or regressed over time according to the well-being of children from each state. 

On happiness
In 1954 psychologist Abraham Maslow created the hierarchy of needs, which essentially breaks down the path to happiness. This article from the Atlantic looks at a new study based on a survey of people from 123 countries and aims to determine the universal needs that make us happy.
See more on happiness

On development
Problems with measuring poverty (The Guardian Poverty Matters Blog 15.08.2011)
This blog post by Jonathan Glennie of the Overseas Development Institute, addresses the issue of per capita income being used as an indicator of poverty given the rise in number of middle income countries.  Glennie praises the concept of least developed countries (LDC) as the criteria of this category includes important indicators of human development.
See more on measuring poverty

On gender equality
Renewed energy for women’s empowerment (Africa Renewal 16.08.2011)
While South Africa and Mozambique have reached the benchmark of 30% women’s representation in parliament, the figures for Southern Africa tell a different story. This article looks at the role women play in governance and how women can be engaged with broader issues of governance, including political conflicts, through an interview with UN Women’s Regional Director for Southern Africa Nomcebo Manzini.

In the Spotlight this week : The web turns twenty

That’s all from us this week – be sure to tune in this time next week for another round up of highlights from the week that was.

Yours in progress,
Philippa Lysaght

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The gender of Wikipedia

Over the last 10 years Wikipedia has made phenomenal progress with more than 3.5 million articles in English, wikis in over 250 different languages and a ranking 7th place for the worlds most popular website.

Despite this progress, Wikipedia has suffered from inequalities prevalent in our offline communities, which has been reflected in the types of editors and articles that construct the online encyclopaedia.
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipeida, announced at the annual Wikimania conference held in Haifa earlier this month that Wikipedia was suffering from a severe lack of female contribution.

According to a study conducted by Wikipedia, 90% of Wikipedians (those who create and/or edit articles) are male. Wales announced at the conference that the average Wikipedian is a 26-year-old geeky male with a PhD.

The methodology behind this study has not yet been made publicly available. According to Internet guru Clay Shirky it is near impossible to identify an ‘average Wikipedian’ or draw any significant conclusions about the types of people who contribute to Wikipedia, as many contributors are only identifiable by IP addresses and types of editing vary so enormously, even for registered users it is difficult to determine any commonalities.

In an interview with The Independent, Wales talked about the impact the gender imbalance of Wikipedians has on the site: ‘At the moment we are relatively poor in a few areas; for example biographies of famous women throughout history and issues surrounding early childcare.

This statement in itself is questionable and reflects a greater stereotype of the areas of interest and achievement common to each of the sexes. As Wikipedia is comprehensive in its articles from the fields of science and technology, traditionally male dominated disciplines, do we then draw the conclusion that these articles have been constructed by male Wikipedians? Is there a danger of Wikipedia fostering and enhancing the segregation of traditional gender specific subjects?

In an attempt to attract more women to edit articles, Wikipedia has introduced a new function called Wiki-love that aims to create ‘a general spirit of collegiality and mutual understanding among wiki users. But why are such measures needed? In an online space that is open to all and allows contributors to remain anonymous or take on an alias, why are we seeing such a great gender imbalance?

A recent blog post by Guardian journalist Jemima Kiss suggests that the cause of this is the ego wars that take place between long standing dedicated Wikipedians. A key motivation for contribution to any type of wiki platform is recognition, as such those from the inner sanctum of Wikipedia editing have worked very hard to create their profile and secure a high status.

This has lead in many cases to competition, with frequent editing disputes showing the competitive and almost aggressive nature of many of the core contributors. Based on this, Ms Kiss speculates that it could be that the belligerent nature the community that is deterring women from participating.

Please comment below and share your thoughts. Is Jimmy Wales in danger of perpetuating gender specific disciplines by suggesting that the cause of certain articles being thorough or lacking information is based on the gender of Wikipedia editors?

Philippa Lysaght

Friday, 12 August 2011

The week in review

Welcome to the Wikiprogress week in review- a round-up of media highlights from the busy and eventful week that was. I have to say that this week has been exceptionally busy, which is why we have particularly good selection for you. As always, see all media in the Wikiprogress community portal.

On progress
Economics of Inclusion (Vision of Humanity 09.08.2011)
The Club de Madrid recently released a paper on the shared societies project that looks at the relationship between social cohesion and economic growth and well-being. The Club de Madrid have done significant work on the role social cohesion plays in human development; this paper emphasises the role leaders need to take in developing an understanding of the economic benefits of social cohesion.
See more on social cohesion

On data
Mapping the riots with poverty (Guardian data blog 10.08.2011)
The riots in the UK have had the media spotlight shone on them for almost a week now, but there are few journalists who have been able to make sense of them. Data journalist Matt Stiles has put together a map mashing up deprivation data with riot incidents. He makes no correlation between the two but does ask for readers opinions on what the data shows.
See more on data visualization

On happiness
A Gallup study conducted over four years in more than 150 countries looks at religious affiliation, life satisfaction, respect, social support and positive and negative feelings. This article details the results of the study with an interesting analysis of the relationship between religion and happiness on a global scale.

On gender equality
Women! Wikipedia needs you (Guardian 08.08.2011)
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, spoke at the annual Wikipedia conference saying that 90% of contributors to the site are male. While he gave no reason as to why this has happened, he went into the detail about the risks of having such a distinct gender imbalance of Wikipedians and what possible adjustments Wikipedia could make to encourage more women to participate. 

On child well-being
The spotlight in the Australian media has shifted between the carbon tax and the Malaysia deal for the last few weeks now. Despite political alliances and personal beliefs, there has been a general consensus that the children who arrive in Australia as illegal immigrants will suffer from their immediate deportation to Malaysia, as many of them are travelling as unaccompanied minors.
See more news on child well-being

That’s all from us this week. We hope you tune in same time next week for another weekly round-up of media highlights.

Yours in progress,
Philippa Lysaght

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The 5 Excellences and Collaborative Medicine...

Those of you who have been following this blog know that we look at well-being and particularly how to measure it. Given the latest trends in Wikinomics, citizen created content and data from unofficial sources, there is a movement to encourage citizen participation in creating knowledge even in health.

I recently have discovered Cheng Man Ching who was a famous for his technique of Tai chi and also for his mastery of the 5 Excellences:
1) Poetry
2) Painting
3) Calligraphy
4) Medicine
5) Tai Chi

The Tao teaches that learning these 5 Excellences will help you to attain a balanced and fulfilled life.

Medicine is the one that I am reflecting on today especially in terms of progress. Doctors are to know about medicine. They are the experts and the authoritative sources. Why does the Tao recommend that all people should know about medicine? Of course, time and place will dictate how one determines the interpretation of this.

But, what does that mean for the health dimension of well-being? Since, I came across Chang Man Ching’s 5 Excellences, I added the Lancet to my Google reader. Every day, I am getting all the latest in medical news. These are a few of the links I found from Lancet which have to do with people being able to contribute proactively to their health and to create new knowledge around it:
Don Tapscott discusses participation by patients for a new model health care and the study of medicine:

Macrowikinomics: Collaborative Health Care from Macrowikinomics on Vimeo.

There is also Open MRS which is to improve health care delivery in resource-constrained environments by coordinating a global community that creates a robust, scalable, user-driven, open source medical record system platform.

Open MRS envision a world where:
  • Models exist to implement health IT in a way that decreases costs, increases capacity, and lessens the disparities between wealthy and resource-poor environments.
  • Open standards enable people to use health IT systems to share information and reduce effort.
  • Concepts and processes can be easily shared to enable health care professionals and patients to work together more effectively.
  • Medical software helps ease the work of health care providers and administrators to provide them with the tools to improve health outcomes all over the world.
Finally, this app looks really interesting especially in terms of data collection on life satisfaction perhaps. PsyMate  provides a "film" rather than a "snapshot" of a patient's mental state. It monitors daily life experience and behavior over a period of time and not as a one-off. It also offers the possibility of interactivity with the patient.  While this app is made for collecting data on patients, I wonder, could this (or something like this) be used for collecting survey data on a society?

Next post...calligraphy.


Friday, 5 August 2011

The week in review

Welcome to the Wikiprogress week in review- a round-up of media highlights from the busy and eventful week that was. Be sure to see the Wikiprogress Community Portal for all media coverage from the progress movement.
On progress

Happiness: the price of economic growth (The Guardian 01.08.2011)
The pursuit of economic productivity can be environmentally destructive and socially divisive, according to Andrew Simms, key progress thinker and Policy Director of the new economics foundation (nef). The recent report released by the ONS on well-being in the UK has been given a wide range of media coverage; this article looks at the dangers and challenges of pursing economic growth and ignoring other indicators of national well-being.

On peace
This is a conversation with Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) in a one hour special edition. He talks about their key product, the Global Peace Index, which annually ranks 169 nations according to their peacefulness.
See more on the Global Peace Index

On development
In Kenya, Citizens Track Water Problems (World Bank News 02.08.2011)
Citizen volunteers in Kenya have formed water action groups to speed up the repairing process of broken pipes and large scale leaks that would otherwise take weeks or even months to fix.  After trialing the project for two years, the groups have fixed of 97% of the 400 water connection issues.
See more on progress in Kenya and contribute to the article

On data
On August 1st the Center for Global Development announced their decision to become more transparent-a move which involves the center opening their data as well as analysis for public availability. In this news article the CGD give a thorough list of the benefits to becoming more transparent.

On gender
This article addresses the importance of gender responsive budgeting for governments, particularly in Africa, in order to ensure women in rural areas are reached. This was one of the key recommendations to come from the Global Call for Action plan, the result of an international meeting between UN Women and the European Union held at the end of July.
See more on gender budgeting

On child well-being
76 children have been killed since civil unrest broke out in Yemen in February this year. UNICEF has documented over 770 cases of injury to children as a direct result of the unrest. This article also address the role of children in times of conflict, citing examples and statistics from Yemen.
See more on Yemen and child well-being

That’s all from us this week. Tune in again this time next week for another week of highlights from the busy week that was.

Yours in Progress,
Philippa Lysaght

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Free the analysis! New Policy at the Center for Global Development

The World Bank freed their data last year because data is a public good. Now, the Center for Global Development (CGD) is taking this one step further. Freeing the analysis.

The Center for Global Development is, in my humble opinion, a place where the envelope is pushed. Not only does CGD provide high quality analysis but now they will also publish the code and the data (with some exceptions) behind that analysis so that anyone can come in, replicate the process and check the quality. They admit that this is a rather uncomfortable process as nobody likes to have their long hard published work corrected in the public domain.

However, they have seen the need to put themselves out there for public debate with the knowledge that there are bugs in analysis and they want them caught. Clearly, they would also like to set a precedent.

Admirable indeed. We here at Wikiprogess are impressed.

These are some of the benefits that transparency allows according to their policy:

• It makes analysis more credible.

• It makes CGD more credible when it calls on other organizations, such as aid agencies, to be transparent.

• Data and code are additional content, appreciated by certain audiences.

• Increases citation of CGD publications—by people using associated data sets.

• It curates, saving work that otherwise tends to get lost as the staff turns over.

• Preparing code and data for public sharing improves the quality of research: researchers find bugs.

• In short term, CGD’s leadership in transparency will differentiate it from its peers. In the long term (one hopes), CGD’s leadership will raise standards elsewhere.

See full policy here.