Measures of Australia's Progress

Key economic, social and environment indicators
Measuring a nation's progress – providing information about whether life is getting better – is one of the most important tasks that a national statistical agency can take on. For almost 100 years, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has been measuring Australia's progress through the multitude of statistics we publish relating to Australia's economy, society and environment. However, for the most part, our statistical publications have tended to focus on each of these three broad areas in isolation.
To address this issue and to contribute factual information to the discussion on progress, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has produced two volumes of Measures of Australia's Progress (MAP), the most recent in April 2004. It plans to update the publication on an annual basis. (…)Key indicators: In our application of the suite of indicators approach, key aspects of progress are set out side-by-side and the links between them discussed; readers make their own evaluations of whether the indicators together imply that Australia is on balance progressing and at what rate. The approach makes no overall assessment about whether the array of statistical indicators presented implies that life is getting better or worse. Instead, the suite of indicators leaves each individual reader to apply their own values and preferences to the evidence, and to arrive at their own overall assessment of national progress. (…)The publication comprises an essay describing the ABS approach and why it chose the suite of indicators rather than alternatives. The essay also describes the process for choosing the dimensions of progress and the criteria for selecting representative indicators of progress. The publication then outlines a framework for measuring progress.Environmental progress equates to a reduction of threats to the environment and improvements in the health of our ecosystems. Economic progress equates to enhancing the nation's income (broadly Australians' real per capita levels of consumption) while at least maintaining (or possibly enhancing) the national wealth that will support future consumption. Social progress equates to increases in the wellbeing of the population; a reduction of threats to, and increases in social cohesion; and protection and enhancement of democratic rights.It then goes on to describe the most important dimensions of progress within each of these domains. Health is an example: “Health: An indicator describing how long Australians live while simultaneously taking into account the full burden of illness and disability, would be a desirable summary measure of progress. But although such indicators have been developed they are not available as a time series. Life expectancy at birth is one of the most widely used indicators of population health. It focuses on length of life rather than its quality, but it usefully summarises the health of the population.” (…)Measuring progress meant considering whether things were moving in the right direction or not. It did not require us to announce whether a certain level or pattern of activity is sustainable. This is a far more difficult question. The ABS did not feel confident about pronouncing on sustainable development when there is little consensus among experts about the term, other than very generally. Consider, for instance, greenhouse emissions. Most would agree that, other things equal, a reduction in greenhouse emissions represents progress. But, because of the uncertainties around global warming, it would be much harder to reach agreement about whether the reduced level of emissions was sustainable over the longer term.Second, a focus on progress allowed us to give more prominence to the health of the economy and environment than would usually be covered in a project focused on wellbeing or quality of life. It is unlikely that a discussion about wellbeing (used in its traditional sense) would cover economic indicators of productivity or competitiveness for example. (...)Even with the benefit of hindsight, we were pleased with how we developed the project. Nevertheless, there were important lessons learned: Maintaining objectivity is critical as is presenting the report as an assessment of progress in Australia rather than as a review of government performance. (…) ; Widespread consultation is necessary – not just with government agencies. (…) ; Balance is essential. (…) Transparency is clearly ; It is best to treat the first publication as experimental and deliberately seek comments. Get it out rather quickly rather than trying to produce the perfect publication. (…) ; Listen to your critics even though you may differ from their points of view. Try to react to the criticisms. (...); Develop a media strategy.

Australia's road MAP

DimensionHeadline progress indicator
HealthLife expectancy at birth
Education and trainigPeople aged 25-64 with a vocational or higher education qualification
WorkUnemployment rate
National IncomeReal net disposable income per capita
Financial hardshipAverage real equalised weekly disposable income of households in the second and third deciles of the income distribution
National wealthReal national net worth per capita
HousingNo headline indicator (but a data based discussion of housing)
ProductivityMultifactor productivity
The natural landscapeThreatened birds and animals; annual area of land cleared; salinity, assets at risk in area affected by salinity; proportion of water management areas where use exceeded 70% of sustainable yield
The Human EnvironmentFine particle concentrations, day health standards exceeded
Oceans and EstuariesNo headline indicator but a range of supplementary indicators are discussed
International Environmental ConcernsNet greenhouse gas emissions
Family, Community and Social CohesionNo headline indicator but a range of supplementary indicators are discussed
CrimeVictims of personal and household crimes
Governance, DemocracyNo headline indicator but a range of supplementary indicators are discussed
Source: ABS, www.oecd.org/oecdworldforum©OECD Observer, No 246-247, December 2004 - January 2005ReferencesABS (2004), Measures of Australia’s Progress, catalogue number 1370.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.


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