The ABS is fortunate in having comprehensive links with civil society. The Bureau has a systematic programme for consulting users of statistics. Through this programme, hundreds of government agencies, academic researchers, businesses and business councils, community organisations and individual Australians have told the ABS what they think it is important that it measures. (…) The final choice of indicators was made by the ABS after taking account of the full spectrum of views.
The ABS invited a small group of external advisors to sit on an “expert reference group” to inform MAP’s development and provide a sounding board for ABS ideas. This group comprised several academics, a scientist and the heads of two prominent civil society organisations: the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) and the Australia Institute.
Collectively, their diverse backgrounds helped ensure that the ABS view of progress was palatable to a broad crosssection of Australia. And, almost as important as the advice they provided, their involvement in the process of developing MAP helped to ensure that they supported the final publication.
There was, however, at least one weakness to the ABS approach that on reflection might have been avoided. It involves the importance of perception: perception around the role of, and perceived bias in the expert group, even though the ABS head made the final choices on dimensions and indicators. Some dimensions of progress attract more debate than others. There is, for example, a good deal of discussion about what changes in the distribution of income mean vis-à-vis progress. Some people equate a move to a more equal distribution of income with progress. Others feel that progress is achieved if people are earning more on average, even if the distribution of income widens. It is important that those designing an indicator initiative are aware of these areas of potential controversy and make a special effort to consult with people of all persuasions.
This extract is from a paper by Jon Hall, Chris Carswell and René Jones from the ABS, and David Yencken from the University of Melbourne. The full 9,000-word presentation and references, “Collaborating with civil society: reflections from Australia”, provides a range of insights on civil society consultations, focusing on three initiatives: MAP, Tasmania Together, and Growing Victoria Together. Available at www.oecd.org/oecdworldforum. The views in this paper are those of the authors.
©OECD Observer No 246/247, December 2004-January 2005