That was one of the key messages of a symposium on measuring and reporting companies' intellectual capital in Amsterdam 9-11 June. It was organised by the OECD with the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs and Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Nordic Industrial Fund. Frans van der Wel, professor of accounting at the Free University, Amsterdam and former head of the Royal Dutch Institute of Chartered Accountants, chaired a technical meeting to review results of recent surveys of 1,800 companies, and case studies and experimentation in 125 companies in OECD countries. "Intellectual capital", or "intangibles", includes know-how and experience of employees, research and development and technology, organisational structure, marketing, customer and supplier networks, and software.
There has been some progress in measuring human capital, but clearly not enough. According to some, one of the difficulties is the damaging tendency to see the labour market rather like one sees financial markets, although for humans rather than financial capital. For more on this idea, readers are invited to read last January's edition of the Observer no. 215, where Joop Hartog, of the University of Amsterdam, takes a look behind the veil of human capital.
©OECD Observer No 217/218, Summer 1999