Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Colman replied to the GlobeScan survey article I posted in my other diary as follows:


I have a nasty feeling that, in the end, they all suffer from the same basic problem as GDP: the measurement errors and differences in precisely what is being measured will make comparisons meaningless.

-- succintly summarizing the points made in that exchange he had with Mig referenced in this diary.

Reading that exchange gave me some serious pause: If all measures are doomed to be inaccurate/incompatible/incommensurate, etc., then the whole "Beyond GDP" project must be a non-starter.

But is that premise really true?  Even if we cannot have a perfect measure -- perfectly objective, perfectly measurable, perfectly comprehensive, perfectly comparable, etc. -- can we have one that is significantly better than GDP, and good enough for the present purposes of dealing with what I believe is an (at least for now) entrenched human disposition to measure, compare, rank and so forth based on clear-cut simple numbers.

Or would a merely "good enough" and "better than GDP" index in the long run be dangerous and harmful, because -- like GDP -- its limitations combined with exploitation for political reasons would lead to dysfunctional overreliance and obsession about it at the expense of a clear and direct assessment of underlying realities?

I don't know, but I agree it is a critical question.  I wonder whether if we have something that is better than GDP, any abuse that comes of it will be correspondingly less severe.  I also wonder whether the benefits of having a simple indicator (or set of indicators), provided that they are "good enough", might outweigh their abuse.

On that second point, pessimistically, perhaps, I think people, the media, politicians, will continue to measure and compare in terms of simple, single numbers, and trying to change this mindset would much harder than coming up with a better yardstick by which they make these evaluations.

Japan, for example, is rather notorious for having a measuring, ranking and comparing mindset.  And while cultural mindset may have a lot to do with it, I believe star ratings on Amazon.com and IMDB.com, World Cup trophies and Olympic medals, school grades and exam results, even Google search results, etc. suggest that this is fairly common phenomenon everywhere.

From nanne's diary, it sounds like the conference discussed this issue:

Indicators of well-being and sustainability are seen to be needed to fulfil several objectives. One of these is 'internal' to government: government needs to be able to assess the success of its efforts. To do so it requires measures that are scaleable and that are comparable across time, between different regions, and with regard to other countries. Preferably the measurement, at least, should be objective. That internal measure has an external counterpart in government accountability, a theme raised towards the end by Santagata and Padoan. Somewhat related, Padoan also thought that civil participation would increase if the people have a better view of the goals their society wants to achieve and can track results that measure progress towards those goals.

That last sentence reminded me of some of the characteristics of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described as the psychologically hyper-effective state of flow:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities).
  2. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  3. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  4. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.

Of course I don't mean to suggest that we should be trying to get society or the planet into some kind of state of "cosmic flow".

Just that it struck me that the Beyond GDPers, as described by nanne, mention "civil participation" which would seem to correspond to "a sense of personal control over the situation or activity", as well as "a better view of the goals", and the importance of "feedback":  "track results that measure progress towards those goals".

On the one hand, it seems that people are inclined to use measurements/rankings/comparisons anyway.  On the other hand, having the right measurents and goals is likely to help us not only to gauge how much society is progressing to or regressing from where we would like it to be, but would increase our awareness, participation and engagement in that process as members of society.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue Nov 20th, 2007 at 07:12:17 PM EST

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