The Economist magazine has an Economist Intelligence Unit and uses measures like the Calvert Henderson Quality of Life indicators developed by the Calvert Fund and Hazel Henderson who is a green economist.
And then there’s many communities who have created their own measures. In my recent research it looks like many of the community quality-of-life projects are now connected to health and wellness efforts more than a generic indicator. Many of the quality of life indicators that I’ve been familiar with have more of a “green community” feeling, like how do we downshift from a consumer economy to the more implicit, nonmaterial things that make life good.
I am less familiar with the developmental indicators which are currently much more broadly used than the ones which are tied to community health and wellness, but they are out there.
In a wise democracy – to the extent we are a democracy and to the extent that experts are therefore on tap and not on top – which is another one of our patterns – we use experts to help us form the kinds of measures that we want to have. They also help us gather the information that constitutes the periodic quantities associated with those statistics. But we are the people who decide collectively what indicators we want so that they do measure what we value. Part of why (in a wise democratic system) we have experts on tap and not on top is because we, the people, are experts in the values of our community: we are experts in what we want, and that is fundamental.
The traditional specialist experts are people who give us information to help us decide how to get what we want or how to measure what we want. Their information is very useful, but underneath all that is what we want, what we need, and what our values are. WE get to answer those questions and those answers guide our democracy.
So these quality of life indicators are a really good realm within which to have experts and ordinary citizens working together, both developing indicators and then tracking them and being able to find out what we need to do to get those indicators going up so that our quality of life is going up, up, up.
And if we see the statistic going up when many of us are miserable – as is true so often nowadays with the GDP – we can say, “Wait a minute! There is something wrong with these indicators. This is an imaginary improvement. We need to change the indicators to more accurately indicate what is most important to us, what we value, and what it feels like to actually live our lives!” Are these good lives, or are they messed up lives? It is like having the Gross Domestic Product growing while so many of us are miserable: that tells us a lot. Similarly, but in the opposite way, there are very poor communities that have a low GDP yet where the people are smiling a lot and they’re happy. That tells us the same thing – basically that those indicators don’t really indicate what creates wellbeing and what doesn’t.
We want the quality of life indicators to really measure what’s going on that is valuable to us and that actually makes us smile and makes us happy to be alive. And that’s different for different communities in different places at different times. So these also need to be flexible over time.