Thursday, May 05, 2011

Measuring national well-being

I have been snatched away from Market Harborough and Leicester politics for a couple of days to work in the press office at my employer's annual conference.

One of the consolations has been a session which I helped to organise and have just attended. This covered the Office of National Statistics' project looking into the possibility of measuring national well-being and the speakers were Stephen Hicks from the ONS and Peter Kinderman, who is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool, who has also done work in this area for the BBC.

Stephen Hicks outlined the project, discussing why governments are seeking to measure national well-being how they might succeed in doing so. Peter Kinderman argued that psychologists should engage with the project and help shape the measures that are used.

There was an interesting selection of questions afterwards, with some discussion of concepts like "happiness" and "well-being". Interestingly, Peter Kinderman favoured the term "well-being", because it brought with it the idea of living a moral life, whereas "happiness" can sometimes convey a more cavalier attitude towards one's responsibilities.

To put it another way, he favoured Mill's more sophisticated account of Utilitarianism to Bentham's version of it.

The (admittedly small) room was full to overflowing, so I got the promotion about right. One thing I did do was invite a blogger to attend. It was Ellen Arnison, who writes In A Bun Dance - chosen at the recommendation of Caron Lindsay - so look out for a fuller account of the event there.

Later. I wrote this in haste yesterday, so forgot to add this point. It is easy to be cynical about this project: indeed, it sounds very like the one in Michael Frayn's satirical novel A Landing on the Sun. But for years Liberals have been arguing that there is more to life than economics, so it is encouraging to see that view being more widely shared. Stephen Hicks said that the British project is one of many similar ones across the world.


Ellen said...

Thanks for the invite. I've written a post about the session. For me the most significant comment was when Peter Kinderman stressed the importance of 'well-being' within present relationships as an investment in the future.


As long as there's a retro-chart for lands such as, ohhhhhhhhhh.....Germany in spring of 1939.