Developing Attitudinal Indicators of Societal Progress
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Citation:Ask: Research and Methods. Volume 20, Issue 1 (2011), pp. 59-80
This paper reports progress on a project to develop a set of ‘attitudinal indicators of societal progress’, as part of the wider methodological research agenda associated with the European Social Survey. It recognises the recent contribution of ‘happiness economics’ in moving the debate about the progress of societies ‘beyond GDP’, but seeks to move the agenda on in two ways. Firstly it focuses more on cognitive evaluations of society’s functioning than measures of affect like happiness. Secondly it is less concerned with the psychological wellbeing of individuals and more with the social wellbeing of aggregates, whether these are neighbourhoods, regions or nations. While the study of data relating to overall measures of individuals’ life satisfaction has a long history, the recent Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report called for recognition of the multi-dimensional nature of wellbeing. In examining the feasibility of such an indicator set, we were constrained by two considerations: a) it must comprise items that represented a comprehensive set of domains, in order to provide a full picture of the experiences that constitute societal progress; and b) it must initially be drawn from existing cross-national surveys. Unfortunately it is currently the case that while comparative data exist for most of the key domains, these are often scattered across many different general social surveys, meaning that they can only be analysed at the aggregate level. This makes it difficult to implement another of the Stiglitz recommendations, namely that surveys should ‘assess the links between various quality-of-life domains for each person, and this information should be used when designing policies in various fields’. With this in mind, we present a prototype set of indicators that could be used to measure citizens’ perceptions of the quality of their society. The eventual aim is to field all the items together in one survey, in order to examine their inter-correlations, as well as their relationships with measures of individual life satisfaction and with socio-demographic characteristics.
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