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Institute Policy

Wise Metrics

We have started thinking about a Wise Metrics Project. Our current metrics for social progress are simply not up to par. As our historic fixation with GDP shows, not only have we been measuring the wrong things but these measurements have been distorting our behaviour. To adequately guide our progress we must re-evaluate both what we measure, and how we measure it. 

Summary 

  • Drawing on the growing set of national level population data we would spark debate around how we measure human progress by constructing a set of ‘wise metrics’ by which to understand our civilisation.
  • The project would explore just what it is we should be measuring as a species, and why. We would focus not only on the measurement of areas not captured by current approaches, such as collective wisdom, but also wiser approaches to measuring concepts already covered by current metrics, such as wellbeing.
  • We would use our finalised set of metrics to construct a global index, and construct a visually engaging global dashboard to accompany this, conducting a large scale PR campaign around our findings and outputs to stimulate discourse in the wider public sphere.

Introduction

Proper measurement is vital in assessing our progress as a species. Metrics also shape, often implicitly, societies’ thinking and priorities around what we value and pursue, meaning shifting what we measure can be a powerful tool in efforts to shift what we value. These two facts mean for any approach to social change measurable indicators are vital to provide rigour and credibility to our work.

Context

Our current measures of human progress are insufficient. Our focus on the wrong metrics for evaluating our societies has led to distorted optimisations for outcomes carrying severely negative externalities. In the most obvious case our obsession with economic growth has led to unprecedented levels of climate change and biodiversity loss, and this obsession has in no small part been driven by GDP being such a widely used and accepted proxy measure for social advance (1). Even more expansive metrics such as the Human Development Index (HDI) are limited and materialistic in nature, failing to capture what really matters for a flourishing human existence (2). While these limitations may be acknowledged (3), such nuances rarely make it into the mental heuristics we use these metrics to create.

The closest point of comparison are the more recently popularised metrics focusing on wellbeing (4). Inspired by the Bhutanese ‘Gross National Happiness’ index (5), these efforts take measurement of wellbeing to be the central indicator of human progress. While this is a welcome shift from purely economic and material measures of progress, but not only would we do well to interrogate just what a wise approach to measuring wellbeing looks like, a focus on wellbeing alone still overlooks some vital aspects of collective flourishing. To address the most pressing challenges facing humanity we will need more than this – we will need wisdom. As a concept that is nebulous almost by definition, wisdom has continued to elude even these newly expanded efforts to track human  progress. We view this as a grave deficiency.

The other side of our obsessive yet blinkered measurement is that allusions to concepts such as wisdom as a means of critiquing our current global trajectory are often dismissed as unrigorous. In our current world, concerns and suggestions that do not have a rigorous evidential foundation are all but meaningless. If we are to succeed in shifting what we value, and in turn transform our societies into those supporting all facets of a valuable human existence, then we must be able to point to data. Our project, to construct an index of metrics indicating both wisdom and wellness at the social level, will help fill this gap and support a more data driven push for transformation. 

Approach

Our approach sits at the intersection of research and data-driven social activism. We would seek to gather both relevant and trackable metrics indicating performance and progress towards wisdom, wellness and a new paradigm of human evolution more broadly. This would both support a rigorous analysis of collective wisdom in the world today and explore what a wiser approach to measuring wellness, and other things we really care about, might look like. 

This project centres discursive impact over perfect academic measurement. While still placing significant emphasis on academic rigour, we believe an imperfect yet trackable metric is far superior to a perfect yet nonexistent one, as it is only with concrete data that we can begin a conversation. We would leverage the experience and expertise of our team in using metrics as a tool for activism to present our findings powerfully, rather than simply publish a report that will sit gathering dust. This would entail using data to create a visually engaging dashboard, and conducting an extensive media and PR campaign to spark in our public discourse a conversation around the trajectory of our civilisation.

Get involved 

We would love to hear from you and get input on this exciting project. Here are the areas that you could get involved with:

  1. We want to know what you think about wisdom. Which data can we gather to help determine which societies are the wisest? And which data do not yet exist that we should be measuring to help understand what a wise society would look like?
  2. We want research volunteers for the project. Right now, we are looking for people to work on the World Values Survey, a fascinating global questionnaire that is very useful to our project of measuring wisdom. The work will involve reading through and transcribing the questions from this survey, which are organised under headings such as ‘wellbeing and happiness’, ‘social values’ and ‘political culture’. There is a lot to transcribe, so we would welcome multiple volunteers working on the project. It’s not a long task – just a couple of hours here and there would be a great help. We are also hoping to open up opportunities for voluntary work on other surveys such as the European Social Survey, so stay tuned!

If you think you could help us, please do get in touch! Send us an email at [email protected] with ‘Wise Metrics’ in the subject line, and specify how you would like to get involved. We would look forward to hearing from you!

(1) “How GDP Negatively Affects Climate Change Policy | Earth.Org – Past.” 7 Jan. 2021, https://earth.org/gdp-climate-change/. Accessed 17 Mar. 2021

(2) “The problem with the Human Development Index in an era of ….” 5 Jul. 2018, https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2018/7/5/the-problem-with-the-human-development-index-in-an-era-of-ecological-breakdown. Accessed 17 Mar. 2021

(3) “The Human Development Index – what it is and what it is not” http://hdr.undp.org/en/hdi-what-it-is. Accessed 17 Mar. 2021.

(4) See for example:  “The World Happiness Report.” https://worldhappiness.report/,  “Better Life Initiative: Measuring Well-Being and Progress – OECD.” https://www.oecd.org/statistics/better-life-initiative.htm.  “Gross National Happiness Index – GNH Index – Gross National ….” 19 Sep. 2019, https://www.iim-edu.org/grossnationalhappiness/. Accessed 17 Mar. 2021

(5) “Gross National Happiness.” https://www.grossnationalhappiness.com/. Accessed 17 Mar. 2021