Pressing the case for wider economic, social and environmental measures of progress: a case study of the OECD Global Project

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Gross domestic product (GDP), as the primary economic indicator for national governments, is used as a proxy for defining and measuring societal progress. Interest in moving beyond GDP as a headline measure has seen the rise of new measurement frameworks for policy makers. The Human Development Index (HDI) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have emerged as two recognised frameworks that seek to incorporate societal priorities such as equality of economic opportunity, wellbeing and environmental sustainability. The adoption of new frameworks by policy makers has been limited, due to concerns regarding underlying assumptions and a lack of testing. My object of study is an international project, run by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), that sought to increase the use of multidisciplinary measurement frameworks in policy development. My research looks at ‘The effectiveness of the OECD Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies as an agent of change’. The Global Project was active between 2004 and 2012 and my research and data collection was conducted between 2009 and 2012. The research design involved adopting the role of participant as researcher for an extended period of immersion in the project, a review of formal documentation of the Global Project and fifteen semi-structured interviews. Three theoretical lenses are used in this study of the Global Project: frameworks for measuring progress, networks of networks, and agents of change. The research delivered four main findings regarding the ability of the Global Project to effect change and achieve its objectives. Firstly, the research found that the Global Project stimulated a broad and inclusive multidisciplinary discussion on measurement frameworks among international stakeholders that created new network relationships, particularly between stakeholders from different disciplines. Secondly, this network structure both supported and impeded the achievement of outcomes. Thirdly, the Global Project generated impetus, momentum and a strong response from stakeholders of the OECD that influenced the development of the OECD Better Life Index measurement framework. Fourthly and finally, policy makers, whom the Global Project aimed to influence, were largely absent from the work of the Global Project. The synthesis of these research findings examines the interrelationships between the role of change agent, the amorphous nature of network structures and the considerations present in the international discussion and adoption of measurement frameworks. The implications of the research findings are presented in the context of the adoption of new measurement frameworks by policy makers.
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