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Making progress on charting our well-being

March 12th, 2020

A new measure of Australian’s social progress has been launched to help reveal a deeper picture of how states and territories are faring beyond pure economic rankings.

The Australian Social Progress Index (SPI), launched by the Centre for Social Impact at the University of NSW, provides a quality of life measure that is an alternative to measures, including Gross Domestic Product (GDP), that are so often used to track economic well-being.

The SPI moves beyond that to analyse – and compare – Australian states and territories and ranks them on their social progress.

The index is already used in more than 45 countries and this is the start of its application to Australia. It provides a state-based analysis that shows that the ACT is ranked consistently Number 1 on social progress, while Western Australia and the Northern Territory are ranked seventh and eighth. But currently, there is not enough robust data to create a detailed community or council-specific picture but that is the goal.

Lead CSI research Dr Megan Weier said the index reflected a growing public recognition that measures such as GDP did not represent the life they lived. The SPI also chimes with international initiatives such as the New Zealand government’s 2019 “Well Being budget’’, which moves away from economic indicators as the sole measure of a nation’s prosperity.

The index measures include “personal rights’, ‘nutrition and basic medical care’ and ‘access to higher education’. The result captures the states and territories’ policies and broader social contexts, rather than assessing the “progressive’ status of the individuals living in those regions.

Dr Weier said international use of the SPI showed there were several different applications for the data, ranging from the European Commission using it as a policy tool to India, where it helps determine companies’ CSR responsibilities and drives competition between Indian states.

“In Australia, this represents a different measure of social progress,’’ Dr Weier said. “This is the beginning of the conversation that we can take to government, to the not-for-profit sector and to philanthropy to help identify where funding should be directed and how we direct that funding.’’

The next step in building the index is collaborative, by seeking out other agencies with other social research that can add data and localised evidence.

“We want to change the conversation around social outcome and inequality in Australis using relevant facts and data, not just GDP,’’ Dr Weier said.

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