Chapter 17

Measuring what Matters

Juliet Michaelson, Charles Seaford, Saamah Abdallah and Nic Marks

Centre for Well-being, New Economics Foundation, U.K.

Introduction: Why Measuring Matters

Discussions about measurement systems may seem irrelevant to the business of getting things done, especially in a volume focused on intervening to improve wellbeing. But in this chapter we argue that measurement systems can be a crucial enabler of policies directed towards enhancing wellbeing.

In today's complex societies a huge amount of activity is devoted to measurement, by governments and within organizations, through targets, performance indicators, outcomes frameworks, and so on. But only a few indicators emerge from this noise of information to become the key means by which we judge the progress of, and tell a story about, society overall. These “political indicators” play an important democratic role, helping voters judge the success of those they elect; they thus come to have a strong influence on politics and policy making. They both frame the way voters think about what it means for society to be successful, and create incentives for politicians. It is this role of measurement on which we concentrate in this chapter.

Describing what has been discovered by cognitive scientists about framing, George Lakoff writes:

The first basic result: The meaning of every word is characterized in terms of a brain circuit called a “frame.” Frames are often characterized in terms of the usual apparatus ...

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