Measuring what matters: the role of well-being methods in development policy and practice

Working and discussion papers
June 2015
Allister McGregor, Sarah Coulthard and Laura Camfield
This project note examines how the measurement of human well-being might contribute to making development policy and practice more effective. A surge of interest in and initiatives to develop measures of human well-being as a yardstick of societal progress followed the publication of the Final Report of the ‘Commission on Measuring Economic Performance and Social Progress’ in 2009 (The Stiglitz Commission: Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussie, 2009), with a large number of competing conceptualisations, methodologies and ideologies now underpinning the initiatives underway.

This paper begins by reviewing the current state of the art in the measurement of well-being field and is organised around a discussion of approaches to each of the three tasks necessary to make the exploration of ‘what matters for people’ relevant for policy and practice:

  • Identify systematically what is important
    to people for them to live their lives well, and to do
    so in a way that is universally comprehensible but is
    nevertheless sensitive to particular social, economic
    and cultural contexts;
  • Find ways of assessing how well people
    are doing in their achievements in respect of the things
    that they regard as important for them to live well;
  • Establish ways of understanding how the
    different things that are important for well-being relate
    to each other. This may involve understanding how they
    are prioritised and what trade-offs may exist between
    them. From the policy perspective this relates to the
    challenge of establishing weightings in respect to the
    different things that matter.

This project note informs the measurement component of ODI’s Development Progress Project.

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