Valuing What Counts: Framework to Progress Beyond GDP

Valuing What Counts: Framework to Progress Beyond GDP

UN Secretary-General
Our Common Agenda Policy Brief no. 4
May 2023

In May 2023, the UN Secretary-General released Our Common Agenda Policy Brief no. 4, Valuing What Counts: Framework to Progress Beyond Gross Domestic Product on developing indicators beyond GDP. It echoes much of the thinking behind our IEF/ebbf work over the last year on Accountability and Global Solidarity Accounting. It goes into some detail about what is wrong with GDP as a measure of development, and shows how the Sustainable Development Goals and their indicators were designed in part to measure a broader vision of human and environmental well-being.

The Secretary-General calls for a paradigm shift in what we measure as progress, so that we can capture data on the activities and outcomes that a society truly values and then use the data to better inform our policy and financial decisions. We have an opportunity to shape our future into one that is more equal and resilient to crises and in which the benefits of social and economic progress are shared by all.

The Secretary-General asks for a commitment from governments to go beyond GDP by agreeing on a conceptual framework, firmly anchored in the 2030 Agenda, by the time that the Summit of the Future is held in 2024.

First, the framework should be designed to achieve three main outcomes:

a) Well-being and agency. Putting the focus on people and promoting meaningful participation to ensure that decisions reflect people’s needs and enable everyone to contribute to transformational change;

b) Respect for life and the planet. Safeguarding the planet and ensuring possibilities for life and well-being in the future;

c) Reduced inequalities and greater solidarity. Making efforts towards a more equal distribution of well-being.

The framework should also be based on three additional elements to pave the way for transformation:

a) Participatory governance and stronger institutions. Steering us towards equitable, inclusive and safe societal conditions in which everyone is empowered to participate and contribute and from which everyone can benefit safely and effectively (the social dimension);

b) Innovative and ethical economies. Serving people and the planet through innovative approaches as a way to find collective solutions to our challenges, involving responsible and ethical actions to deliver positive outcomes that uphold people’s rights (the economic dimension);

c) From vulnerability to resilience. Focusing on our interaction with the natural and built environment to strengthen preparedness and ensure well-being in a context of multiple risks and uncertainties (the environmental dimension).

Second, the political commitment to develop a conceptual framework to value what counts must go hand in hand with a technical and scientific process to develop the metrics that inform the framework. The Secretary-General proposes the establishment of a high-level expert group of independent experts with a mandate to produce by March 2024 an initial value dashboard of a limited number of key indicators (ideally not more than 10–20 indicators) that go beyond GDP. This should be presented for consideration by Member States in preparation for the Summit of the Future.

The framework to “value what counts” must be concise, widely accepted, comparable and applicable to decision-making. At the same time, well-being, equality and environmental sustainability are complex multidimensional phenomena that cannot be addressed by a single summary indicator such as GDP. This warrants the development of a broader measurement framework to monitor and analyse the multiple aspects of progress and enable a better understanding of trade-offs and consequences.

This would involve the selection of a set of core metrics that would be assessed, developed and selected through a scientific, multidisciplinary process and that would need to be:
• Comparable across time and countries, well-established and trusted
• Country owned
• Universally applicable
• Able to convey strong and clear messages that are actionable and intuitive
• Scientifically robust and statistically sound
• Iterative and dynamic, based on what exists, while allowing for the addition of new indicators, as relevant.

The process should incorporate appropriately the results of the High-level Panel on the Development of a Multidimensional Vulnerability Index, as well as existing indices and indicators, including the Sustainable Development Goal indicators, the human development index and other relevant indicators that account for human rights and gender equality.

Third, the Secretary-General proposes a major strengthening of United Nations support to countries in stepping up statistical capacity development and enabling country-owned use and reporting of progress beyond GDP. Such national capacity development will also help to develop and propose new metrics to complement GDP in a participatory process and to fill persisting gaps in reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations system must help statistical offices to shift priorities towards new metrics, including a more comprehensive accounting of stocks and flows, distributions, sustainability and intergenerational perspectives, vulnerabilities and aspects related to innovation, governance, stability, participation and human rights.


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Last updated 14 June 2023