Creating a Quality of Life that Goes Beyond Economics

The World logo

Dr. Stephen Bavolek, creator of a positive parenting curriculum subscribes to a world of possibility and has challenged our community leaders to make the social environment as beautiful as the natural environment. This challenge struck a chord and many people have engaged in conversations and ideas for about a year. All subscribe to the notion that Coos County has the capacity to see itself differently. For example, we could document the reduction in drug usage, the increase high school graduation, the health of families, and the value of volunteerism and continue to build on the things that are working within the context of our beautiful surroundings.
This challenge inspired new thinking about how we might reframe the questions and imagine new solutions instead of fixing old problems. What if we reinforced the positive? What if we acknowledged things that are going well and grew those? What if this fundamental shift launched a new way of seeing and being and a sense of positivity and possibility went “viral” throughout the community? Furthermore, what if we could document and measure our improvements? Most importantly what if the quality of life and the measure of success was not just based on economics?
On a personal level we often measure success by status and how much stuff you have and on a national level, we measure it by economic growth, as if that represented progress. The assumption has been that with more consuming and more spending we will have a higher quality of life. Now that view is being questioned by many individuals and public policy makers alike, who wonder if there might be another way to get a true sense of growth and improved quality of life.
The traditional measure of economic growth has been the GDP (gross domestic product) which only measures economic movement without revealing whether that activity hurts or benefits the environment and quality of life. Most importantly, GDP does not tell us who is benefiting from economic growth. However the GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator) includes environmental and social factors as well. You could think of GPI as the “net” revenue after subtracting the “costs” from the GDP. Simply put, net quality of life must take into account the cost of producing it, so there are three essential indicators; economic, environmental and social, This means that decisions cannot simply be based on how much money a project generates, if it the costs grossly impacts the environment and the social fabric of the community. These new indicators provide a framework for creating agreements upfront in a decision-making process and enabling all stakeholders the opportunity to agree on what success will look like before a project is completed.
I remember seeing a special about the country of Bhutan that weighs factors related to the environment and sustainability in addition to economic return. This has evolved into a very sophisticated set of metrics and is being looked at as a model all over the world. Not too long ago, Governor Kitzhaber participated in a trip to Bhutan to learn more about these factors in making public policy decisions. It turns out that Oregon, Maryland and Vermont are all taking a lead in crafting new metrics to measure progress. The Governor is committed to making GPI an effective driver for policy and budget decisions and as a first step these indicators are being tested in some pilots for the 2015-2017 budgets. The intent is use GPI to craft the state budget in all three capital accounts; physical capital, human capital and environmental capital. This means that the public sector is setting a tone that maintains a balance between the three indicators and perhaps this will set the tone for cooperative collaborative efforts between local governments and the business sector.
In addition, The 2013 Oregon Values and Belief Survey sponsored by the Oregon Health and Science University, The Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Oregon State University further confirms that Oregonians generally seek a balanced approach when it comes to weighing economic growth against protecting natural resources and promoting social wellbeing for the citizens.
Here in Coos County, we have an opportunity consider using new metrics for measuring local success in any number of developments and community-wide collaborations currently underway or planned. Since, Oregon is one of the states taking the lead in creating different indicators, we have an opportunity to extrapolate from the envisioned State GPI measures of success and use them locally as a model for others to follow, wouldn’t that be amazing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s