Reading Reviewing

Why it’s time for governments to take wellbeing seriously

100% happiness guaranteed
It’s not this easy…but it’s getting easier

Earlier in 2014, the Legatum Institute published the final results of their Commission on Wellbeing and Policy. I don’t know much about this think tank – it seems to lean rightwards, claims to be non-partisan, and is probably funded with oil cash, but they put together an all-star cast to advise this report:

  • Sir Gus O’Donnell (former head of the UK civil service)
  • Prof Richard Layard (a leading author in the field, wrote the book on ‘Happiness‘)
  • Prof Angus Deayton (economics prof at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Service at Princeton)
  • Martine Durand (Head of Stats for the OECD)
  • David Halpern (ex-academic, now running the quasi-governmental Behavioural Insights Team (their ownership structure is worth a blog of its own))

It is a superb piece of work. If you’re interested in the role of government, public services, evaluation, economics, life, the universe, or indeed anything, you should read it. Lots of golden nuggets and summaries of vast amounts of academic research. It should be shaping the way governments work, everywhere.

Its main conclusion is a call for the greater use of subjective wellbeing data in policy making. It argues that we need to stop using money as a proxy for wellbeing in basic cost-benefit analyses. The logical second conclusion of the report is that we need better data. It’s not impossible – wellbeing really can be measured. And we’re getting better and better at it. As we get better data, governments will be able to take far, far better policy decisions, which in turn should increase our wellbeing. It’s fairly intuitive, but could be revolutionary.


Could global goals encourage sustainable development? JFK would think so

In May 1961, JFK announced the US’s plan to put a man on the moon. A year later, he gave a speech at Rice University:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Grand goal-setting is back on the world’s agenda. With the Millennium Development Goals due to be met or missed in three years time, the post-2015 debate is kicking off in the UN, in civil society and in the media. Sustainable Development Goals will be high on the agenda at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. But are they useful? Or just an excuse for not making concrete plans? 

The paper below provides some of the arguments for and against the use of goal-setting at the global level, particularly in regard to sustainable development. 

Thinking Uncategorized

Watching the globe: good governance requires open information, including satellite imagery

In terms of information useful for global governance, security information is often still perceived as closed and secret from the public (until Wikileaks comes along). Although nations and global institutions are opening up data and becoming more transparent, when it comes to security, one assumes the public just don’t have the same access to detailed imagery and intelligence information as to global events.

But wouldn’t it be great if citizens had the same access to the same kind of fancy satellite imagery that you assume the US military has (i.e. you saw it on the West Wing a few times). Imagine if we could actually see what was going on in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Libya… 

“The world is watching because you’re watching”

Presumably this compares very poorly to what national governments have, but in terms of tech tools changing global governance, Satellite Sentinel is pretty interesting.

They’ve used before-and-after satellite images to create compelling stories of what’s happened in Sudan, which could become useful evidence for action against the perpetrators. More immediately, it’s useful information to prove their case that violence is continuing. 


This seems exciting, but have a read of this critical view from Tim Brown (of for Imaging Notes. In it he argues that imagery has often be used and abused in the past, and there’s a danger of information overload. And of course, ultimately information itself doesn’t lead to better outcomes – ‘boots on the ground’ etc. But that’s not really the point of the Sentinel programme.

The one benefit he points out is that the “goal of documenting violence, war crimes and genocide to prosecute is more attainable.”

Perhaps the point is simply that its harder to hide war crimes now. Wherever you are in the world, more and more actors are capable of seeing what you’re doing – not just those wealthy nations with high tech equipment. You already know that it’s wrong, and now you know that people will be able to see what you’re doing. It’s becoming possible for globally concerned movements and activists to observe and document any large scale atrocities that happen anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world.

Environmental satellite imaging

Similar things are going on in global environmental governance. Google Earth Outreachgives non-profits and public benefit organizations the knowledge and resources they need to visualize their cause and tell their story in Google Earth & Maps to hundreds of millions of people.”

So it’s a bit more of a campaign tool – but if the satellite imagery of deforestation can be provided at regular intervals, who is to say that some bright techie type won’t design some crowdsourced rainforest ‘watch, report’ thing, using hundreds of environmentalists around the world to monitor areas of rainforest and report illegal logging to locals who can confirm and act on it. 

Bright techie type? Anyone?