For centuries, societies have measured economic growth. We trusted technology to continuously deliver more wealth and better lives for more humans. Yet, we now know growth alone is not enough to ensure inclusion. In order to have true inclusive growth, we should measure progress more directly. Right now, we do not sufficiently measure what matters most.
Traditional economic growth metrics still dominate decision-making. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employment, income and poverty rates do not adequately measure wellbeing. Furthermore, GDP is agnostic to the needs of humans. It includes products that are damaging. For example, weaponry sales and production of environmentally degrading chemicals are positively factored into GDP.
If we truly want inclusive growth, it needs to be more than a talking point. We need to measure what matters to human quality of life alongside traditional metrics like GDP.
Do people have what they need to prosper? Do people have basic needs like adequate shelter and nourishment? Do they feel safe? Are they treated equally regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation?
This need is more urgent as we fully enter the age of artificial intelligence and automation. While no one knows for certain how it will play out, we do know many people will be getting insanely wealthy — while others will be facing rapid and acute disruption to their lives and livelihoods.
In 2019, while leading the future of work policy response at the City of Philadelphia, over 100 stakeholders agreed: We need to find ways to consistently and formally measure social progress at the local level. Kyra Kaszynski, a Director in Global Public Policy at Deloitte, introduced me to the Social Progress Index. The quest then began to explore further and bring a common way of measuring human progress to Philadelphia.
The Social Progress Imperative is to use data to influence policies and investments to better serve all of humanity. They partner with leaders in every sector — government, business, and civil society — to meet the pressing needs of communities and equip them with the right information to tackle urgent challenges. Do people have what they need to prosper? Do people have basic needs like adequate shelter and nourishment? Do they feel safe? Are they treated equally regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation? The Social Progress Index is a measurement tool used so the quality of life can be improved for all.
Since then, it is clear, many others here want to measure: Are our residents benefiting from new economic growth, mostly driven by technology? If yes, how? If not, why not? Contrast the availability of ghost guns with the popular rise of remote work. Both trends are driven by technology. Each has very different impacts on various neighborhoods. As technology becomes ever more wondrous, how can more people realize their full potential? Why do human needs continue to be unmet?
Last month, the What Works Summit convened in Banff, Calgary. The gathering was stunning in many ways. Set in the Canadian Rockies, the breathtaking beauty attracted impressive mountain climbers: people willing to face barriers in their communities and start to climb the mountains with others. Every community has tough climbs ahead. Philadelphia is not unique in almost all of our challenges.
The leaders already using the Social Progress Index are a community of experts and practitioners eager to learn, learn and learn more. It was an incredible experience to meet global citizens who are systematically measuring and responding. They are laser-focused on improving their communities, cities, counties, provinces and countries.
Imagine a local coalition of nonprofits, corporations, academics and government leaders building the base camp to prepare for the climb to a better future.
Over the years, Kyra and I have learned that many people here in Philadelphia want to chart a transparent, coordinated, data-driven course to a better future for more residents. With a full embrace of a common social progress index, City departments, philanthropy, corporations, community-based organizations, and all nonprofits can more effectively collaborate on an ongoing basis, celebrate the progress, and continue to climb.
In Banff, leaders from Iceland, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and many more are sharing how they are getting it done. It was a true privilege to meet visionary leaders, face to face. On the first afternoon, we learned about the dedicated staff, the inner workings, the rigor, design and recent growth of the Social Progress Index.
Globally, trust in democracy is waning, in part, because it often fails to deliver. Recent research from PEW indicates 85 percent of Americans feel our political system needs complete reforms or major changes. Only 14 percent were unconcerned. Social cohesion is in peril if we continue exclusionary growth practices. How can we ensure human needs are met and progress is transparently tracked?
Imagine a local coalition of nonprofits, corporations, academics and government leaders building the base camp to prepare for the climb to a better future. We could use the common indicators and outcomes data together, for exponential impact. Advocates could train citizens to use the index. Communities would have more tools to ensure public and private investments are directed to address evident challenges, targeted to their census tract. Elected leaders would also be more accountable for better budgeting decisions.
We can steadily improve all residents’ resilience and wellbeing, even as we face barriers and disruptions. Like other cities, we too can shape the future path through a mountain of uncertainty.
Anne Gemmell was the City’s first pre-K director and then led the “future of work” policy response. She founded Future Works Alliance PHL and is now a certified collaboration architect at A.Gemm Consulting, a business specializing in strategic collaboration for innovative leaders.
MORE FROM THE CITIZEN ON PHILLY’S BRIGHTER FUTURE
MOST POPULAR ON THE CITIZEN RIGHT NOWPhoto by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash