Stats NZ – struggling with its census data – is aiming higher and will measure our spiritual well-being

The public service has gone all touchy-feely as it gets to grips with the well-being message from the PM and her government.  Or maybe it simply wants us to think it has gone all touchy-feely.

This includes the number-crunching Government Statistician, whose agency is struggling to crunch the latest census data, and – good grief! – the bosses of The Treasury, an outfit we thought was hard-nosed about things like government spending and fiscal rigour.

What’s more, as we were drafting this post, ACC Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced the Government was able to improve the well-being of older working New Zealanders and those working overseas with the passing of the Accident Compensation Amendment Bill.

“The legislation passed last night helps ensure we improve the well-being of New Zealanders by addressing a number of gaps and technical issues in the ACC scheme to help keep the system fair, transparent and accessible for all claimants,” says Iain Lees-Galloway.

The changes are outlined in his press statement,

Meanwhile Stats NZ – still struggling to publish hard census data – has set about trying to measure things such as our spiritual health (which, in the case of the writer of this post, is strongly linked to gin-and-tonic consumption).

We suspect the statisticians have other forms of spiritual health in mind as they pump resources into their well-being measures, presumably diverting them from the less consequential task of producing census results.

Michael Reddell, at Croaking Cassandra, is appropriately scornful: 

The Government Statistician can’t manage a census competently, and won’t tell us (let alone MPs) just how bad the situation is (about a census taken more than a year ago), but today – aiding and abetting the government’s Wellbeing Budget branding – she was out with the final list of indicators to be published in this brave new world.   It goes under the label “Indicators Aotearoa”, and in addition to not being able to run a census, she seems –  in common with many public servants –  to have forgotten the name of the country: New Zealand.

Among the list of indicators –  many of which are already published (and thus you wonder what value there is in one set of bureaucrats prioritising them and putting them in one place) –  was this snippet.

indicators

I don’t have too much problem with suicide rates.  They are reasonably hard and somewhat meaningful data (but comparisons across time and across countries are hard).

But the other three made almost no sense.

Take that “spiritual health” indicator –  well, there is no indicator yet, but an aspiration to have one.  Real resources are being wasted on this stuff.    Who knows what business it is of the government to be measuring “spiritual health”, whatever it means?  And, strangely, it appears that the Government Statistician believes that only the “spiritual health” of Maori people (or was that “Maori society”?) matters.  Are we back in taniwha territory again…?

Reddell sent us to look at the Stats website which explains:

Indicators Aotearoa New Zealand is being developed by Stats NZ as a source of measures for New Zealand’s well-being. The set of indicators will go beyond economic measures, such as gross domestic product (GDP), to include well-being and sustainable development.

The well-being indicators will build on international best practice, and will be tailored to New Zealand.

This work supports many cross-government initiatives and international reporting requirements, including the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Indicators Aotearoa New Zealand will be delivered by Stats NZ and will support the government’s ambition to use a well-being approach to strategic decision-making.

Indicators for which we have information will be populated with data when we release our website in late June 2019. 

The selection of indicators to be reported on from June this year (in an attempt “to understand the most important aspects of well-being for New Zealanders”) significantly was not driven by the availability of data.

The initial set of indicators includes gaps in data, ranging from a complete absence of data to limitations on the ability to break information down to useful and meaningful levels for different communities.

Stats NZ is working with stakeholders to prioritise understanding data gaps and how they can be addressed. We’re feeding this information back to Government for their consideration.

The indicators signed off by the Government Statistician include:

Culture
Engagement in cultural activities; inter-generational transfer of knowledge; te reo Māori speakers

Health
Health equity; health expectancy; mental health status (psychological distress); amendable mortality; self-reported health status; spiritual health; suicide

Identity
Language development and retention; sense of belonging

Knowledge and skills
Core competencies (non-cognitive skills); early childhood education (ECE) participation; educational attainment; inequality of educational outcomes; literacy, numeracy, and science skills of 15-year-olds

Land
Active stewardship of land

Leisure
Leisure and personal time; satisfaction with leisure time

Safety
Domestic violence; experience of discrimination; harm against children; injury prevalence; perceptions of safety/feelings of safety; victimisation

Social connections
Contact with family and friends; loneliness; social support

Subjective well-being
Ability to be yourself; experienced well-being; hope for the future; life satisfaction; locus of control; sense of purpose, whānau well-being

Human capital
Health expectancy; literacy, numeracy and science skills of 15-year-olds; te reo Māori speakers

Social capital
Generalised trust; institutional trust; volunteering

The Treasury’s contribution to the push for compassion comes from the development of its Living Standards Framework (LSF) to help it advise governments about how the policy trade-offs they make are likely to affect everyone’s living standards.

The LSF looks across the human, social, natural and financial/physical aspects of those things that affect our well-being – the ‘four capitals’. It is a tool that emphasises the diversity of outcomes meaningful for New Zealanders, and helps the Treasury to analyse, measure and compare those outcomes through a wide and evolving set of indicators.

Read more about the Treasury’s approach to living standards here: The Treasury Approach to the Living Standards Framework

But hey – Eric Crampton, on the Offsetting Behaviour blog, tells us what else they are up to.

He draws attention to an invitation to pay a $35 registration fee for an event at Treasury,  which is helping to promote a small business involving a former Treasury staffer by hosting the event and encouraging folks to buy its products.

We are teased to attending by a flyer which is headed:

Imagine surprising Aotearoa with a strain of compassion so delightful that it re-wires our collective consciousness!  

Come and join us in our social lab

The Treasury promoters are Fiona Ross, The Treasury Chief Operating Officer, David Dougherty, The Treasury Manager Strategy and Performance, and “24 curious and creative people at The Treasury” who have been “experimenting the social lab”.

They have

 … created a “compassion starter culture” – a network of people who want to create a more compassionate culture in Aotearoa, starting where we are – in our workplaces.

We’ve been playing and rapidly prototyping with the Heartwork Wellbeing Card Game* – now available publicly.

We know that the intention for what we want to create has a huge power.

We don’t have all the answers. And we can’t do this mahi alone.

So we’d like to invite you into this social lab.

So we can grow an even more beautiful, and more resilient strain together.
We’ll share what we’re learning while we’re still metabolising.

Fiona Ross will tell attendees about what she’s been learning from her experiments with the Heartwork cards in her work as Chief Operating Officer of the Treasury.

We don’t know much about Heartwork cards.

We do know a full house (three of a kind with a pair) beats a flush in a poker game.

And we are sure too many New Zealanders are not as flush as they would like to  be.

We must wait to see how their lot will be improved by Treasury’s fascination with compassion and Heartwork cards.

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