Proposing a well-being dashboard.

The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States

In 1788We the People of the United States”, set out “…to…promote the general Welfare [and]…establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” How well are we doing?

Businesses use dashboards to manage their key performance indicators. What key performance indicators would guide us toward improving the “general Welfare”? How can we make the well-being of the people visible and actionable? What would a well-being dashboard look like?

Well-being refers to experiencing positive conditions — in short, exploring the question “How are you doing?” Related concepts include eudaimonia, happiness, flourishing, quality of life, contentment, and meaningful life. Well-being is diminished by suffering and increased by flourishing. Many factors contribute to or detract from well-being. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs describes an ordering of factors related to human needs. This suggests many factors related to well-being that can be observed, measured, managed, and improved.

A dashboard based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs could be designed and built by estimating where each person is now living on the hierarchy. This could be done using survey instruments — directly asking each person what they have and what they lack — or by using a variety of surrogates measures for each need. Beginning with physiological needs, identifying the people who lack clean air, clean water, sufficient food, sanitation, along with basic clothing and shelter highlights those who are in most need of assistance. This includes the homeless along with the hungry and thirsty, and those exposed to air or water pollution.

Safety needs are next on the hierarchy. This includes personal, financial, and emotional security, along with good health and freedom from accidents and illness. Measures of crime rates, poverty rates, direct subjective measures of fear and anxiety, access to health care, disease rates, and the many causes of premature death, including accidents, occupational fatalities, violent crime, diseases, tobacco use, lifestyle risks, addictions, and suicide are safety-related key performance indicators.

After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third level of human needs is interpersonal and involves opportunities for social belonging. These needs include friendships, intimacy, and family. Measures of divorce rates, foster care rates, domestic violence, and subjective measures of contented relationships and community are social belonging-related key performance indicators.

The higher levels of the hierarchy represent a transition from survival into thriving and flourishing. Progress indicators include education levels, employment satisfaction, cultural opportunities, creative expression, achievement of various being-values, along with flourishing, fitness, healthfulness, and mental health.

Models other than Maslow’s hierarchy could be used to design a dashboard. These might include an enumeration of what matters, measuring progress in addressing the grand challenges, and preserving human rights, world-wide.

It will be important to measure and report on positive outcomes, perhaps called “flourishing” and negative outcomes, perhaps called “deficiencies” or “suffering”. Also, it will be important to measure and report on overall achievements, median achievements, and especially the status of those least well off among us. Data aggregated at the global, national, state, regional, and local levels is important for addressing problems at the most actionable level.

The dashboard can become the focus of an on-going conversation exploring vital questions such as “What is well-being?”, “How can well-being be accurately measured?”, “Do we have priorities other than well-being?”, “How do we fairly represent future generations?”, and “Who’s well-being is important?”. This dialogue can help us continue progress toward a stronger democracy that better serves we the people.

A prototype national well-being dashboard

Such a dashboard could have a national focus, while allowing drill down to examine data at the regional, state, county, and local levels. Opportunities for both public and private solutions will become visible. Attention to human rights, worldwide, will provide some global perspective. We can exchange ideas with other nations that are working to improve well-being.

The idea of using well-being to guide government policy and improve operations is gaining acceptance around the world. The philosophy of Gross National Happiness guides the government of Bhutan, and their constitution instituted a Gross National Happiness Index in 2008. In 2011, the UN General Assembly passed a Resolution “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development” calling happiness a “fundamental human goal” and urging member nations to measure happiness and well-being. The “World Happiness Report” is now an annual publication of the United Nations.

The United Kingdom uses a national well-being dashboard to monitor and report accepted and trusted measures for various areas of life that matter most to the UK public. The UK measures societal and personal well-being looking beyond the measures of production, to areas such as health, relationships, education and skills, what the people do, where the people live, personal finances, and the environment. New Zealand uses a living standards framework dashboard to inform advice to Ministers on priorities for improving well-being.

The Social Progress Imperative is a nonprofit agency that creates and publishes the Social Progress Index. The SPI measures the well-being of a society by observing social and environmental outcomes directly rather than through economic factors. These factors include wellness (including health, shelter and sanitation), equality, inclusion, sustainability and personal freedom and safety. The United States ranks 28th out of the 163 countries indexed in 2020.

Identifying the well-being of the people as the objective of government allows us to use various quality management approaches to continuously improve government policies and operations.

Recognizing that reality is our common ground, each of us could refer to this reliable information base and use this to inform or assess policy proposals. With such a dashboard in place, the policy task then becomes “propose and carry out polices that advance well-being”.

We routinely use dashboards to inform our decisions as we drive our cars, fly airplanes, and run our businesses. Let’s create a dashboard that highlights the well-being of we the people.

Seeking real good.