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Guest Lecture: Conal Smith - Norms, values, and preferences: measuring the intangible drivers of economic and social outcomes

Page updated Feb 29, 2016

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Presentation material for Conal Smith's lecture presented at the Treasury on 24 February 2016.

Over the past decade and a half, significant progress has been made in the measurement of social and economic outcomes that are of concern for policy beyond simple macro-economic aggregates. This is reflected both in increasing consensus around the measurement of overall well-being (including both its subjective and objective dimensions), as well as at a technical level in the availability of better data relating to important outcomes. However, the ability to explain why specific outcome measures vary across countries and between individuals remains limited. One reason why this is the case, is that many of the most important factors driving social and economic outcomes are intangible, such as culture, norms, values, and preferences. Increasingly, however, progress is being made in developing robust measures of norms, values, and preferences, with important insights coming both from an expanding body of analysis of existing data and from new data based on both traditional survey instruments, laboratory experiments.

Two recent pieces of OECD work move this research agenda forward. The first of these uses data from the Gallup World Poll to estimate the magnitude of differences in cultural response styles on measures of subjective well-being. Two different methodologies are applied to the data, both generating similar estimates of the maximum impact of cultural response styles on subjective well-being measures. The second piece of work, Trustlab, is a new project that will combine both experimental games and traditional survey measures to nationally representative samples in a range of OECD countries to provide a more detailed picture of how trust varies within and across countries. Data from Trustlab will both provide a more detailed picture of trusting behaviour and cooperative norms than has been previously available, and will also provide the basis for developing more robust and valid survey measures of social norms that can be collected in traditional household surveys.

About Conal Smith

Conal Smith currently works for the OECD Statistics directorate, leading work on the development of international guidelines on the measurement of trust and work on incorporating well-being measures into the country reviews undertaken by the OECD Development Centre. He was co-author of the first international guidelines on the measurement of subjective well-being, produced by the OECD, and also led the OECD's first well-being themed country report, released in January 2015. Since 2014 he has jointly been lecturing a course on well- being policy for the masters programme in public economics at Sciences Po in Paris. He previously managed the Social Conditions group in Statistics New Zealand, where he oversaw the release of the first New Zealand General Social Survey. Before this worked as a manager in the Strategic Social Policy Group in the Ministry of Social Development.

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