To GDP or not to GDP? Identifying the factors promoting and inhibiting the use and impact of well-being metrics in Scotland and Italy
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is frequently used as a proxy for well-being. Such use of GDP is problematic for many reasons, for GDP excludes activities that contribute to well-being and includes others that have a negative impact instead. A vast array of metrics has therefore been developed that aim to complement or replace it and put well-being at the heart of policymaking. Nonetheless, previous research has shown that their use and impact has been limited to date. This thesis examines the use and impact of well-being metrics and the factors affecting them in the crucial cases of Scotland and Italy. Despite being at the forefront of the well-being debate, both countries have never been studied before in the context in question. This thesis fills this gap, collating views from 120 stakeholders on different facets of the well-being debate gathered through interviews that were conducted between 2018 and 2020. Of uttermost importance was the study of informants’ awareness of problems and solutions and the extent to which these were regarded as such, problem and solution awareness and recognition being the founding pillars of a theory of policy change that I developed drawing on Kingdon’s Multiple Stream Approach. Furthermore, this thesis provides an extended analysis of the use of well-being metrics in parliamentary debates and media reporting in both countries before and during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the first of its kind to be undertaken. The research was conducted using the archives made available by TheyWorkForYou and the Italian Parliament as far as the study of parliamentary debates is concerned, and Factiva and TVEyes as far as newspaper and radio and TV coverage are concerned, employing advanced search strings and a robust methodology aimed to reduce the number of duplicates and potentially irrelevant hits returned. Findings reveal low awareness of well-being metrics and of GDP’s limitations, especially among policymakers and journalists; a prevailing view of economic growth as a prerequisite for well-being which translates into the preference for GDP to be integrated with other metrics rather than replaced altogether and which results in economic crises generating punctuations that strengthen the status quo and hinder attempts to bring about change; and an almost unanimous scepticism of subjective indicators. Most importantly, findings reveal very limited use and impact of well-being metrics, particularly of official national frameworks, in line with what the theory of policy change that I developed would predict. Ten recommendations are made to increase the use and impact of well-being metrics in both countries, among which is the need to put more effort into promoting the well-being agenda when the economy is expanding as opposed to periods in which economic growth is lacking and to divert resources to awareness campaigns that enhance the use and impact of already existing metrics rather than to the development of new metrics altogether.