The Better Well-Being Index (BWI) is an initiative by strategic theme Institutions for Open Societies at Utrecht University and offers an alternative measure of wellbeing. BWI measures and weighs eleven dimensions that reflect citizens’ wellbeing in the Netherlands: health, education, environment, housing, safety, income, jobs, work-life balance, community, civic engagement, and subjective wellbeing.
Why measure wellbeing?
The real wealth of a society is its citizens’ wellbeing. The assessment of wellbeing is a crucial task to sustain progress. Societies are complex and do not function in a narrow economic sense, but in a variety of dimensions. The complexity of society and its functioning creates difficulties for the assessment of its wellbeing. The required knowledge for this assessment undoubtedly goes beyond disciplinary boundaries. It needs open modeling and measurement practices in an interdisciplinary manner.
Moreover, measurement practice itself is an important instrument for questioning the components of wellbeing, for operationalizing its progress, and for subsequently suggesting clear steps to take towards a better society. Therefore, informed by inherent difficulties in measurement on the one hand, and the necessity of assessing wellbeing on the other, BWI offers an alternative indicator of wellbeing for the Netherlands, or other societies.
A Composite Indicator of Wellbeing
In order to measure BWI, a composite wellbeing indicator with eleven dimensions is constructed. The most notable advantage of this kind of indicator is its instrumental use as communication tool. It helps to summarize, structure and come to conclusions about wellbeing - in a similar fashion to that of GDP. BWI, however, encompasses a broader set of parameters, making it more complete. Further information on the compilation of BWI is explained in the ESB article from April 2019 (Dutch).
In the selection of dimensions, BWI follows OECD’s taxonomy as implemented in the Better Life Index. Visitors of the Better Life Index express their preferences over the dimensions. These preferences are turned into weights in the compilation of a composite indicator. Working with a single composite indicator ensures that analyses and comparisons of wellbeing among regions and over time will remain manageable. Moreover, following the framework of the Better Life Index opens up the possibility of extending BWI to an international measurement and comparison of wellbeing.
Results of the BWI indicator in the Netherlands
The BWI is the first composite wellbeing indicator in the Netherlands. The results of the indicator show that the 2007 financial crisis took a couple of years to gradually hit the Netherlands from the various wellbeing angles, compared to the more abrupt reaction of the GDP per capita indicator. GDP has started rising again after 2013 and surpassed its pre-crisis peak in 2016. However, the BWI level has not profited from the economic recovery directly. BWI started growing again since 2015 and has met the level before the crisis only in 2018.
Collaboration with RaboResearch
The BWI project started in 2016 in collaboration with Rabobank's RaboResearch department. The first BWI was launched in December 2016, and since then the BWI team at Utrecht University and RaboResearch have been working together to update and refine the BWI indicator every year.