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ANU Crawford School of Public Policy

Measuring societal wellbeing: insights for policymakers

One-day short course


13th April 2015


ANU Crawford School of Public Policy


Robert Costanza
Ida Kubiszewski



Around the world policymakers and societies are looking for new ways to measure people’s wellbeing and progress beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This course at The Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy will survey alternative measures already being used to assess quality of life and what might be done to improve our understanding of how to measure societal wellbeing.

Course overview


The issue of how to measure societal wellbeing and progress has been getting a lot of attention lately.  The traditional measures that have driven national and state policy, like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) have been criticised for being seriously flawed as measures of societal wellbeing. The world is looking for better alternatives.

This course will survey alternative measures of quality-of-life and societal well-being, including ‘objective’ measures like GDP, Inclusive Wealth, and the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), ‘subjective’ measures like Subjective Well-Being (SWB) surveys and Gross National Happiness (GNH), and composite indices like the UN Human Development Index (HDI) and the OECD Better Life Index.

Many states and countries are actively pursuing alternatives to GDP.  For example, the US states of Maryland and Vermont have adopted GPI as one of their official measures of progress and other US states are considering similar measures.

This course will discuss the benefits and limitations of existing and proposed societal wellbeing measures. Potential new measures that would improve on existing and proposed measures will also be discussed.

This course will provide you with the opportunity to consider:

  • What are the various factors that contribute to individual human wellbeing, happiness, and quality of life and how do these scale up to overall societal wellbeing?
  • What measures have been previously proposed and used?
  • What are the strong and weak points of each measure?
  • Can we formulate an ‘improved’ system that could overcome the problems in existing and proposed measures?

Course convenor


Professor Robert Costanza

Professor Robert Costanza is a Chair in Public Policy at Crawford School of Public Policy. Prior to this, he was Distinguished University Professor of Sustainability, in the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University. Before moving to PSU in September 2010, he was the Gund Professor of Ecological Economics and founding director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.

Before Vermont, he was on the faculty at Maryland and LSU, a visiting scientist at the Beijer Institute in Sweden, and at the Illinois Natural History Survey. Dr Costanza is also currently a Senior Fellow at the National Council on Science and the Environment, Washington, DC, a Senior Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm, Sweden, and an Affiliate Fellow at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.

Dr Costanza received BA and MA degrees in Architecture and a PhD in Environmental Engineering Sciences (Systems Ecology with Economics minor) all from the University of Florida.

Dr Ida Kubiszewski

Dr Ida Kubiszewski is a Senior Lecturer at Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University. Prior to this she was an Assistant Research Professor and Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, at Portland State University. She is the managing editor of magazine/journal hybrid called Solutions and the managing editor and a co-editor-in-chief (with Robert Costanza and Karin Limburg) of an academic journal called Reviews in Ecological Economics. She is also a co-founder and former-managing editor of the Encyclopedia of Earth, an electronic reference about the Earth, its natural environments, and their interaction with society.

Dr Kubiszewski was a delegate at the 19th Conference of Parties (COP19), negotiating for the country of the Dominican Republic on climate change, following adaptation and loss and damage.

Dr Kubiszewski is the author or co-author of over a dozen scientific papers. She is a Fellow at the National Council for Science and the Environment and Associate Research Fellow at the Institut Veblen pour les réformes économiques (Veblen Institute for Economic Reforms) in Paris, France. She sits on the steering committees, editorial boards, or advisory boards of various organisations including the Ecosystem Service Partnership, Ecosystem Services the journal, and Environmental Information Coalition.

Ida received her BA in Astronomy and Physics from Boston University and her MA in Energy and Environmental Analysis through the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies also at Boston University. She received her PhD through the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. Her dissertation topic was ‘Searching for the Sweet Spot: Managing information as a good that improves with use’.

Course date: 9.30am–4.30pm 13 April 2015
Venue: #132 Crawford Building, Lennox Crossing, ANU
Cost: $1,100 GST incl; Group discounts applicable

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