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What Defines Quality of Life? The Gap Between Public Policies and Locally Defined Indicators Among Residents of Kodagu, Karnataka (India)


Improving quality of life (QoL) is one of the main goals of many public policies. A useful tool to measure QoL needs to get a good balance between indicators guided by theories (top-down approach) and indicators defined by local people (bottom-up approach). However, QoL measurement tools often neglect to include elements that define the standard of living at local level. In this paper, we analyse the correspondence between human development index, as an indicator adopted by governments to assess QoL, and the elements defined by local people as important in their QoL, called here local means. Using a free-listing technique, we collected information from 114 individuals from Kodagu, Kartanataka (India), to capture local means defining QoL. We then compared local means with the indicators used by Human development report (HDR) of Karnataka, the main measurement tool of QoL in Kodagu. The list of local means included access to basic facilities and many issues related to agriculture and natural resources management as elements locally defining QoL. We also found that HDR does not capture the means defined by people as indicators of QoL. Our findings suggest an important gap between current QoL’s indicators considered by public policies and the means of QoL defined by people. Our study provides insights for a set of plausible local indicators useful to achieve a balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches for the local public policies.

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    Here we focus on the objective measure of Quality of Life (QoL) which is also referred to as objective well-being, objective welfare, and other near-synonyms. Without entry in their plausible differences, in this paper we use QoL as a synonym of all of them.


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This research was funded by NSF- Cultural Anthropology Program (BSC-0726612) and ANR-French National Research Agency Project (ANR-05-PADD-0XX Public Policies and Traditional Management of Trees and Forests -POPULAR). We greatly appreciate the hospitality, kindness, and friendship of people from Kodagu. We are also grateful to P. Vaast, K.T. Vaast, and C.G. Kushalappa. Thanks to Sumanth and Govind for help with translations. F. Zorondo-Rodríguez thanks the economic support provided by the "Presidente de la República" scholarship (CONICYT, Chile). We appreciate the comments and editing support by H. Leach, A. Luz, D. Calvo, and M. Aguado. We thank the Forest Department of Karnataka (India) for providing the permits to conduct this research.

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Correspondence to Francisco Zorondo-Rodríguez.

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Zorondo-Rodríguez, F., Gómez-Baggethun, E., Demps, K. et al. What Defines Quality of Life? The Gap Between Public Policies and Locally Defined Indicators Among Residents of Kodagu, Karnataka (India). Soc Indic Res 115, 441–456 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-012-9993-z

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  • Quality of life
  • Human well-being
  • Local means
  • Human development index
  • Kodagu
  • India