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A Happy Nation? Opportunities and Challenges of Using Subjective Indicators in Policymaking

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Abstract

This article seeks to combine decades of academic research with emerging policy demands by systematically assessing the state of the knowledge on using subjective indicators in public policy. In particular, it outlines opportunities that arise from a new focus on subjective information as a basis for policy decisions and challenges that ought to be overcome. The paper presents pros and cons of using subjective (versus objective) indicators, and it discusses six ways in which information on citizens’ subjective well-being (SWB) can advance the policymaking process: Monitoring progress, informing policy design, policy appraisal, examining the divergence of objective and subjective quality of life, ranking public institutions and allocating resources, as well as informing development strategies and goals. In doing so, best practice examples are presented and put in context. Finally, subjective measures “beyond SWB” are discussed and a new measure for the overall satisfaction with society is suggested. The next frontier for research and practice will be to build on the potential outlined here and to address the deficits in order make the most out of subjective indicators and the unique value they can add to the policymaking process.

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Notes

  1. The main exception here is variable selection in the regression model where experts do influence the result of the model. Hence, it should be done with utmost care and neutrality.

  2. We are grateful to Ruut Veenhoven for this suggestion.

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Correspondence to Christian Kroll.

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Christian Kroll and Jan Delhey have contributed equally to the article.

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Kroll, C., Delhey, J. A Happy Nation? Opportunities and Challenges of Using Subjective Indicators in Policymaking. Soc Indic Res 114, 13–28 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-013-0380-1

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