A Framework for Citizen-Centred Social Statistics and Analysis (Working Paper 48)

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Hicks, Peter
Life Course , Public Policy , Demography , Longitudinal analysis , Social Policy , Economic Policy
Economic policy-making has long been more integrated than social policy-making in part because the statistics and much of the analysis that supports economic policy are based on a common conceptual framework – the system of national accounts. People interested in economic analysis and economic policy share a common language of communication, one that includes both concepts and numbers. This paper examines early attempts to develop a system of social statistics that would mirror the system of national accounts, particular the work on the development of social accounts that took place mainly in the 60s and 70s. It explores the reasons why these early initiatives failed but argues that the preconditions now exist to develop a new conceptual framework to support integrated social statistics – and hence a more coherent, effective social policy. Optimism is warranted for two reasons. First, we can make use of the radical transformation that has taken place in information technology both in processing data and in providing wide access to the knowledge that can flow from the data. Second, the conditions exist to begin to shift away from the straight jacket of government-centric social statistics, with its implicit assumption that governments must be the primary actors in finding solutions to social problems. By supporting the decision-making of all the players (particularly individual citizens) who affect social trends and outcomes, we can start to move beyond the sterile, ideological discussions that have dominated much social discourse in the past and begin to build social systems and structures that evolve, almost automatically, based on empirical evidence of ‘what works best for whom’. The paper describes a Canadian approach to developing a framework, or common language, to support the evolution of an integrated, citizen-centric system of social statistics and social analysis. This language supports the traditional social policy that we have today; nothing is lost. However, it also supports a quite different social policy world, one where individual citizens and families (not governments) are seen as the central players – a more empirically-driven world that we have referred to as the ‘enabling society’.
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