This is a follow-up to my August 2018 post on Tracking Progress in the Waikato Region, and my June 2019 post on Measuring and monitoring quality of life in the Waikato Region, as well as various publications over the past decade or more.
Killerby and Huser (2019) summarises the latest available results from the Waikato Progress Indicators (WPI), a community progress monitoring programme funded and maintained by Waikato Regional Council. The WPI website shows the current situation and trends across each of 32 key economic, environmental and social aspects which together give a ‘dashboard’ picture of the wellbeing of the Waikato region and quality of life of its people and communities. This includes a report card and ‘circle diagrams’ to enable readers to rapidly visualise the current state and trends in the region.
So, is the Waikato Region on track? Looking at each of the 32 indicators in turn, there have certainly been some gains in the region as indicated by the WPI data, such as reduced levels of air particulates in some areas and less road crashes across the region. However, unfortunately around one-third of the indicators have gone backwards over the past decade or so, including (in declining order of scale):
- Poorer perceptions of community engagement
- Less physical activity
- Higher water use
- More residential expansion onto versatile land (rural subdivision)
- Lower levels of cultural respect
- Worse perceived health
- Lower levels of community pride
- Fewer Te Reo Māori speakers
- Less use of public transport
- lower levels of life satisfaction.
For the remainder of this blog post, I’ll be discussing various ways to summarise the above divergent trends into a single index number – giving a summary measure of overall community wellbeing in the region. This is similar to how economists have adopted a single measure – GDP growth – as a summary indicator of overall economic wellbeing. It is a way of bringing together an overall indication of how well things are doing in the region, socially, economically and environmentally – in the form of a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) or regional wellbeing index.
One way to summarise overall community wellbeing is to look at the key indicator of life satisfaction or overall quality of life. Killerby and Huser (2018) did just that, as part of an analysis of results from Quality of Life surveys of Waikato regional residents. Questions were asked in relation to self-perceived overall quality of life and other aspects of community wellbeing. Compared to 2006, Waikato regional survey respondents in 2018 were less likely to rate their overall quality of life positively (87% in 2018 compared to 90% in 2006).
Another way to summarise overall community wellbeing in the Waikato Region to is to use the time series data for all 32 WPI indicators to construct a summary index. A key question when compiling such an index is how much weight to put on each indicator. One approach, as undertaken in Killerby and Huser (2019), is to apply an equal weighting to every indicator – more specifically, applying the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) reference-year method. When plotted against GDP growth, this shows that overall community wellbeing has been lagging behind economic growth since at least 2003 (noting that the WPI dataset only goes back as far as 2001). The gap narrowed for a few years following the Global Financial Crisis, but in more recent years economic growth has again been more rapid than social or environmental wellbeing.
A related approach also shown in Killerby and Huser (2019) is Principal Components Analysis (PCA), in which the indicator weightings for index construction are determined by the nature of the data itself – more specifically, through eigen-analysis of the covariance matrix of the dataset. This confirms the overall results of the CIW method, showing a widening gap over time between GDP growth and the combined results of all 32 WPI indicators. The overall picture is that community wellbeing in the Waikato Region over the last 10 years increased by about 7% compared to GDP growth of 16% (i.e. GDP doesn’t tell the full story of wellbeing progress). These PCA results were calculated for us by Professor Murray Patterson of Massey University, and in turn have helped inform Professor Patterson’s thinking around developing a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) for New Zealand.