Here’s an idea for the public relations and communications management profession to hang its hat on – and to show leadership.
Let us be the driving force to set up a Genuine Progress Index (GPI) for the world. A GPI is a set of indicators that show whether the world is making progress socially, environmentally and, let’s say also, scientifically and technologically.
Instead of being the god we bow to, let’s make economics the servant of pursuing progress goals in these areas.
For too long our measure of success has been economic growth – usually as measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of nations. But growth in GDP requires even higher production and consumption and, at a time when the world is rapidly running out of resources, this simply does not compute.
The GPI concept is not crazy. Simon Kuznets, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and principal architect of the GDP warned 40 years ago: “The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income”. Robert Kennedy said: “GDP measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Last year, French president Nicholas Sarkozy, recognising the shortcomings of GDP for measuring France’s progress as a nation, commissioned Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to create the Commission for the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress to suggest alternatives.
A number of prototype GPI models exist including the Full Cost Accounting model of GPI of Dr Ron Colman of Nova Scotia, Canada. The OECD has a work stream on Measuring and Fostering the Progress of Societies. Statistics New Zealand in a 2008 report ‘Measuring New Zealand’s Progress using a Sustainable Approach’ included a set of indicators. New Scientist magazine, which for years has warned that economic growth is incompatible with the Earth’s limited resources, last year ran a four issue special which included a double page spread of global, social and environmental indicators.
Why should a GPI be the concern of public relations and communications management? In fact, it is properly the domain of leaders – organisational and national – but they need a mandate from stakeholders or help to promulate the concept. We need radically new thinking about how we not only live within the Earth’s resources but continue to advance. Having a GPI that we talk about and care about is central to this – “you treasure what you measure”.
Achieving a shift from an “economic growth mentality” to a “genuine progress mentality” will possibly be the biggest and most critical stakeholder engagement exercise of all time and obviously, that is where we, as public relations and communications professionals come in. This is something we could endorse centrally, yet each of us can promote it within our organisations and our wider spheres of influence. To me, this is an idea whose time has come and, if it doesn’t happen, then we, our children and other life on Earth are all in serious trouble.
The catalyst for this thought has been the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management’s work on the Stockholm Accords, which aims to describe 21st century public relations practice for both practitioners and the people who use our services. For some time, I have also been quietly working away with a group called Anew New Zealand, whose interest is forming a widely agreed national vision, creating plans for that vision to be realised and measuring progress towards it using a GPI of some form – so to me it seemed as if two of my spheres of interest had converged.
Let me finish by reiterating my opening line: This is an idea, an opportunity for the public relations and communications management profession to hang its hat on – and to show leadership.
Tim Marshall describes himself (modestly, as is his way) as a New Zealand PR consultant with 25 years’ experience who believes public relations can and should be an agent for positive change in the world we live in.
PS: I can add, for your information, that in addition to his own description, Tim is one of New Zealand’s leading public relations professionals and thinkers, a Life Member and Fellow of PRINZ, the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand, who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the public relations profession and its practitioners throughout his career.