Home pageCommission ICT de la SATW - Groupe de travail e-SocietyRound Table Münchenwiler 4th & 5th June 2009 : Beyond GDP : Progress and Quality of Life
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Saturday 7 March 2009
by Raymond Morel
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Round Table Münchenwiler

"Progress and quality of life, Switzerland in 2029"

4th – 5th June 2009

The term progress comes from the Latin word progressus meaning "action to move forward." Each discipline has its own reading of what is the progress and where it may lead us – like philosophy, history, anthropology, etc. Progress as ideology has developed in the nineteenth century, together with the process of industrialization. Progress has been likened to science and growth. It was measured by indicators of economic performance, such as GDP, the main indicator of the performance of nations.

Today, many aspects of growth-progress are problematic. Looking beyond the crisis, many politicians and business leaders are now aware - and say it openly - that the references of the past cannot serve for the future. Whole areas of economic and financial system will be modified in depth. The system of consumption that has fuelled the growth of the West, destroying the environment, is not extensible. In less than twenty years, oil production has significantly declined. Young people today have the certainty that they will live less well than their parents. All signals are in the red!

A - Which progress do we want?

Since the 60’s, many searchers have questioned the relevance of the GDP to measure the evolution of societies, but their work remained in academical circles. Since the 2000s many international institutions and Think Tank used as reference by political and economic leaders grab nevertheless the topic showing thereby that in the period of uncertainties and crisis we go through, the issue is more than ever valid. A consensus seems to be saying that, in addition to GDP, other indicators capable of taking into account the qualitative dimensions of evolutions of the societies, well-being, heritage, but also deduct adverse effects, such as pollution, wars, etc.

Several countries have established national commissions to address this issue. At the international level, the OECD has developed an extensive program entitled "Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies", which aims to provide decision makers with new standards for understanding, measuring, assessing and monitoring their decisions, taking as perspective, objective and reference what might be called the "qualitative development". The OECD initiative raises the awareness on the fact that a new orientation is necessary, that a significant fraction of the population has already adopted new lifestyles and that it is appropriate to review the criteria of progress that a society uses to inform decision-making. A Global Forum will be held in Korea in autumn 2009 to check the progress and review the proposals for defining and measuring progress.

B - The approach: how and why innovate?

The eventual transition to a post-capitalist system is much more a long term anthropological problem than a matter of decisions and political strategies in short or medium term. It involves the parallel emergence of new configurations of economic and moral incentives and new institutional arrangements rooted in organizational and material practices bearable on psychological, moral as well as ecological point of view.

Each society is due to innovate. But which innovation are we talking about when the goal is a new concept of progress? Certainly not only about technological innovation, even if the technique and the information society offer new solutions which it would be wrong to deny. It is also not only about creating new commercial products or new marketing techniques.

The type of innovation related to our purpose is transformative, incremental and social innovation as process of change that is making improvements, corrects, redraws priorities and points the resources we would like to invest to achieve another vision of our future.

It is important to explore this new approach of innovation to:

• anticipate, prepare the transition of our societies, respond to environmental challenges and changes in the aspirations and lifestyles and rethink the basis of viability of domestic and global economies;
• stimulate curiosity and research which lead to new options and new knowledge in line with the emerging concept of a qualitative and sustainable progress built on the tools of the information society.

With the information society are emerging new values, attitudes, aspirations, lifestyles made possible by (and strengthening) the e-empowerment. The individual and social changes linked to this process shape another progress based on new standards: the collective, freeness, creativity, knowledge, share, co-construction... As an example, Wikipedia is the paradigm of the new society under construction and our approach of progress could usefully refer to the underlying factors, to the behaviour and to the immense popularity of Wikipedia to understand what is emerging.

C - Heritage, quality of life and innovation: opportunities for Switzerland.

If technological innovation has fuelled the growth, today it is towards social innovation that we are increasingly finding new solutions to the crisis. Initiatives of innovative citizens give opportunities to anchor the true progress in a sustainable manner.

In a Swiss perspective, one can identify the domestic strengths and specificities that on could built upon to initiate a transition to a sustainable qualitative development: political institutions of direct democracy, a system of trust, enhancing practical and technical skills, importance of the humanitarian commitment, etc.

The Münchenwiler meeting aims to initiate a process of thinking and discussing to highlight specificities and identify the strengths of Switzerland to reach a sustainable and qualitative progress. The roundtable format was chosen in order to allow everyone to express themselves freely and to engage discussions in small groups followed by plenary of synthesis. Three main themes will be presented to the floor:

• the fundamental elements of the Swiss vision of progress;
• the Swiss know-how and existential skills, vectors of social innovation;
• new measuring instruments and new management tools of public policies related to the new vision of progress.
The recommendations of the Round Table will contribute to stimulate the commitment of all stakeholders in Switzerland and abroad, to structure the contribution of Switzerland to the global initiative.