IGP Stories

Professor Henrietta Moore speaks to Social Sciences in China about citizen science

Promoting Global Prosperity through Citizen Social Science
(Translation in English)

By Mirong Chen

Traditional prosperity is often regarded as economic growth, and the only indicator of growth is GDP growth. However, the development model that constantly pursues GDP growth comes at the expense of continuously consuming limited global resources and does not provide solutions to challenges such as global inequality, environmental degradation, and climate change. In order to seek sustainable development of the global economy, politics, society and ecological environment, the method of measuring development based on "economic priority" urgently needs to be changed, and a new model of prosperity and development needs to be proposed. Against this background, Professor Henrietta L. Moore, founder and director of the Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) at University College London, recently shared her views on global prosperity issues with this magazine and elaborated on her views on issues such as the design of indicators to measure prosperity and the ideal model for achieving global prosperity.

Redefining prosperity

Moore told reporters that the beauty of "prosperity" is that it doesn't have a single or one-size-fits all definition. The concept varies across social contexts, cultures and histories, but in a broader sense we can describe it as the ability for people to live fulfilling, quality lives. In academia, “well-being” can also be used to refer to quality of life. Moore believes that some characteristics and connotations of "prosperity" and "well-being" overlap, but the two are not exactly the same concepts. "Prosperity" can be seen as a collection of economic, social, cultural, ecological and other factors, including various conditions necessary for people to live a good quality life. It can reflect the relationship between an individual's life (including quality of life, life aspirations and life purpose) and the larger systems and constraints in which it is embedded. Redefining prosperity therefore means examining the key questions of what prosperity actually consists of, what it requires, and for whom, when and where it is achieved. Moore said that global prosperity means creating conditions and paths to ensure that everyone in the world can live a quality life. To achieve this goal, the starting point is to realize that global prosperity involves multiple levels: global level, regional level, local level, and personal level, and the local level needs to be given more consideration.

Moore pointed out that traditional economic development methods mainly focus on the regional and national levels and ignore the local level. Many of the global challenges we face today, such as rising inequality, the climate change crisis, and biodiversity loss, are global in nature and require international consensus and collective action from each of us, but they also affect people everywhere, affecting people's lives and livelihoods, although the extent of this impact varies.

The IGP founded by Moore focuses on studying communities in various places, which she calls the meso level. The meso level is between the macro and micro levels and is often related to the community or local area. It takes many forms, but ultimately involves specific issues, such as a town rich in natural resources, a certain part of the countryside, a certain part of a city or region, etc. This dimension has nothing to do with a person's name, social class, ethnicity or religion. It can highlight how important specific places are in context-specific human life.

Moore said that we need to realize that achieving prosperity involves global, national, regional and local levels at the same time, but in the past few decades we have ignored and underestimated the local level, basing all our actions on the national (macro) or local level. Individual (micro) level. In this regard, context-specific and local-specific characteristics are key. This is especially important in human societies, where we have to consider issues of culture, identity, belonging, and history. The principle of analysing specific issues on a case-by-case basis also applies to concepts such as quality of life, since each society has a different understanding of prosperity.

Based on this understanding of prosperity, Moore's research team developed its own indicator model, called the IGP Prosperity Index, and designed measures of prosperity based on specific locations and contexts for east London and parts of Tanzania and Lebanon. The IGP's research approach is based on site-specific and holistic systems thinking, exploring the interconnections between different factors and systems. “We cannot simply think that individual prosperity or microlevel prosperity adds up to macro-level prosperity. Prosperity is a set of factors that intersect and are interrelated at the local level. This intersection and correlation between key elements that affect quality of life It’s more prominent at the local level, where people actually live,” Moore said.

Different prosperity indicator systems

In addition to the IGP indicator system, there are other indicator systems used to measure prosperity internationally. The most popular among them are the Global Prosperity Index of the British think tank Legatum Institute and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. Moore told reporters that one of the reasons why the IGP indicator system is different from other systems is that the IGP indicator is based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative research. Various factors of the indicator model are designed and formed together with citizens and communities.

Other indicator systems place more emphasis on the national level and focus on macro data collection and analysis. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are mainly based on the work of international institutions like the United Nations, as well as multilateral agreements and dialogues between countries and groups. The Legatum Institute's Global Prosperity Index is an annual ranking of countries and regions around the world based on a variety of factors, including wealth, economic growth, personal well-being, and quality of life. The index's foundations, elements, and indicators are all consistent with the analysis that experts and scholars jointly offered. “In fact, most indicator systems are designed in this way, but they ignore the ‘non-experts’,” Moore said.

Moore believes that designing a prosperity index needs to be centred on principles of equity, eliminate systemic injustice, and must be transparent, relevant to people’s lives, and inclusive. To do this, we need to consider people’s life experiences and quality of life. Redefining prosperity should not be about the welfare of a few but should establish a new social paradigm that strives to make knowledge accessible and useful to everyone. Measures of prosperity need to close the gap between people and politics and reduce communication barriers between experts and non-experts. We need to include the people's voice in policy-making, increase democratic participation, and promote social inclusion and cohesion. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals involve five dimensions: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership, with eradicating poverty, promoting prosperity and improving environmental resilience being the three key goals. In early 2023, Moore and other scholars analysed these three key goals from the perspective of urban equality. Its research found that while these SDGs are premised on creating a just urban future and reducing poverty, this framework fails to address the connections between the broader factors that make up quality of life and what is needed to live a quality life. Holistic systems thinking is very important at this point.

The importance of community to achieving prosperity

A unique feature of the IGP indicator system is its emphasis on the importance of communities in achieving prosperity. So how to play this role of the community? Professor Moore said that IGP mainly interacts with the community through Citizen Social Science. Citizen science refers to research that allows members of the public to participate in various activities and practices to contribute to the scientific knowledge system. “Public social science” adds a dimension where members of the public in research projects can focus on complex issues such as human behaviour and how society is organized, and understand inequality, the lived experience of poverty or the effects of climate change, etc. Citizen social science and broader engagement with grassroots communities are cornerstones of IGP's global research work. They integrate local voices, ordinary people and community demands into policy decision-making and development processes, allowing them to take a leadership role in research and promote social action to create local influence.

For example, in London, IGP scholars studied East London, Camden, North Kensington, Southwark and many other areas. In east London, they studied the impact of urban regeneration near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and assessed its impact on livelihood security. They also studied new forms of social protection such as land use, innovation, inclusive economy, and Universal Basic Service. In Africa, the IGP’s work focuses on the "natural prosperity" and transformation paths of communities, including climate change mitigation and climate adaptation, regenerative agriculture, biodiversity, ecosystem services, restoration of natural resource systems, etc., emphasizing the joint efforts of society and natural capital as evolving Paths to Prosperity. In the Middle East, IGP researchers noted multiple crises in the region, particularly large-scale population displacement and refugee crises. The research team in Lebanon is reaching out to local community, policy and government stakeholders to introduce urban interventions that can improve the quality of life of local residents.

In early 2023, Moore and others also established the UCL Citizen Science Academy, aiming to change the way universities conduct research by improving the inclusiveness and accessibility of knowledge production and research to people from different backgrounds. This is also consistent with the IGP’s approach to citizen social science and the broader citizen science program. Moore said that due to the fact that the people, culture, history, socioeconomic and political factors in different places are different, IGP's research methods are also adapted to local conditions. By working with stakeholders at all levels, a place can be fully understood, including its key challenges and opportunities, and solutions can be developed together with the community. These communities can innovate, produce knowledge, and be creative, and they can all play an important role in policy and decision-making.

A key feature of the prosperity as redefined by the IGP is citizen leadership. Moore proposes that the perspective of local communities and citizens is important in understanding the lived experiences associated with prosperity, individual and collective intelligence, present and future aspirations, and the day-to-day conditions that constitute quality of life, which are influenced by many factors.

Citizens and communities should play a central role in reimagining prosperity as co-creators of pathways to inclusive, sustainable prosperity. This citizen-led rather than top-down approach can empower people, strengthen social solidarity and cohesion, and ultimately influence policies that can help us achieve our goals, such as ambitious plans for zero emissions, as well as help us effectively deal with systemic and intergenerational inequality, poverty and other forms of inequality. Moore pointed out that the problems caused by GDP-centred economics are also very obvious in Asia, so it is also necessary to fully understand what prosperity means and what is needed in Asia to achieve global prosperity. “That’s why we created the Asia Prosperity Research Hub, with a dedicated team studying the discourse and paths to achieving prosperity in China, another team focusing on gender equality and socioeconomic development, and another team examining the technologies needed to create prosperity. and entrepreneurship. We also have academics working on urban futures, and visions of prosperity. Among them, it is particularly important to study China from the perspective of the connection between space, society and people's lives. " Moore has expressed many times in interviews that she hopes to have the opportunity to cooperate with Chinese scholars to study how to better apply IGP's local conditions, people-centred, and overall systematic methods and indicators to specific cultural and historical situations and communities. The intersection of life and social innovation and entrepreneurship will jointly create a prosperous future for the world.

Access the interview on Social Sciences in China

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