Could there be such a thing as a "Citizen Confidence Index"? What would it measure, and why?


Delighted to meet up with representatives from The New Citizenship Project this week - regularly profiled here - and they pointed us towards their latest initiative. If we can have indexes that measure consumer confidence, why can't we have indexes measuring citizen confidence? And what would they measure? 

In this blog for the World Economic Forum, NCP's Jon Alexander and Prof. Amy Cuddy, note how out of date the Consumer Confidence Index might be. (It was founded in 1967, and is compiled from responses to a series of questions about people's attitudes to the economy and their own spending patterns). Their challenges are:

  • One: under our current environmental conditions, is maximising on consumption what we want to be doing?
  • Two: what about the toxic effects of even addressing people as consumers? Even hearing the term makes people "more selfish and competitive, less trusting, less open to social participation, less motivated by environmental concerns and even more anxious."
  • And three: even as an indicator of economic performance, it might be a weaker sign than market signals, in any case. 

The authors go on to propose:

What if we could build, in place of the CCI, a measure of people’s confidence in their capacities to meet the Fourth Industrial Revolution's demands? What if we could develop an evidence-based indicator for productivity, participation and well-being, not just for consumption?

What if a measure could be developed that helped us increase sense of purpose, personal power and social connection - the things we now know cause people to thrive? What if we could replace the Consumer Confidence Index with a Citizen Confidence Index?

...Our starting point is a belief that people can and want to shape the society they live in for the better, given the right conditions to do so. People want to create their context as citizens, not just choose between options offered to them as consumers. In the digital age, the means are now in place for this to happen, but outdated systems, structures, and goals such as the CCI are keeping us trapped. 

Our work imagines what might happen if we had a Citizen Confidence Index. This would ask people not just how confident they are that they can consume, but that they can shape their context and find agency, purpose, support from their community and an intent to participate meaningfully in the world. We are challenging ourselves to consider what might happen if such a measure were treated as a key performance indicator by government departments the world over.

Imagine if education policy were measured by its output in citizens equipped to deliberate, debate and create; health policy in its support for the agency of the citizen; and business frameworks for their ability to encourage a sense of purpose and human flourishing both inside and out. 

We live in a moment when "people need to feel more like owners of their own destinies, rather than pawns of elites", Jeremy Heimans argues with co-author Henry Timms in their groundbreaking book New Power (2018).

"If the only meaningful expression of all this pent-up agency is the occasional election or referendum, people will naturally be inclined to use their participation as a way to lash out. Platform strongmen and extremists will offer easy answers. But we need something different: a world where our participation is deep, constant and multi-layered, not shallow and intermittent."

Our early work leads us to believe that we can develop a measure that is as structurally simple as the Consumer Confidence Index, and so able to harness its infrastructure and influence, but that crucially encompasses these bigger ideas of the role of individuals in society.

We are actively seeking help and input. If there are analogous projects we should know about, or if you can help us deepen our understanding of the CCI, or even link us to opportunities to pilot and refine, please do get in touch.

Measures are powerful intervention points. If we can get this right, by creating a child of our own time to replace the Consumer Confidence Index, the impact could be huge.

More about the Citizen Confidence Index here. The "analogous projects" to sit alongside this actually build up to quite a list of initiatives - all of them trying to displace crude, 20th century measurements of economic and social performance.

We have profiled many of them here  - see this from Joe Stiglitz, or this compendium of "beyond GDP" measures, or Indy Johar's explorations. (In a previous post on the announcement of the start of this project, we wondered whether a citizenship measure could escape becoming a kind of economic performance measure by another means.)

However, if these metaphors and ways of measuring start to shift the way that managers, administrators and politicians in top-down elites think about their priorities on spending resources, or drafting laws and institutions... then that's good news.  Yet we will continue to focus on a transformed citizenship rising from the bottom-up - people consciously seizing and deploying tools to powerfully shape their own local conditions. And at some exciting point, perhaps we'll meet them halfway.