This was the question behind a recent Wellbeing Roundtable held in Belfast. Input from a range of senior policy makers from across the UK suggested that it can, or at least, it could.
Internationally, policy makers have been grappling with the difficult question of what our goals as a society and as individuals should be. ‘Growing GDP’ is no longer a good enough answer. Wellbeing is widely supported as a positive alternative.
The Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring Wellbeing in Northern Ireland published its report, “Towards a Wellbeing Framework for Northern Ireland” on the same day. It recommends Northern Ireland develop a wellbeing framework to guide public service reform in the 2016-2021 government.
The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Bill, was passed by the National Assembly for Wales the week following the Roundtable. It was shaped by The Wales We Want, which engaged thousands of citizens in describing their vision for future wellbeing.
Scotland Performs has now been running for some eight years and has been seen as a model of governance underpinned by a desire to promote wellbeing, with a dashboard of indicators which measure success across several domains. To give this model a greater permancy, it’s hoped that the centrality of wellbeing will be embedded in legislation through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill.
In England, change is being driven at a local authority level through regional government such as the Greater London Authority and by local authorities.
At a UK level, the ONS Measuring Wellbeing programme indicators help to look at ‘GDP and beyond’. However, the view at the Belfast roundtable was that the current development of wellbeing in policy in Scotland and Wales, alongside Northern Ireland’s Roundtable on Wellbeing, is acting at another level: where the importance of the context in which an individual lives – the societal, the economic, the environment, the democratic and way people experience power – is recognised as vital to wellbeing. How this is taken into account by the What Works Wellbeing Centre will influence how we progress wellbeing, across the UK.
So, how can exchanging evidence within the UK contribute to wellbeing? Well, it won’t always. What works in one place won’t always work in another. The Roundtable highlighted different interpretations, contexts and citizen priorities in different parts of the UK. Wellbeing as a goal of public policy offers new possibilities and calls for innovation, where existing evidence of what could work is not available.
But the Roundtable also demonstrated the potential of evidence exchange. Despite many shared policy goals, some senior policy makers had been unaware of approaches and actions in other jurisdictions. The room buzzed as participants saw the potential of learning from the successes and mistakes of approaches already tested elsewhere. Further exchanges are already being arranged. Sharing, demanding and using evidence across the different jurisdictions offers the potential to find faster routes to improving wellbeing across for us all.