Martyn Evans, Co-Chair of the Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring Wellbeing in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland has topped UK tables for self-reported wellbeing, featuring in four out of the five happiest places in the UK. But behind this headline, challenges remain. Recently released figures show that 12,000 people visited Northern Ireland’s emergency departments last year due to self-harm or suicidal thoughts, and that there were 2,112 water pollution incidents in Northern Ireland in 2013.
The above figures show that in order for the Northern Ireland Executive to assess how Northern Ireland is progressing, it needs to consider not just its economic performance, but also how the lives of its citizens are improving, if, in fact, they are. That is not to say that the economy is not important – participants in the focus groups commissioned by the Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring Wellbeing in Northern Ireland told us that unemployment is a priority for communities in Northern Ireland. But, equally, so are addressing social isolation and mental health issues, according to their feedback.
This is why in its new report the Carnegie Roundtable has called for the Executive to develop a wellbeing framework, taking into account the social, environmental, democratic and economic outcomes it would like to achieve, to guide and support the work of all public services. But the Executive cannot do this successfully without the help of its citizens.
The Roundtable has identified the first step of developing a wellbeing framework as the Executive setting improving wellbeing as its collective goal. But the second, and crucial, step is for the Executive to build public engagement into the heart of the wellbeing framework. Meaningful input from the public on the outcomes of the framework is both a means and an end – the framework will better reflect the needs of people of Northern Ireland and having a say in the decisions that affect their lives will improve the wellbeing of its citizens.
And there is already good practice of Governments in the UK doing just this. For example, the national conversation taking place in Wales, The Wales We Want, provides an opportunity for citizens to discuss the challenges and opportunities they face as individuals and communities, and to help identify how to create a more vibrant and sustainable Wales. The Scottish Government has also committed to engaging the public in a refresh of its National Performance Framework, Scotland Performs, and collaborated with the Carnegie UK Trust and others to support the Scottish Universities Insight Institute’s programme on wellbeing last year. There is now a programme of events planned to engage the public with the findings of the six supported projects.
As the Northern Ireland Executive faces making difficult spending cuts, learning from the good practice of others, consulting its citizens on what is important to their wellbeing and using this information to guide the delivery and financing of public services has never been more important.
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