Wellbeing: increasingly a crucial public policy goal

SUII Director, Charlie Woods, discusses the continued attention being dedicated to conceptions of wellbeing in research, policy and practice.

SUII Director, Charlie Woods, discusses the continued attention being dedicated to conceptions of wellbeing in research, policy and practice.

It has been four years since our themed programme on wellbeing (summarised here), which looked at the insights from taking a wider wellbeing approach to public policy and practice. Over this period, there has been a steady increase in interest in promoting wellbeing as a policy objective. This note highlights a couple of recent examples.

The recent OECD Rural Development Conference in Edinburgh publicised the “Rural Policy 3.0” policy framework designed to help governments support rural economic development. Although it has an economic focus, the framework emphasises the multidimensional objectives within a broad definition of wellbeing. These dimensions encompass not only economic aspects (household incomes, employment and productive and competitive firms), but also the social (access to services alongside a cohesive and supported local society) and environmental (pleasant and sustainable living environment). The framework contrasts this approach with previous approaches and highlights the importance of integrated approaches across many actors.

Wellbeing blog

Perhaps this focus on wellbeing is not too surprising given previous OECD word on developing a better life index to measure progress.

A significant recent development in the UK has been the update to the Treasury’s Green Book on how to appraise and evaluate policies and programmes. As this note from What Works Wellbeing, which summarises the updated guide, makes clear it is much more explicit about the objective of improving societal wellbeing. It also recognises the contribution of interrelated, systemic factors on wellbeing and the use of subjective measures alongside objective measures to assess progress. Given the importance of the Green Book across the public sector, it is likely that this new emphasis will have a significant influence on the direction of policy and the nature of associated programmes in the future.

Further afield, MIT’s Presencing Institute has recently launched its Transforming Capitalism Lab aimed at looking at more broadly based development models. Participants in the launch event included Kate Raworth author of Doughnut Economics, which looks at the planetary boundaries that development needs to keep within and the social foundations that are required to meet everyone’s human rights. The social foundation elements are drawn from the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the agreement of which in 2015 was another significant milestone on the adoption of broad based, systemic objectives and measures.

As can be seen from Raworth’s chart below, which tracks a number of indicators on either side of the doughnut, we have already exceeded many of the limits without providing a sufficient social foundation.

Wellbeing Blog 2

Also involved in the launch was Lorenzo Fioramonti (author of Wellbeing Economy), an academic who has recently been elected to the Italian Parliament and may well become the next Economy Minister, he is also one of the leading lights behind the Wellbeing Economy Alliance.

There may be some way to go in developing new ways of thinking and acting to develop an economy that is genuinely sustainable and inclusive and focused on wellbeing, but there are definitely signs that things are beginning to change.

Author: scotinsight

The Scottish Universities Insight Institute supports programmes of knowledge exchange which address and provide insight on substantial issues that face Scotland and the wider world. Our programmes break down disciplinary and organisational barriers in bringing together academics from different backgrounds, policymakers and practitioners to mobilise existing knowledge in fresh ways through sustained and collaborative focus on a shared issue. Our member universities are: Aberdeen, Dundee, Heriot Watt, St Andrews, Strathclyde, and Glasgow School of Art.

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