How to measure progress?

Dan Bristow discusses indicators for the Well-being of Future Generations Bill.

It is hard to understate the ambition of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill.

Making sure that the public sector in Wales takes into consideration the needs of future generations as well as current generations is no small task.

This week on Click on Wales

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill was discussed by the full assembly on Tuesday after the environment committee voted to drop large parts of the bill but rejected sections intended to replace them in February.

This week on Click on Wales we are running a series of articles on the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill looking at what we’ve got and how it can be improved.

The Bill aims to ensure that public bodies, working in accordance with the sustainable development principle, will be more joined-up, more focused on the long term, and better aligned with the priorities and concerns of the people of Wales.

This is an ambitious and worthy aim.

A central element of the Bill is the “well-being goals”, which articulate a vision for Wales; and the set of “national indicators”, which will be used to see how Wales is doing in achieving these goals.

The Welsh Government will in due course consult on a proposed national indicator set once the Bill becomes law, and the PPIW has been asked by the Minister for Natural Resources to provide advice and support on their development. We have asked Charles Seaford (former Head of Well-being at the New Economics Foundation) to undertake this work for us.

As part of this project, we have just published a discussion document which sets out some of the issues that we all need to think about, and some of the guiding principles that we feel are important to use in getting the right national indicators.

It builds on the work that has already been done to explore what makes indicator sets more or less successful, and gives a sense of how challenging it will be to get this right; showing how a number of factors will need to be balanced off against each other. For example, the national indicators:

  • Need to measure the things that matter, but also – if they are to tell us how the public sector in Wales is doing – be things that the Welsh public sector have a reasonable influence over.
  • Need to be comprehensive (they can’t just focus on one aspect of a goal or just one of the goals), but equally they cannot measure everything. A large unworkable indicator set, while giving a rich picture of changes in society, is bound to be ignored and may not drive better decisions across Wales. The message that it gives is too complex to be properly understood. The current sustainable development indicator set has been criticised for this. It can be argued that 44 indicators covering 29 key issues is too many; that people are not able to quickly or easily understand whether things are getting better or worse, or in what way they are changing.

Getting the right balance will not be easy, and some difficult choices are likely to be needed. The pilot National Conversation – The Wales We Want – has a vital role to play in helping to shape the indicators from the bottom up.

Our hope is that the document that we have published will help to inform any ongoing conversation.

If you have views on what we say – whether the principles we set out are the right ones, and whether we’ve missed anything – please get in touch: [email protected].

This blog first appeared on the Public Policy Institute for Wales; website –

Dan Bristow is the Deputy Director of the Public Policy Institute for Wales.

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