Jennifer Wallace, Hannah Ormston and Rachel Heydecker make a case for the importance of innovative data to keep track of wellbeing.
This article is part of a series on the uses of data and the future of indicators in policy. If you have an idea for a piece about data and wellbeing or innovative indicators, do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ‘wellbeing ‘agenda’ and the ‘wellbeing economy’ are phrases that have become well known since the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission report was first shared in 2009. The benefits of understanding collective wellbeing has since been increasingly recognised across the political spectrum. Many governments across the world have made great strides towards measuring and understanding wellbeing in their own countries. In many ways, Wales has been at the forefront of this agenda.
‘Large sets of wellbeing indicators can struggle to provide clear pathways to what should be done and even harder to organise activity around.’
The seven well-being goals for Wales that are within the Well-being of Future Generations Act provide the framing for an economically, socially and environmentally just Wales. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of making progress against these goals has become even more evident, and earlier this year, the Welsh Government published a roadmap demonstrating their intentions to accelerate the timescale for delivery due to the urgent challenges we now share.
Welsh Government recently consulted on nine national milestones for Wales – raising the question of how could the significant evidence on wellbeing collected be distilled and used to continue to build the bridge for future generations. This question has been considered by other governments, who are members of the Wellbeing Economy Government partnership (WEGo) alongside Wales.
The national milestones are a further example of Wales’ ability to innovate in this field. This new ‘tier’ of the framework acknowledges that large sets of wellbeing indicators can struggle to provide clear pathways to what should be done and even harder to organise activity around. Milestones provide something of a half-way house that allow citizens to hold governments to account for actions that are judged to contribute to wellbeing in a more direct way. In the jargon, they provide ‘lead’ indicators to suggest whether we can expect change in the ‘lag’ indicators.
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But if part of the aim of the national milestones is to improve communication with the public on progress, Carnegie UK believe that there is much more that can be done to capture the public’s imagination.
Last year we developed an alternative measure of social progress – Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe)™. As a more holistic and relevant alternative to measures frequently used to demonstrate progress, such as GDP, GDWe uses the framework and data in the Office for National Statistics’ Measures of National Well-being Dashboard to provide an overall wellbeing score for England over the past six years. Our methodology has enabled us to produce a unique score for each of the wellbeing domains. The Welsh National Indicators could be analysed according to this methodology, to produce a nationally relevant Welsh GDWe score and significantly increase public use of data.
The other reflection we make is that people often find local data more relevant than a national picture (though they may want to compare and contrast between local, regional and national data). Indeed, we find a significant amount of interest in hyper-local data through Understanding Welsh Places. While the scale of creating hyper-local data for 46 indicators is daunting, it is far more plausible to ask if we can access direct or proxy data for the new national milestones at a neighbourhood level, allowing citizens to explore whether the sum total of efforts to improve Wales are resulting in change for their communities.
As we did in 2015, we recognise and applaud Welsh leadership in wellbeing. As many have commented, wellbeing is not a destination but a journey, and one that Welsh Government and its partners are clearly continuing to take seriously.
Measuring progress by using broader principles than solely economic measures is something that Carnegie UK have advocated for many years. We believe that social progress is only possible when social, economic, environmental and democratic wellbeing outcomes are seen as being equally important and are given equal weight. By looking after the wellbeing of all citizens – what we call collective wellbeing – we can work to create a society where everyone can live well together.
To find out more about GDWe, visit: https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/programmes/gdwe/ or join the debate online using the hashtag #GDWe.
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