Having a Closer Look at Wellbeing
Trust Director of Communications Nigel McKinney at the #NIWellBeing Conference in June 2015.

Having a Closer Look at Wellbeing

25 June 2015

It’s one of the hot topics of the moment and here we have a look at a recent conference, what wellbeing is and what it could mean for Northern Ireland…

One hundred and fifty representatives from the public, private and voluntary sectors gathered last week at the Crumlin Road gaol to discuss how best to define, push forward and measure wellbeing as a concept in public policy.

Carnegie Trust, in partnership with the Queen’s University School of Law, organised the Towards a Wellbeing Framework conference as part of its continuing work across the UK and Ireland to explore how wellbeing can be used as a tool to promote social change.

What is Wellbeing?

Wellbeing can be considered to be any and all factors that directly impact on the daily quality of live of citizens.

This includes mental and physical health, access to quality education, community safety, community relations, fuel poverty, the state of the environment and social capital.

What does Wellbeing mean for Northern Ireland?

Thanks to NI’s history and current status as a post-conflict society, understanding how to deliver wellbeing to all parts of society is a serious policy matter.

That seriousness was reflected in the conference programme, which included speeches by Health Minister Simon Hamilton, Daithi McKay, chair of the Finance and Personnel Committee, Aideen McGinley, co-chair Carnegie Roundtable on Wellbeing in NI, David Sterling, permanent secretary Dept Finance and Personnel and Rita Singh, Cynnal Cymru.

The work of the conference stems from the influential 2009 Stiglitz Commission on Measuring Economic Performance and Social Change, which called for developing better metrics to determine the overall economic health of societies.

The lead author of the report, renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz, argued that focusing solely on GDP growth results in lower living standards, and better tools must be used in order to get a more accurate picture of a society’s overall wellbeing

Drawing inspiration from this, the Carnegie Roundtable on Wellbeing in Northern Ireland has been working since 2014 to make wellbeing part of the clear and stated aim of the Northern Ireland Executive.

A wellbeing approach asks how society is progressing overall and also puts focus on outcomes – ie how people’s lives are actually improving – instead of focusing solely on economic indicators or government processes.

The roundtable has produced a series of 10 recommendations for the NI Executive.

Among them: “Integrate the concept of wellbeing as our collective purpose into its mission statement for all public services as part of the 2016-2012 Programme for Government”; “agree a set of strategic commitments and outcomes and place this at the core of the 2016-2012 Programme for Government”; “develop a training and capacity-building programme for all those bodies responsible for implementation”; compile an annual report for the Assembly, and convene an advisory group to provide ongoing technical support, advise on activities and provide external review of the implementation of the wellbeing framework.

Using wellbeing to promote social change is a concept that has been used successfully in several parts of the world.

In Scotland, the government has embraced the wellbeing agenda and undertaken world-leading reform of the public sector. That reform has been underpinned by an understanding that government needs to function as a single organisation - demonstrating strategic leadership and cooperation between public sector, local government and partners.

The concept of measuring wellbeing was also the driving force behind the development of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, an initiative that focused not on what experts determined wellbeing to be, but rather capture what wellbeing meant to the people of Canada.

The issue of wellbeing as policy tool has helped reinvigorate debate and engagement in Northern Ireland, said Aideen McGinley, co- chair of the Carnegie roundtable, after a visit to Scotland to gather evidence from the Scottish experience. “We’re at a bit of a political impasse and public services face a lot of challenges ahead,”

McGinley said after the fact-finding visit in July 2014. “To get this debate on an outcomes approach to wellbeing is very timely…[It has] refreshed the conversation that has got old and stale, and [has been] extremely well received by all sectors of civil society, politicians, public servants and others.

"People are really hungry for an opportunity to have something around which they could gain a narrative and a consensus".

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Peter Doran

"Great summary of the QUB School of Law-Carnegie Conference on Wellbeing. Something that we need to bring to the fore is the key role of funding bodies in underpinning a vision of societal wellbeing. We have been greatly influenced in our own work by Armatya Sen and Martha Nussbaum's work on The Capability Approach, which has much to say in the context of building a post conflict society. The other big word is 'emergence'....creating the space for transformative narratives, notably around the social economy and the collaborative 'commons'. "