The Trust at #NIWellBeing
Now, I’m often as cynical as they come but if you based your opinions of the idea of a wellbeing framework on the cynics posting below Quintin Oliver’s piece on Slugger O'Toole I think you’d be wrong.
Crumlin Road Gaol was packed full with a diverse range of people from the public , private and community and voluntary sectors and what I got a real sense of was people not planning on giving up on talking about and – most importantly - doing what it takes to work together to make this place better.
Speakers from Wales and Scotland spoke about the collaborative work in those places to align all of government policy, and indeed wider society, around achieving better outcomes for people and communities.
Whereas, here in NI we have a programme for government made from disparate jigsaw pieces of various party manifestos – collaborative for sure, but not in a way that works.
There are those of us who feel a refocusing of government and wider society around a shared set of challenging wellbeing outcomes would be a good idea, leading to some real, meaningful and lasting results.
However, we aren’t foolish enough to think this would solve all of our problems.
Bolting on a set of top-down outcomes to a dysfunctional governance structure simply won’t work.
Interestingly there seemed to more interest – at least at our discussion table - in the opportunity to work with the new local councils through, amongst other things, community planning to plan for, and work to achieve, agreed wellbeing outcomes at a local level.
When thinking about these problems, it is easy to get caught up in jargon but fundamentally we are talking about the key areas – health, education, employment and others - in which we need to work to make people’s lives better now and in future.
Whilst, encouragingly, cynicism was in short supply, frustration wasn’t.
The sense of frustration clearly stemmed from a governance system at Executive level that most felt wasn’t working.
Challenged to come up with good examples at present where collective government had made a real difference to NI the expert panel of Aideen McGinley, Alderman Michael Henderson and DFP Chief David Stirling struggled somewhat, suggesting important, but not truly transformative, initiatives in public health, the promotion and development of Belfast as a tech hub and the delivery of large scale events such as the Giro D’Italia and the Irish Open.
Something Former DFP and now Health Minister Simon Hamilton said struck me as odd.
He essentially said that he and Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay and their respective parties had more in common around the vision for a better Northern Ireland than many would think, but there was little opportunity for them to engage and discuss such issues. Why not? What is stopping them?
My own conclusion is that a focus on wellbeing would be good and that the work of Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise organisations provides us with an opportunity to model what might be possible. It’s time for organisations working in the same places or on the same issues, to truly come together agree common outcomes and to plan and deliver their work to achieve them removing duplication and filling gaps where possible.
If we link this to place-based action through community planning there could be a powerful force for change.
I remain slightly cynical at the regional government level – we don’t have collective government with shared responsibility and without this, the idea of agreeing and working towards agreed wellbeing outcomes is surely impossible.
Conversely, could arrangements for more collective government with shared responsibility and a focus on wellbeing be mutually reinforcing?
One speaker described the type of society they wanted as one “their children didn’t want to leave” and whilst that resonated with many people, my own view is we should build a society our children don’t need to leave.
What does that look like? Impossible to say now but one thing is for sure, to work it out we need collaboration, innovation and engagement across all levels of society.
Were you at #NIWellBeing, what did you think? Let us know in the comments below or drop us a line on Twitter - @changetrust