Guest blog: NPC’s Dan Corry on Wellbeing over the life-course

 

Dan Corry, Chief Executive of NPC and What Works Wellbeing board member, reports from the Wellbeing over the Life Course one day conference run by our Cross Cutting Team led by Lord Layard at London School of Economics (LSE).

DanThe Wellbeing juggernaut is well and truly ploughing on in the academic world as evidenced by a full day conference held recently at the LSE. Here, some of the best academics around presented draft chapters of a book due to come out soon, looking at wellbeing in many different ways. These included Richard Layard, Andrew Clark and Andrew Steptoe. Equally powerful academics, like Alan Manning, Jane Waldfogel and Tim Besley, discussed them and the audience – of which I and several of my What Works Centre for Wellbeing colleagues were part – chipped in.

The book, and the day, looked at wellbeing issues as they affect young people and are influenced by the early years; at those of working age; and at the wellbeing of older people too. They used a number of different data sets and were all focused around the causes and correlates with subjective wellbeing, a controversial issue in its own right but one that conference organiser Richard Layard still thinks is the best measure for us to use however imperfect it inevitably is.

There was a lot to take in, but here are some of the particular things that struck me. None are ground breaking, but all are of interest.

  • This area is growing fast. The fact that questions about wellbeing (along the lines of the four ONS questions) are being added to many surveys makes this analysis much more possible. We are seeing economists and other disciplines getting into the area using cross section and panel data.
  • Expectations matter. Subjective wellbeing is all about how you feel and so is bound to include how you feel you are faring relative to how you expected or want to feel. One finding for instance (from a recent DCLG survey) that shows that wellbeing is not diminished by living in a damp, over-occupied property seems to suggest that people living in such conditions are comparing themselves to those who have nothing, not those in fancy houses. The media also becomes important in this space, helping set norms – often very unrepresentative and misleading ones.
  • Peer effects matter too. One of the bits of research suggested that while being unemployed is detrimental for wellbeing (indeed one of the worst things that can happen to you), being in an area where there are a lot of other people unemployed means it is less bad. On the other hand it makes those in employment feel a bit worse. One needs to be careful on policy prescriptions therefore – the fact that one could improve short term wellbeing by making all the unemployed live in the same area, would do nothing for longer term wellbeing.
  • Some impacts of bad things are temporary – some go on and on. Research presented suggested that while a separation in a relationship is pretty bad for wellbeing, after a few years wellbeing moves back to the level it was before. The same happens with losing a spouse. Even the boost from deciding to have a child and becoming a parent appears not to last! But other things do have a lasting impact – being in a relationship or partnership is a good example.
  • People adapt – sometimes with strange affects. Women used to do poorly paid, low status work. Many now have better jobs. But the wellbeing associated with the job appears to be no better – or sometimes worse. If we had been making decisions based on wellbeing we might have said this change is of no value and should be resisted – which feels completely wrong.
  • There are externalities at play with profound implications for policy making based on wellbeing. The analysis suggests for instance that my income going up is good for my wellbeing, but may make you feel worse. Same if I get a job. So maximising society wellbeing is not at all the same as pushing up individual wellbeing.
  • The wellbeing lens is putting a new emphasis on some issues – like mental health and early action, something emphasised by former Cabinet Secretary and wellbeing enthusiast Gus O’Donnell. There is a danger that we get into a tautology in some of this – naturally those who are depressed or have anxiety related conditions are likely to say they have low wellbeing; we surely did not need wellbeing data to tell us this! But nevertheless the focus this agenda has given to mental health has been very valuable and  the same sort of thing applies to relationships, something I have written about elsewhere .
  • A focus on the most unhappy is sometimes useful. Looking at the bottom 10% in terms of wellbeing for instance really helps us see who we should perhaps be looking to help most. Looking at the average can obscure the things we really want to get at and we want to also explore changes in wellbeing inequality alongside changes in average wellbeing.
  • How you are considered matters to your wellbeing. Alan Manning alluded to the Brexit vote and the fact that while a job in a service industry might be as well paid as a job in the mines it is unlikely to carry the same sense of worth or status.
  • Psycho-social factors in childhood matter more to wellbeing than academic ones. This raises issues about schools policy and parental behaviour, as well as putting a big focus on the mother’s mental health. We also need to get some data on genetics into the analysis to see how much, if any, this is driving.
  • There are inevitably lots of interactions that will bedevil the search for key drivers of wellbeing. For instance separation is associated with lower wellbeing, but at least some of this is due to income dropping not separation per se.
  • We need to dig harder on gender. The research presented to us rarely distinguished between men and women. That seemed to most a big gap – as there is no real reason to think the drivers of wellbeing will always be the same across genders.
  • The old are not less happy than the young. As Andrew Steptoe noted, given all the things that happen to you health and relationship-wise as you get older, this is perhaps surprising. In addition physical health seemed to be less important for older people than emotional health and ‘social’ issues.
  • We can’t use this version of wellbeing for deciding on things like climate change. Perhaps obviously, subjective wellbeing is not a good way to make decisions on things that are about the future and – implicitly – about assessments of future risks and discount rates.

As I hope this summary shows, this whole agenda is raising many fascinating issue. Many are familiar, a few are surprising, but all are making us think harder about the world and how to make it a better place.  And that cannot be bad for the wellbeing of all of us.

→ Share your reflections on the forum

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aligning Public Policy with the Way People Want to Live – The New Zealand Treasury’s Living Standards Framework

Wellbeing is being embraced by policy makers around the world and this week we welcome colleagues from New Zealand’s Treasury to discuss their Living Standards Framework.

New Zealand Treasury’s vision is to achieve higher living standards for its residents, using a much wider set of measures than just income to define wellbeing. Here, Joey Au and Girol Karacaoglu set out the Living Standards Framework:


 

GirolKGirol Karacaoglu, Chief Economist     Joey Au,Senior AdvisorJoey Au - NZ Treasury  

 New Zealand Treasury

The ultimate purpose of public policy is to improve people’s lives, now and into the future. 

We do not know how each and every individual wishes to live his/her life, nor do we wish to pass judgement on how they should be living their lives.OECDBLI

We can however rely on the robust findings of numerous studies, covering a large variety of countries and cultures, about the broader domains of individual wellbeing.

For example, OECD’s Better Life Initiative (BLI) [OECD (2013)] focuses on domains classified under quality of life and material conditions (Figure 1).

 

The Treasury’s Living Standards Framework (LSF) follows the lead of Atkinson (2015), Gough (2015), Phelps (2013), Sen (2009), and others, in emphasising that public policy can improve people’s lives now and into the future by enhancing the capabilities and opportunities, as well as incentives, of individuals to pursue the lives they have reason to value. It provides a guide for thinking about good economic, environmental and social policies in an integrated way and is illustrated in Figure 2.

NZTreasury LSF

Good public policy focuses on ensuring that the wellbeing-generating capacity of capital assets (human, social, natural and economic capital) is sustained or enhanced – that is: not eroded by current generations at the expense of future generations (sustainability);shared in a manner consistent with sustaining or enhancing the capital base (equity); no particular social group(s) impose their concepts of wellbeing on others, respecting others’ rights to live the kinds of lives they have reason to value (social cohesion); capital assets are protected against major systemic risks (resilience); and the material wellbeing generating potential of these assets (“comprehensive wealth”) is enhanced (raising potential economic growth).

These five dimensions of the LSF define the boundaries of society’s wellbeing frontier, and are therefore of legitimate interest for a public policy that aims to push out these boundaries, while also being cognisant of their interdependencies.

Treasury’s stylised LSF model, while drawing on the work of Arrow et al (2012), is intended to serve as a policy-guiding tool. It weaves together threads from the wellbeing, human needs, sustainable development, endogenous economic growth, and directed technical change (favouring “clean” technology) literatures [Karacaoglu (2015)].

The model suggests that a time-consistent policy package needs to be strongly grounded in the history, cultures and values of the society it is intended for. Universal access to basic income, and to health services, housing and education, provides the necessary platform. A set of economic, social and environmental infrastructures (including strong institutions) act as enablers, but also provide the incentives to participate productively in economic and social life.

In practice, to design effective and efficient public policies, we need to know which aspects of living standards are most important to people, and be able to assess the trade-offs they are willing to accept. Au et al (2015) demonstrate an application of the survey-based methodology we are increasingly using to make these assessments. Au and Karacaoglu (2015) provide a summary of the applications of the LSF in the Treasury’s policy advice.

→ NZ Treasury Living Standards Framework

 

A thousand wellbeing flowers are blooming


Saamah Abdallah
, Senior Researcher & Programme Manager, NEF and part of the Community Wellbeing evidence team, shares his thoughts from the 5th OECD World Forum.


saamahMexico is a country of vivid colours, and its bright vibrant flowers are a welcome sight when you’ve come from autumnal England.  So it was a fitting country for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Fifth World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy, where, indeed it was clear that wellbeing initiatives around the world are starting to bloom.

The OECD’s World Forums have been central to the development of the wellbeing agenda.  The first one, in Palermo in 2004, was little more than an exploration of the idea that there are new things that we should be measuring to understand progress.  2007, the Istanbul Declaration was signed by the OECD, the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, the European Commission, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and the World Bank, demonstrating the desire of the signatories to move Beyond GDP.  At the last World Forum, in New Delhi in 2012, talk was still focussed on measurement, and how it should be done.  But now, in 2015, in Guadalajara in Mexico, data was flowing and the policy implications being considered.

Countries all around the world were starting to measure wellbeing in ways that one could not have imagined a few years ago. Turkey has carried out a survey reaching over 120,000 households so as to be able to map wellbeing across its 81 provinces. In several states across Australia, wellbeing is being assessed for every single child at school. In Ecuador, the 2008 constitution incorporates the concept of Buen Vivir (good living) as their model of development (in opposition to a focus on economic growth) and the statistics department there is busy trying to measure this objective. The tiny Pacific state of Vanuatu, that came top of the first Happy Planet Index in 2006, has started collecting wellbeing data. And in Mexico itself, as well as an impressive network of citizen-led local initiatives measuring wellbeing, the official statistics office published the results of a large scale survey which has allowed them to assess wellbeing across all the 31 states, and explore the relationship between subjective wellbeing and material conditions.

Presenters were beginning to link wellbeing evidence to clear policy implications. Not just academics and think tanks, but political actors as well. UK MP David Lammy talked about supporting active transport, and arts and culture education. Aristoteles Sandoval, the Governor of Jalisco, the state Guadalajara is part of, talked about the need to reduce inequality (as indeed did almost everyone at the event). Sangheon Lee, from the International Labour Organisation highlighted new evidence that job quality does not need to come at the cost of job quantity.

And mechanisms are beginning to be put in place to ensure new data is considered in policy decisions. In Israel, the Ministry for Environmental Protection, Central Bureau of Statistics and Economic Council are creating a structure of wellbeing indicators which government ministers will be held to account on. In Finland, the Prime Minister’s office is identifying 25-30 indicators on five key themes with the same purpose.

The What Works Centre, which is of course one of the UK’s mechanisms for getting wellbeing data used, was well represented at the conference.  Chair Dr. Paul Litchfield spoke on a plenary panel about behaviour insights (I also chaired the session). Lord Richard Layard, who leads the cross-cutting evidence programme, spoke at a session on the importance of subjective wellbeing for the sustainable development agenda.  And Lord Gus O’Donnell, Patron of the What Works Centre, spoke at a plenary session on how alternative indicators were already being used in policy.

Slowly but surely, wellbeing is getting into policy.  The UK is making important contributions to this global movement, but there’s a lot we can learn from elsewhere too.  The What Works Centre will be keeping an eye on all this to make sure we do know what works to improve wellbeing.

Transforming policy changing lives – a view from the 5th OECD World Forum

OECD world forumThe OECD (partners on our cross-cutting evidence programme) held it’s 5th World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy last week with a focus on action and implementation.

Bringing together examples of policies, frameworks and institutions that are using new well-being measures around the world it looked to answer the question evolving from “How do we measure progress?” to “How do we best put those measures into practice for policies aimed at improving lives?”.

videos of all the forum sessions.

Our Chair, Dr Paul Litchfield reflects on the forum below.


PaulLitchfieldI have just attended the 5TH OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge & Policy held in Guadalajara, Mexico.  The event drew some 1,400 representatives from around the world to discuss wellbeing and how measures are being used to drive a new approach to setting and evaluating policy.

For me, the event signalled a step change in attitudes.  Multiple examples were showcased of how a focus on wellbeing is transforming lives and, critically, a succession of political leaders articulated how they are now placing the concept at the heart of what their administrations are seeking to achieve.  Inevitably at an event with a strong focus on statistics, measurement featured strongly but it was refreshing to hear that most people are moving beyond dry debates about definitions and methodologies to focus on action and implementation.  The broad range of backgrounds evident among the speakers reflected the potential strength that is available through multidisciplinary collaboration.  However, there are many residual silos of expertise that will compromise rapid progress unless we learn each other’s languages, adapt to each other’s ways of thinking and respect evidence gathered in a manner different to our own conventions.

The programme featured a number of inspirational interventions but, as ever, Joseph Stiglitz’s contribution stood out for its coherence, gravitas and challenging messages.  The evidence presented to show the rise in inequalities that we have experienced in recent times was sobering.  Similarly the observation that the impact on human capital of the economic crisis has been underrepresented was compelling and the lifelong loss of training and skills acquisition resulting from high levels of youth unemployment must be a major cause for concern.

On a more positive note, the demonstration of how “big” and crowd sourced data can be used to supplement traditional collection methods was stimulating.  The elegant presentation by Johannes Eichstaedt of the strong predictive power of language used in social media to identify risk factors for disease and the optimum areas for intervention was truly exciting for a physician trained long before Twitter and other applications had been conceived.  The point was well made however that such sources are by nature ephemeral and cannot therefore be relied upon for the longitudinal studies that add so much to our knowledge.OECDvideo

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing was well represented with Gus O’Donnell, Richard Layard and Saamah Abdallah all speaking from the platform.  I took the opportunity in the panel session to which I contributed to describe the work of the Centre and to set that in the context of the What Works Network and the behavioural insights movement in general.  Our work attracted considerable interest and there is undoubtedly potential for future collaboration with a number of bodies from around the world.

Expert Teams and Board Members appointed for What Works Centre for Wellbeing

The Wha8-2754esrc-logot Works Centre for Wellbein2903577 What Works Banner Stand V0_2.inddg, together with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have announced the successful bids for four research programmes to understand what really works to improve the wellbeing of people in the UK.

Over the next three years, the What Works Centre for Wellbeing will enable policy-makers, local authorities,  employers and others to use evidence of wellbeing impact in decision making and to improve people’s lives, by translating academic evaluation of wellbeing measures into easy-to-use information about effectiveness, cost and applicability.

The successful consortia are led by world-renowned academics

Professor Richard LayardProfessor Kevin DanielsProfessor Peter KindermanProfessor Christina Victor

 

 

 

Overall, the research spans twelve universities, five civil society groups, and reaches internationally through the OECD. More detailed information on the teams and the work of the evidence programmes is here

The Centre and evidence programmes have been funded by a number of partner organisations.

 Cross-Cutting Capabilities

Professor Lord Richard Layard, LSE, leads the Cross-Cutting Capabilities programme, working in collaboration with

  • London School of Economics
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • Institute for Education

They are partnering with

  • Action for Happiness
  • University of Oxford
  • How to Thrive

The team will assess and develop methods of understanding how policy and practice affect wellbeing. They will look at the effect of different factors on wellbeing, analyse the impact of wellbeing on other outcomes and develop a framework for cost-effectiveness analysis with wellbeing as the measure of benefit.  They will also conduct life course analysis, looking at the how important early life is to wellbeing in later years.

Work, Learning and Wellbeing

Professor Kevin Daniels, UEA, leads the Work, Learning and Wellbeing evidence programme, a collaboration between

  • University of East Anglia
  • University of Essex

The evidence programme is focused on protecting and enhancing the wellbeing of workers, adult learners and those seeking work.

Bringing Wellbeing to Community

Prof Peter Kinderman, University of Liverpool, leads the Community Wellbeing evidence programme. His team is a collaboration of five universities including

  • Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice at the University of Liverpool
  • Sheffield University
  • Leeds Beckett University
  • Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Durham University

They are joined by five civil society organisations including

  • New Economics Foundation
  • Locality
  • Happy City
  • Centre for Local Economic Strategies
  • Social Life Ltd

The evidence programme will focus on how community wellbeing is affected by issues such as local social networks, having a say over what happens in our community, and local living conditions.

Culture, Sport and Wellbeing

Professor Christina Victor, Brunel University London, leads the Culture, Sport and Wellbeing evidence programme, a collaboration between

  • Brunel University London
  • University of Brighton
  • London School of Economics
  • University of Winchester

They will look at the wellbeing benefits of participation in different culture and sport practices for people in a wide range of circumstances.

Board appointments

PaulLitchfieldThe Centre has recently appointed its first Board of non-executive Directors. The Chair, Dr Litchfield, is joined by:

Gregor Henderson (National Lead for Wellbeing and Mental Health at Public Health England), and Phil Sooben (Director of Policy, Resources and Communications, ESRC) will join the board for an initial period as the Centre’s major partners in delivery.

Further recruitment for board members, including specifically from areas of local government and academia are still to come. Follow this website for the latest opportunities.

OECD Seminar, 27 January 2015

Measuring well-being in regions and cities: How can it help improving policy-making?

Luiz De Mello, Deputy Director of the Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate and Monica Brezzi, Head of the Regional Analysis and Statistics Unit logooecd_en

27 January 2015, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

The London School of Economics and Political Science, Clement House, Aldwych; room CLM 502

The seminar will overview the OECD Regional Well-Being FrameworkOECDWBtool and the main insights on the factors determining well-being in regions. It will also discuss possible extensions of this framework to provide evidence for decision making to pursue an inclusive growth agenda in regions that combines increased prosperity in different dimensions with greater equity. Abstract

The seminar is free and open to all – there is no need to register.

 

What Works Centre for Wellbeing announced today

Lord Gus OGus‘Donnell has announced that a new ‘What Works Centre for Wellbeing’ is being set up to bring together evidence about what works to improve wellbeing and to put that evidence into the hands of those that need it to make decisions.

The establishment of an independent What Works Centre for Wellbeing builds on the ONS Measuring National Wellbeing Programme and the Commission on Wellbeing and Policy. The Centre joins a network of independent What Works Centres that are responsible for distilling and sharing the evidence to support decision making.

The Centre is a collaboration and has initial funding of over £3.5million over three years, in-kind resourcing and the support of a broad group of founding partners.  Today’s announcement is in partnership with BT, Happy City and Bristol City Council.

Also published today are:

Why What Workswhat works network logo

The What Works Initiative is based on the principle that good decision-making should be informed by the best available evidence on what works and what does not. It aims to improve public services for people and communities by ensuring that resources are focused on those things which will have the greatest positive impact.

What Works Centres are fundamentally different from standard research centres. They aim to directly support policy makers, commissioners and local practitioners by providing reliable, accessible products which communicate the likely impact of real policy initiatives, and building professional capacity to use evidence effectively.

There are now nine Independent What Works Centres, including one in Scotland and one in Wales, supported by a combination of ESRC, Government, and charitable funding.

Why Wellbeing

Fundamentally, wellbeing is about quality of life and creating the conditions for people to live better lives. The Centre will bring together the best available evidence of the practical action that can be taken to increase wellbeing.

Locally

Wellbeing is an increasing part of policy and practice across a range of sectors and is important to the Scottish and Welsh Governments and Northern Ireland Executive, as well as major funders and commissioners such as the BIG Lottery Fund and local authorities including Health and Wellbeing boards. Employers are focusing on wellbeing in the workplace and its links to productivity and engagement. There is a growing interest in the social return on investment, with evaluation, innovation and collaboration fundamental to making the most of scare resources.

This rapidly developing field has many pioneering leaders and practitioners keen to connect up, share their work, learn from others, build the evidence base and bringing together the fragmented project and pilot evaluations into a meaningful, reliable, easy to navigate source. A strong credible evidence base can support those in the wellbeing field to be able to make their case for change, support bids and business cases and focus their efforts for the biggest impact.

Nationally

The UK is regarded as one of the leading countries on wellbeing. In November 2010, David Cameron launched the Measuring National Wellbeing Programme undertaken by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Following a national debate asking people across the UK what matters most to them, ONS developed a measurement framework for wellbeing comprising 10 domains including personal wellbeing. Personal wellbeing data is now available for every local authority area across the UK.

Internationally

The OECD, WHO, the UN and the European Commission are all significantly engaged in wellbeing. A central focus of this international interest is on how societies, governments, communities and populations measure their progress, economic and social, recognising the limits of GDP as an indicator of economic performance and social progress.

About What Works Centres

What Works Centre is independent of government with a clear and relevant policy and delivery focus. The functions of a Centre are to:

  • Undertake systematic assessment of relevant evidence and produce a sound, accurate, clear and actionable synthesis of the global evidence base which:
    • Assesses and ranks interventions on the basis of effectiveness and cost effectiveness
    • Shows applicability
    • Shows the relative cost of interventions
    • Shows the strength of evidence on an agreed scale
  • Put the needs and interests of users and stakeholders at the heart of shaping a workplan
  • Advise those commissioning and undertaking innovative interventions and research projects to ensure that their work can be evaluated effectively
  • Publish and disseminate findings in a format that can be understood, interpreted and acted upon
  • To help produce a common currency for comparing the effectiveness of interventions
  • Identify research and capability gaps and work with partners to fill them

What next

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing is being set up by a development group of the founding partners, chaired by Lord Gus O’Donnell. The centre will be an independent body and a Chair, Board and staff for the centre will be recruited. The ESRC will commission the Centre’s evidence programmes and Public Health England are hosting the development team for the Centre until it is established.

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