Talking wellbeing

Engaging people in the wellbeing policy-making process

By running three public dialogues on wellbeing in policy, this project found that the public were interested and engaged with wellbeing, and that the wellbeing lens enabled them to really consider what matters to them. This has the potential, not only to deliver better policy, but also to reconnect people to the policy-making process in a meaningful way.

Since 2010 the government has made great strides in measuring population wellbeing. The question now is how to use that data, and other evidence on wellbeing, to create better policies.

This project aimed to involve members of the public in doing just that. In order to achieve these aims, we ran three public dialogues in each of which members of the public were presented with a policy challenge, and asked to consider high wellbeing solutions. We recruited a range of people of different ages and backgrounds who would be affected by each policy area. For each policy area we held two, three-hour workshops in two areas of the country. The project was lead by NEF with Hopkins van Mil, and funded by the Cabinet Office and Sciencewise.

By bringing together the wellbeing and open policy-making agendas we hoped to strengthen both. We found that introducing a wellbeing lens helped participants engage with the policy issues in a meaningful way, enabling clearer and deeper focus on what really matters to them.

In particular, participants were able to use the wellbeing lens to challenge the assumptions underpinning the policy design and in some cases the objectives. This allowed them to make quite broad suggestions for changes to policy priorities.

We therefore recommend that where possible, wellbeing is introduced in public dialogue at an early stage of the policy cycle, when challenging objectives and assumptions is most useful, though it can also have value with other engagement techniques at later stages of the cycle.

Based on consideration of the wellbeing evidence, dialogue participants came up with suggestions on the three policy questions posed to them.

Increasing the incomes of low earners

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were interested in how a better understanding of wellbeing may help them design policy to encourage and support low earners to increase their incomes.

Key findings and policy implications

  • Many participants working part time were not interested in working longer hours due to the negative perceived effect on their wellbeing. We therefore suggests that policies to help low earners increase their hours should avoid targeting those working part time voluntarily.
  • For parents who were interested in working longer hours, the provision of affordable, flexible childcare was key.
  • Participants felt that improving the quality of work would motivate them to increase their earnings, and felt that government could play a pro-active role in supporting this.
  • Participants wanted flexible, personal, supportive and high quality services to help them pursue higher incomes, ideally being assigned to one contact person. However, many felt Jobcentre Plus would not be able to provide this support because of perceptions that it had a stigmatising and punitive culture, suggesting other alternatives should be considered.

Reducing loneliness

The Cabinet Office’s Social Action Team were interested in how to reduce loneliness in communities.

Key findings and policy implications

  • While many participants were very keen to be involved in building stronger communities and overcoming loneliness, some felt they could not do this alone. They suggested that investment by government was needed to help them take the first step in creating stronger communities, for example in the form of community workers or community centres.
  • Participants explained that a lack of money was both a cause of loneliness, and a barrier to undertaking activities that would help to reduce their loneliness. We therefore suggest that interventions to reduce loneliness explicitly aim to overcome inequalities in loneliness according to income.
  • Participants felt that GPs have an important role to play in reducing loneliness and felt strongly that GPs needed to be more aware of loneliness as an issue. In particular, they were worried about the use of medication to treat loneliness, and many preferred approaches which addressed the underlying causes.

Increasing the uptake of community rights

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) were interested in what would encourage more people to consider exercising their community rights, or take control of decision-making in their communities in other ways.

Key findings and policy implications

  • Some participants were interested in being involved in the community rights (though not in a leadership role), due to the wellbeing benefits of the process and the benefits to their quality of life that could be secured through the outcomes.
  • However, there were also participants who were less enthusiastic about taking a pro-active role in exercising the community rights in their current form. This was due to a number of perceived difficulties with exercising the rights, including the long time frame; the lack of local leadership and cohesion needed to get an initiative off the ground (particularly in deprived areas); the excessive levels of time commitment and skill often required; and the risk of failure and conflict. Participants felt that these could have negative effects on their wellbeing. Nevertheless, many participants did express a strong desire to engage more with their communities and help shape the place they lived, due to the wellbeing benefits they perceived would come about from doing so.
  • Some participants in one of the more deprived areas were particularly negative about the right to challenge’, as this was perceived negatively by many as a back door to privatisation.
  • We suggest that creating further community rights, or developing existing ones, could be more popular to a wider range of people if the emphasis is more on helping people participate in the decisions that affect them, rather than taking over assets and services. In addition, opportunities should be promoted to lower the barriers of participation by allowing for some quick wins.

Download the appendix to read the full dialogue findings 

Download the technical annexes to learn about the workshop plans and materials used

Watch the video describing the dialogue process



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