Thursday, 13 December 2012

Great strides made on well-being in Wales

I’m possibly being a bit premature, but still, the festive period is just around the corner and it’s traditional to look back at the achievements of the last year.  And since I’m in a thoughtful mood, why not celebrate how the well-being agenda in Wales has come on a great deal in the four and a half years since I started leading this particular project.

When I began as the coordinator for the Wellbeing Wales Network, I spent my time working with a small group of interested individuals and organisations from the voluntary sector.  We wanted to capture and understand the ‘unintended consequences’ of the sector’s work, which was delivering countless benefits to their client group, but was invariably being measured on just a small part of their overall efforts.  A lot of our collective activity was being assessed in terms of process, with aims and targets being the language of success.  

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I was on the end of polite yet blank looks when I tried to discuss with people how wellbeing could complement such activity.

But things have moved on.  I’m now in the fantastic position where I can see support for wellbeing in every sector in Wales; where talking about wellbeing doesn’t generate the puzzled looks of the past and early adopters are putting wellbeing at the heart of their organisation’s activities.

It’s more of the same message for the last twelve months.  The Welsh Government has started to operationalize the commitments of 1998 green paper, Better Health, Better Wales.  Recent examples include wellbeing very much at the heart of a proposed Sustainable Development Bill, the draft Social Services and Wellbeing Bill and most recently in the development of a national outcomes framework for Social Services in Wales.

The last eighteen months has also seen a shift within the public sector and partners to move away from processes to outcomes. The adoption by many of Results Based Accountability complements the interest in promoting wellbeing by providing the right tool for the job. 

For a start, plain language discussions become easier where different organisations with different ways of working recognize that increased population wellbeing could be the über-outcome they could all sign up to.  The RBA approach also helps identify what’s missing, including the right data and the right partners to get the job done.

And here comes the cautionary sting in the tail.  In the future, more emphasis is going to have to be placed on the authenticity behind organisations and activities that claim to promote wellbeing.  Wellbeing shouldn’t be another bandwagon that others rush to jump on without making any significant changes to how they work.  These are challenging times with many problems facing society, with fewer and fewer resources available at national and local government level to tackle them. This means less money and fewer people available to do the job.  So the right decisions need to be taken on how these resources can be used to best effect.  

That means the lessons learned from the Office of National Statistics, Lles Cymru Wellbeing Wales and others need to be somehow focused at the core of organisational planning, so that everyone understands wellbeing and even the laggards sign up.

Dafydd Thomas

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