Monday, 10 June 2013

Measuring Social Progress: Is Scotland really innovative?

This post is by Jennifer Wallace, Policy Manager at the Carnegie UK Trust and author of  Shifting the Dial: From Wellbeing Measures to Policy Practice’

Speaking at the OECD World Forum last year Professor Stiglitz used his platform to highlight three countries that were leading the way on measuring wellbeing: Canada, with its Canadian Index on Wellbeing; Bhutan with Gross National Happiness and Scotland.  While the first two are well known in the international debate on measuring wellbeing, Scotland Performs is not often referred to.  Mention wellbeing in a UK context and most people will automatically assume you are referring to the Office of National Statistics Measuring National Wellbeing programme.

So what is a small country, a devolved government within the United Kingdom, up to?  Why haven’t more people heard about it?  And why did Professor Stiglitz single it out? 

The Scottish experience of measuring wellbeing began in 2007.  A new minority government had been formed by the Scottish National Party and they were keen to find a different way of doing things.  They implemented a range of changes which became known as the ‘Scottish model of government.  These included the removal of horizontal departments in central government and, at a vertical level, the freeing up of local government.  The links between sectors and layers of government were to be held together by a new National Performance Framework (NPF) focused on the outcomes that the Scottish Government wanted to achieve for the people of Scotland.  The NPF is headed up by a purpose statement (to focus government on ‘creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth’), underpinned by 16 national outcomes and 50 national indicators.  The indicators include measures covering health, education, environment, income, housing, personal security and subjective wellbeing.  It is a whole-of-government framework and as such applies to all services and all layers of government. 

Originally the NPF was not referred to as a wellbeing measurement initiative.  It was seen as a performance management and accountability tool.  But the use of the word ‘flourishing’ in the Framework shows the link with the work of Professor Seligman in the USA.  By 2011, and following the Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring Economic Performance and Social Progress, the Scottish Government (now re-elected with a majority) were clearly articulating the National Performance Framework and Scotland Performs (its public facing website) as a wellbeing initiative. 

This history explains why few people in the measuring wellbeing world appear to have heard about Scotland Performs but there are other reasons.  Unlike most of the international examples of good practice, the Scottish initiative did not directly engage members of the public in a conversation about what wellbeing is to them.  Similarly, alongside many international examples that we found in our earlier case studies for Shifting the Dial, the Scottish initiative struggles to find ways to communicate with the public about its findings.

What the Scottish approach does excel at though is its impact on policy development.  This is the area that wellbeing initiatives struggle most with.  In particular, the Scottish NPF has helped with two key areas of policy development:
·      Shifting to prevention: The wellbeing perspective has encouraged decision-makers to look for creative ways of improving wellbeing by focusing ‘up-stream’.  In Scotland the NPF has supported the development of initiatives such as the Early Years Collaborative, which focuses on improving early childhood services and initiatives such as the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow which seek to reduce the level of offending in high-risk groups. 
·       Joined up solutions: the National Performance Framework provides government with a holistic view of the impact of current policies.  This was followed by a renewed emphasis on finding joined up solutions and overcoming the dominant, silo-based way of working, for example through the integration of health and adult social care.  
These developments are still at an early stage and it is unclear the extent to which they amount to a whole-scale wellbeing approach to public policy. In the ‘black box’ of policy making it is also unclear the extent to which these policy changes were developed because of the NPF, supported by it, or merely just parallel initiatives.

Despite these caveats, we believe there is something interesting happening in Scotland.  We are working with Oxfam Scotland and Scottish Environment Link to encourage the Scottish Government to review the framework, bringing it more in line with international best practice on wellbeing measurement.  

With international agreement that we must measure what matters, the focus must now transfer to how to use this in a policy context.  Here, despite starting from a different place, Scotland may well be ahead of the game.

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