Benefits of outcomes based wellbeing frameworks

Research by the OECD and Carnegie UK Trust on the use of wellbeing frameworks at the national and local level identifies that there are three key benefits that wellbeing frameworks offer:

·        Joined up government: Wellbeing frameworks support cross-departmental working and provide a mechanism for governments to move away from more traditional sector-specific thinking.

·        Informing policy development: Wellbeing frameworks, which are outcome focused, provide a means of planning ahead and a lens for reflecting back on progress, which makes decision-making and spending more transparent.

·        Citizen engagement: Developing a wellbeing framework can catalyse a meaningful conversation with citizens about what matters to them where they live. It gives people, communities and non-government organisations an opportunity to express their priorities and later to see whether governments’ are working towards them.

Challenges

Towards a Wellbeing Framework a background report prepared for the Measuring Wellbeing Roundtable in Northern Ireland identifies some of the challenges associated with outcomes approaches:

·        Outcomes based approaches are not immune to gaming: as Karen Scott, Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal identifies in evidence submitted to the Northern Ireland Roundtable on Wellbeing. This is particularly the case when meeting/ not meeting outcomes is associated with rewards or penalties thereby creating a culture of not admitting when something has not worked, a point that Toby Lowe elaborates in this Guardian article about Payment by Results. Scott suggests that to counter this a focus on wellbeing should include a whole public sector culture shift, away from targets and towards transparency, understanding and trust.

·       Not all outcomes are measurable and attribution and impact is complex: outcomes are by their nature the result of an interplay of many different factors – understanding how policies and programmes act to improve outcomes or otherwise can therefore be difficult. Similarly whether any particular outcome has a positive impact on someone’s overall wellbeing can be highly context dependent. Finally some important aspects of life cannot be easily measured as an outcome [for example someone’s ability to love and care for others].

The authors of Towards a Wellbeing Framework argue that given these challenges outcomes must be about more than simply measurement of performance and accountability but rather: ‘are only meaningful in the context of a desire to create a series of virtuous learning loops’.