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Toward wellbeing-based government: formalising a ‘Roundtable’ methodology

⌚ Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

CAPE partner Northumbria University recently marked the publication of a new report co-developed with Carnegie UK, ‘The Wellbeing Roundtable approach: A guide to creating effective wellbeing frameworks’, with a launch event at the Mining Institute in Newcastle. The report is the culmination of a year’s partnership work between the Carnegie UK Trust and Northumbria University funded by CAPE’s Collaboration Fund. Below, the lead academic on the project Max French reflects on the policy need for the project, how he collaborated with Carnegie to produce the report, and finally shares some thoughts on why co-production is important.

Max French

Assistant Professor, Northumbria University

In 2009, the report of the influential ‘Stiglitz-Sen-Fittoussi’ Commission advised governments to develop national measurement systems which took account of their society’s collective wellbeing. Thanks to concerted work by an international coalition of policy advocates, activists and academics, we understand how to measure a society’s wellbeing much better. A majority of OECD countries now have established systems for measuring and accounting for societal wellbeing.

But the factors which give these wellbeing frameworks staying power, and enable them to drive policy and practice, has been paid less attention. This has been an area of shared interest between Northumbria University and Carnegie UK, and our own research has identified a substantial implementation gap. When the Collaboration Fund was advertised, both of us saw an opportunity to work together on something more ambitious.

Carnegie UK had developed a distinctive methodology for helping governments develop wellbeing frameworks. In Scotland in 2011, Northern Ireland in 2015 and the North of Tyne in 2021 Carnegie had convened high-level ‘roundtables’ which developed wellbeing frameworks with independence from government, and gave space for partnership and public participation in their operations. There seemed to be something in the approach which helped give the resulting wellbeing agendas staying power and traction in government.

Co-developing the report with Carnegie

Using Carnegie UK’s policy networks, Northumbria University undertook an international review of practice and recruited an expert group of 39 individuals with expertise in wellbeing frameworks like the UN Sustainable Development Goals, wellbeing economy governments like Iceland, Wales and New Zealand, and more regional exemplars like the Greater London Authority and the North of Tyne. We engaged this group in a multi-round Delphi study, a structured approach to deliberation, in which the group shared experience and opinion about how a ‘Wellbeing Roundtable’ approach should be structured. We also facilitated the whole process together, with Carnegie UK staff convening the expert group and co-writing the final report. 

Our final report, written for a policy and practitioner audience, provides practical, evidence-based guidance to demystify the process of developing wellbeing measures and frameworks which are robust, broadly supported and carry the best chance of changing practice on the ground. This is the first guide to take this process step-by-step, covering nine stages to take a wellbeing framework (or, indeed, any other social purpose framework) from ambition to action. Both organisations also wanted to respect the diversity of international practice in this area. For this reason, we encouraged readers to adapt rather than adopt the Wellbeing Roundtable approach and co-developed an implementation toolkit, the ‘Wellbeing Framework Canvas’, to help with this.

Ambition through partnership

Policy and academic collaboration can often remain instrumental and transactional. Policy organisations are often contacted by academics to provide a letter of support for an already polished funding bid. Academics are often drafted into the policy process to provide research consultancy and evaluative services to draw learning (or legitimise) pre-existing policy initiatives. Either approach misses the opportunity to co-develop ideas and build valuable boundary-crossing relationships.

Carnegie UK could have taken the easy path, developing the guide based on their past experiences alone. By agreeing to take forward this more ambitious research in partnership, we gathered a much broader range of experiences and a depth of knowledge which produced a more ambitious and insightful guide. By working with Carnegie UK in partnership, we could speak to the cutting edge of practice, not just academic communities.

The barriers separating policy and practice present a significant institutional challenge to the knowledge economy and social progress. Those of us working in this area know there are many countervailing forces, and a long way to go. Regardless, the CAPE Collaboration Fund shows how with relatively small pockets of funding, research funders and knowledge brokers can invest in building genuine research partnerships which are more than the sum of their parts.