A public dialogue to address the gap between the measurement of wellbeing and the use of these data to make better policies.
Problems and Purpose
The UK Government has made great strides in measuring national wellbeing. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has developed a ‘wellbeing wheel’ of 41 measures which, together, form a picture of social, environmental, and economic progress in the UK. This measurement framework incorporates objective and subjective measures, thereby accounting for citizens’ own views on progress alongside traditional indicators.
A key challenge for Government remained: how to bridge the gap between the measurement of wellbeing and the use of these data to make better policies, and to address that within the spirit of Open Policy Making in Government.
This public dialogue project aimed to address this challenge by exploring with members of the public how wellbeing evidence could be used in considering three policy areas in three different Government departments: increasing the income of low earners, reducing loneliness, and increasing community control through community rights. Essentially, the project tackled the question ‘So the Government is measuring wellbeing: what can and should it do to improve it?’ 
Background History and Context
Since 2010, the ONS has introduced one of the world’s most comprehensive systems for measuring national wellbeing. The evidence from the system allows the relative influence of different circumstances on wellbeing, and thus policy priorities, to be assessed. In 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his intention to use these data to inform policy:
The ONS has developed a ‘wellbeing wheel’ of 41 measures over 10 domains which, together, form a picture of social, environmental and economic progress in the UK. Building wellbeing into policy is expected to provide the following benefits:
- Innovation because it encourages consideration of factors that are not always systemically considered in policy (social networks, altruism, personal control, etc.)
- Joining-up because it draws attention and makes connections to other important areas of policy
- Early intervention by focusing on building assets rather than addressing deficits
While measuring wellbeing has developed over recent years, the question remained about how to bridge the gap between the science, measurement framework, and academic literature on the one hand with practical policy decision-making on the other. This dialogue project sought to tackle this question.
In summary, the project was designed to:
- Actively inform and support the three policy areas (increasing the income of low earners, reducing loneliness, and increasing community control through community rights) by providing:
- Fresh insights into the problems that needed addressing
- Additional options and choices for addressing these problems rooted in improving the wellbeing of those affected by the policy
- Communications messaging that resonates with the public and frontline workers, and supports the delivery of the policy options
- Prototype a repeatable Open Policy Making/public dialogue process that builds on the sciences of innovation management and wellbeing, and provides guidance on how to run future processes within Government
- Illustrate the relevance of wellbeing to these and other policy issues, helping to answer the ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ of putting the wellbeing of people and communities at the heart of decision-making. 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Total budget: £291 098 (Sciencewise contribution: £223, 280)
The project was delivered by NEF, and funded by the Cabinet Office and Sciencewise. Dialogue experts, Hopkins van Mil were contracted to deliver the dialogues, and 3KQ undertook an independent evaluation. 
- The Cabinet Office (CO) leads on the National Wellbeing programme and was the commissioning body for this project.
- nef (the new economics foundation) is an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being and was managing this project.
- Hopkins Van Mil facilitate engagement to gain insight and offer solutions for participation; public dialogue and community engagement, and was the delivery contractor for the dialogue.
- 3KQ are leaders in the field of facilitation and stakeholder engagement. 3KQ was the evaluator for the dialogue. 
- Sciencewise-ERC is a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills funded programme to bring scientists, government and the public together to explore the impact of science and technology in our lives. Its core aim is to develop the capacity of Government to carry out good dialogue, to gather and disseminate good practice, have successful two-way communications with the public and other stakeholders, and to embed the principles of good dialogue into internal Government processes.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Public participants involved: 137
Stakeholders: 30 frontline workers
Specialists: 14 policy or topic specialists
Participants were identified through an external recruitment agency according to a recruitment specification that aimed to include a diverse range of participants who would be affected by the policy area. They were given a fee for attending in line with good practice for delivering public dialogue. 
Methods and Tools Used
The dialogue project consisted of:
- A series of workshops with 137 specially recruited members of the public
- Workshops with 30 frontline workers to consider the feasibility of the suggestions from the public. The outcome was a set of written results that were shared with ministers and others.
Overall, the project engaged 137 members of the public through to the end of the dialogues and 30 frontline workers over a 10-week period between 6th May to 17th July 2014. Each event lasted 2-3 hours. Members of the public attended a Round 1 event, followed by a Round 2 event 2-3 weeks later. Frontline workers attended one event. The public events were run in two locations for all case studies. The three case study dialogues were staggered over time, broadly speaking with loneliness in May, increasing incomes in June, and community rights in July.
The second element of the project was to draw conclusions across all three case studies about how and when using wellbeing evidence in public dialogue can contribute to policy making. These conclusions were to help create a re-useable framework to enable policy makers to consider wellbeing effectively in future. The expectation was that the overall learning and framework would be made more widely available through the production of a 'toolkit'. At the time of writing, the toolkit is not yet published, so this evaluation report focuses primarily on the three case study dialogues. 
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Loneliness case study (Social Action Team in the Cabinet Office)
The question this dialogue case study aimed to answer was “What interventions, and by whom, could best alleviate high levels of loneliness, particularly those which can occur on a neighbourhood level?” Two locations were chosen: Bedford (6th and 21st May) and Leicester (7th and 22nd May). In addition, one frontline worker event was held in Bedford on 21st May. 48 members of the public attended the dialogue through to the end of Round 2, and 10 frontline workers attended their session.
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, therefore it was suggested 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 believed 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. 
Increasing Incomes case study, Department of Work and Pensions
The question this case study aimed to answer was “What policy levers can stimulate claimants to try to increase their income, and to do this voluntarily, without the threat of sanctions?” Two locations were chosen, Birmingham (2nd and 18th June) and Pontypool (3rd and 19th June), plus one frontline worker event (Birmingham 18th June). 41 members of the public attended the dialogue through to the end of Round 2, and 11 frontline workers attended their session.
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. Therefore, interventions to reduce loneliness could 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. 
Community rights case study
The questions this case study aimed to answer were: “How can the rights, or the support packages associated with them, increase wellbeing?” “Are there ways to refine the rights that would further enhance wellbeing and therefore encourage more people to exercise them?” “How can giving people more opportunities to take control of their communities in other ways help to increase wellbeing?” Two locations were chosen, London (30th June and 16th July) and Birkenhead (1st and 17th July), plus one frontline worker event in London (16th July). 48 members of the public attended the dialogue through to the end of Round 2, and 9 frontline workers attended their session.
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.
As such, 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. 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The project team worked with policy makers from the Cabinet Office, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on the three policy issues, as well as with the Cabinet Office on the use of the wellbeing approach more generally in building more Open Policy Making.
Policy makers involved in the process were very positive about the value of the dialogue. They reported the results to their ministers and to the cross- government Social Impacts Task Force, and disseminated the results to over 50 key figures in the wellbeing field and in the three policy areas.
Cabinet Office policy makers also confirmed that the dialogues were successful in meeting a key objective around developing, testing and learning about using a wellbeing lens in public dialogue. They learned that this approach was possible, it could be operationalised, and that wellbeing could enhance a dialogue by helping public participants to frame their views about a policy around what really drives their own and other people’s wellbeing. A wellbeing lens helped participants engage deeply on the policy topics of discussion. Policy leads identified impacts including:
- What was learned was a sufficient basis on which to develop a toolkit for others to use on how to run a ‘wellbeing dialogue’ and to share this learning more broadly
- The experience has supported the design, development and implementation of follow-on dialogues on wellbeing (launched in 2015) which will help to shape the work of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing – which will, in turn, influence a range of policy decisions. 
Participation in the process had a direct impact on the policy makers involved. Feedback from them was positive about the benefits of sitting in dialogue workshops and listening to views directly from members of the public. This part of the process appears to be particularly valuable and impactful on those involved, as does creating time and space after the event to re ect on the results of the dialogue. It seems that creating a safe space to think about the implications of the results supports innovation and enables the generation of ideas in response to the policy problem in question. At the right stage of policy, such ideas could and should have a clear impact on decision-making.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
What worked especially well
The process of research and development that fed public ideas from the first round into the second round was very effective and capitalised on the value of the public’s input. Adequate time is necessary to do this robustly. The ideas generated in the first round were researched by NEF in the 2 to 3 week period before the second round took place. The ideas and the associated research were fed in to the second round in a very productive way.
The attendance of policy leads at the workshop sessions was critical to the impact of the public dialogue and should be maximised in future dialogues. It was clear from the policy leads who attended the workshops in person that they had been positively affected by hearing stories and views directly from citizens and end users of their policies. There was no evidence in this project of public participants having objections to being observed (a concern sometimes raised by delivery contractors), as long as the observers were introduced clearly and behaved sensitively during the workshops.
The use of a project management organisation that has expertise in the technical content was very useful, although required clarity of expectations from the start regarding the degree of interpretation of results. There were clear benefits from using staff from NEF in this role as they understood to a great depth the context of the wellbeing field, and were aware of much of the existing evidence and debates. This approach did have risks in terms of the level of interpretation of the dialogue results that was required and how much the views of the specialists (NEF in this case) should be brought to bear in writing the dialogue report. Two reports were published – the main dialogue report by NEF including policy suggestions based on the findings and (as an appendix to that report) a summary of the dialogue results by the dialogue contractors (HVM). Earlier clarity on this reporting would have helped better manage this risk.
What worked less well
There was no specific deadline or decision before which the project had to be completed, yet there was a clear sense of ‘having to meet the deadline’ agreed with funders. This compressed the delivery of the three public dialogues. This meant there was little time to carry learning from one dialogue into the next as they had to be largely designed concurrently. The compression introduced significant delivery risks that peaked during the period of workshops and reporting, and these could have been minimised by extending the timescale – even 4 to 8 weeks would have made a big difference.
There was, at times, a feeling that discussions at the workshops with the public were slightly rushed or not probing deep enough, or that too much was being expected of participants during an evening workshop session. The amount of ‘air time’ with participants in workshops should be longer or the amount of content reduced. Over-compression was cited as a specific factor in reducing credibility by two out of three policy leads.
The development of a follow-on toolkit suffered from a lack of resource so started much later than planned. However, in practice, this has meant that the toolkit development is benefitting from follow-on dialogues. 
 Sciencewise (2015) “Case Study: Embedding wellbeing science in decision making”
 NEF (2015) “Talking Wellbeing: A Public Dialogue Approach to Effective Policy Making”, NEF
 Sciencewise (2017) “Embedding wellbeing science in decision making” [ONLINE] Available at: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20170110133021/http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/embedding-wellbeing-science-in-decision-making
 Bennett, R (2015) “Evaluation of public dialogues on wellbeing”, 3KQ, March 2015