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What does wellbeing mean to Northern Ireland?

By Lauren Pennycook, Carnegie UK Trust Guest Author · 14th May, 2014
Martin Reisch 272883
Image: Martin Reisch / Unsplash

More than ever, academics, governments and civil society organisations are recognising the need to involve the public in measuring what matters in our daily lives. Behind this move towards public participation is the firm belief that if we can measure our wellbeing more accurately as a society, then we will be better placed to bring about change in policy and practice which will have a positive impact on our lives. And with the introduction of new technology comes new opportunities to take part in the debate. Have internet access? You can take part in the Wikiprogress online discussion and have a say on how to measure wellbeing. Own an iPhone? You can download Mappiness, a free app from the London School of Economics which allows you to input data on your subjective wellbeing and find out when, where and with whom you’re at your happiest.

These tools also offer the opportunity to drill down and analyse the wellbeing of specific groups and demographics. For example, New Philanthropy Capital recently surveyed 7,000 11 – 16 year olds and found marked differences in the wellbeing of girls and boys; data which can be used to inform public policy. And ChangeX and NUI Galway recently conducted around 200 surveys and found that people across the Burren region were satisfied with the local environment but dissatisfied with local mental health services; data which can be used to influence local priorities.

In Northern Ireland, the Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring Wellbeing has just opened up an invitation to people to tell us about what really matters to them.  The views, thoughts and suggestions that we receive will feed directly into the work of the Roundtable as it carries out its work in 2014.

The aim of the Roundtable is to examine how the concept of wellbeing could help the Northern Ireland Executive to engage more effectively across government departments, with local government and wider civil society. The initiative is a partnership project between the Carnegie UK Trust and The School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast. It came together following the publication of the Trust’s Measuring Wellbeing in Northern Ireland: A new conversation for new times discussion paper which looks at how a focus on wellbeing could drive social change, improve public services, and improve outcomes for citizens and communities in Northern Ireland. The Roundtable members include cross-party representatives, those from the third sector, academics, and local government representatives. The Roundtable also has the support of Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton MLA and the Assembly Finance Committee Chair, Daithí McKay MLA.

The Roundtable is now inviting submissions on its work from interested parties across Northern Ireland and beyond, and we are keen to receive input from a wide range of people. Individuals and organisations are invited to address one or more questions and themes on the priority challenges for wellbeing in Northern Ireland; how wellbeing can inform a shared narrative across all communities; and how an outcomes based approach could be embedded in government at all levels of Northern Ireland:

  1. Is ‘wellbeing’ a useful focus for the Northern Ireland Executive, local government and partners? If you were to draft a high-level statement of purpose for the Northern Ireland Executive focusing on wellbeing, what would it be?
  2. What are the priority challenges for:
  3. Subjective wellbeing? (e.g. social connection, poor community relations, insecurity, identity issues, mental health, addiction etc.)
  4. Objective wellbeing? (e.g. income inequality, unemployment, poor environmental protection, shelter, educational under achievement etc.)
  5. Do you agree that many of the post-conflict and legacy challenges in Northern Ireland are essentially wellbeing issues that – once addressed – could unlock a more peaceful future?
  6. How can wellbeing inform a shared policy narrative across central and local government in Northern Ireland?
  7. How might an outcomes based approach be embedded in government at all levels in Northern Ireland? What outcomes should the Executive aspire to in the next two Programmes for Government? 
  8. If the Northern Ireland Executive adopted a transparent performance framework, with wellbeing as a focus for measurement, how could the Government effectively mobilize communities of users (policy designers, civil servants, local government, the private sector, NGOs, think tanks, citizens)?

Responses to these questions will be compiled and summarised alongside those from stakeholder meetings and focus groups and will be presented to the Roundtable at its next meeting.  Responses should be emailed to by Monday 2 June, along with your name and organisation, if applicable, and contact details should we wish to clarify any of your remarks.

We hope that as many individuals and organisations as possible take this opportunity to have their say on what is important to their wellbeing, and to inform the Roundtable’s work.

Lauren Pennycook, Carnegie UK Trust

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