Well-being Policy and Practice: Wales and New Zealand

New Zealand and Wales both place well-being at the heart of public policy but have followed very different approaches. This note provides a brief comparison.

In both countries government plays the lead role in setting well-being indicators. Both have drawn on international experience and research in doing so.

In New Zealand well-being indicators are used primarily as a means of assessing departmental bids for funding, and measuring departmental performance. It’s a centrally driven system with accountability exercised primarily by the Treasury through the budget process. In Wales well-being policy is overseen by the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.

Well-being indicators provide guidance for local Public Service Boards (PSBs) in assessing well-being, and developing well-being plans. PSBs are established in the district of each local authority which acts as chair and bring together key public agencies to work collaboratively.

The role of the Future Generations Commissioner includes critiquing well-being assessments, and well-being plans. There is a strong focus on involving communities “a priority for my office is encouraging public bodies and PSBs to make sure that they are firstly involving people and communities in ways that give them greater insights into people’s lived experiences of public bodies, and secondly acting upon these insights when they make decisions and deliver services.”

In New Zealand evaluation of well-being policy is to be carried out, each four years, by the Treasury - arguably the Treasury evaluating the effectiveness of its own policy giving it is the custodian of the living standards framework. Necessarily the focus of the evaluation will be on the effectiveness of indicators in driving well-being policy (in essence that is the requirement in the Public Finance Act).

In Wales the Future Generations Commissioner undertakes a five-yearly evaluation. It’s forward-looking. What can we learn from experience so far and what can we do better. One theme is the importance of managing culture change in terms of citizen and stakeholder involvement:

“public bodies should be embedding a culture of meaningful citizen and stakeholder involvement…. This means having meaningful conversations with people and communities, finding out what happens to them, and reflecting their views before decisions are reached.”

Perhaps the most important difference is that the Future Generations Commissioner is an independent officer charged with acting as Guardian. In that role she has no power to direct public bodies but increasingly significant influence as recognised by the secretary general of the United Nations:

The Commissioner responsible for well-being in Wales is independent from Government, and is basically a Commissioner who is in charge of telling the Government whether the Government is doing a good enough job in terms of citizen well-being. Now that is a very interesting model, because all of us are used to the Government being the one to tell us what is right.

Written by Peter McKinlay - peter@mdl.co.nz