The importance of wellbeing is changing governments’ priorities

July 23, 2019

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Petur Berg Matthiasson, Senior Policy Advisor, Prime Minister Office, Iceland

To coincide with the 10 year anniversary of the publication of the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, the Carnegie UK Trust is publishing a series of blogs which outline the approach taken to measuring and improving wellbeing by different governments, organisations and initiatives around the world.

There is a global wellbeing movement sweeping across large and small countries in every continent. Many initiatives have made a significant difference like the ‘Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress’ (a.k.a. Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi – or SSF – Commission), established by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. However, the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) tipped the scale in terms prioritising wellbeing issues such as poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace and justice in one of the most important policies set by the UN this century.

The road to wellbeing is not a competition between countries or international organisations. It is not about creating the best indicators possible to measure wellbeing. It is first and foremost about getting the public as well as the private sector to approach quality of life in society not from a monetary measure (GDP), but from a wellbeing perspective. The wellbeing concept is a complicated one as it encompasses so many different facets of a person’s life. Hence, making it even harder to measure.

Iceland has been an avid supporter of the SDGs from the very beginning and they are now being implemented across the government, with special emphasis on the 65 targets that the government has prioritised. The SDGs are high on the political agenda and the government is actively engaging with municipalities which are a key actor in terms of ensuring the success of the SDGs as stated many times by the OECD. In addition to that, the Icelandic government has committed itself to the Well-being Economy Governments (WEGo) project initiated by the Scottish Government last year. The partnership includes New Zealand which has been a shining example for many countries in terms of promoting the wellbeing agenda. This alliance can grow in the future but what brings these countries together is that they are small, like minded, facing similar challenges and determined to take wellbeing to the next level.

Iceland’s current strategy on wellbeing focuses on three pillars. In terms of indicators, the government appointed a working group last year consisting of experts and members of Parliament to come up with proposals for indicators descriptive for prosperity and quality of life in Iceland. The indicators need to be multi-faceted and include economic, environmental and social factors. The Icelandic government realised that the WEGo partnership, along with what the OECD has been doing in this field for numerous years, is paramount to the work being carried out in Iceland. In terms of actions, the government is looking at welfare, climate change, sustainable tourism, education and many more. However, Iceland will need further guidance on many issues and will be looking towards the work with the WEGo partners. But as an equal partner, Iceland will hopefully share ideas and approaches to issues and challenges and also learn from others. Finally, raising awareness, this issue has gradually been gaining momentum and is now high on the political agenda in many countries with the work of the OECD in recent years undoubtedly playing a significant part in ensuring that.