The Wales We Want

August 1, 2019

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by Peter Davies, Chair Wales Council for Voluntary Action and trustee of the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development (previously Sustainable Futures Commissioner for Wales 2011-16 and Vice Chair (Wales) of the UK Sustainable Development Commission 2006-2011)

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.

We can only measure progress if we know where we want to go. The introduction of the UN Sustainable Development Goals gives us a global framework to translate into national measures. The UK submitted its first voluntary report at the UN High Level Forum in July, against criticism that the Government was not taking the process seriously in producing a report that was ‘selective and partial, relying on cherry-picked data, context-free snapshots and positive vignettes, to present a good story’. But as International Development Secretary, Rory Stewart, stated when presenting the UK report at the UN, ‘Wales has a different reporting framework from which we are learning a huge amount’.

The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 provides a comprehensive sustainable development framework setting out our national goals, our ways of working and the measures by which we will assess progress. It provides a common framework and language for the 44 public bodies covered by the legislation, but more than that it is intended to provide a sense of common purpose for the nation as a whole.

Our progress towards the seven wellbeing goals is monitored through 46 national wellbeing indicators and the Annual Wellbeing of Wales report. Work is also underway to set milestones for Wales against these national indicators to ensure that we are both moving in the right direction and at the right pace.

The framework of the Act was developed in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The supplementary report to the UK’s report to the UN sets out our distinctive approach, which has been the subject of significant international interest since the launch of the Act in 2015, when Nikhel Seth, the then UN Director for Sustainable Development, made the now oft used quote ‘What Wales is doing today the world will be doing tomorrow’.

The legislation provides an architecture for sustainable development including the critical function of the statutory role of the independent Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe. Sophie’s foreword to the supplementary report sets out some of the issues and challenges in implementing the Act, while her forthcoming 2020 Future Generations report, deliberately timed by the legislation to be produced a year before the National Assembly for Wales elections, will provide an assessment of progress made over the last five years. The nature of the national outcome focused high-level wellbeing indicators means that it is unlikely that the Annual Wellbeing Reports will see significant shifts, but the Commissioner’s five-year perspective on progress will play a key role in stimulating national debate and connect to the democratic process of the 2021 elections.

There is still work to be done before the goals, milestones and indicators become established in the national consciousness as our measures of progress towards the Wales we want. No national indicator set will provide a perfect model and we need to avoid the danger of the process operating as an isolated data collection and reporting exercise. The media (and consequently politics) remain obsessed with GDP as the one simplistic, false proxy for genuine progress. There also needs to be a clearer line of sight between the wellbeing objectives of the 44 public bodies and their contribution to the national goals. Critically, we still need to build ownership beyond the Welsh public sector across business and wider civil society to demonstrate their wider contribution to achieving our national goals. We need more companies like Dwr Cymru who have aligned their business planning and reporting process to the framework of the Act. We need the new school curriculum for Wales to contribute to this common purpose.

This sense of common purpose across society is critical if we are to achieve our goals. As we celebrate 50 years since the achieving the goal of landing a man on the moon it is worth remembering the example of the janitor at NASA Space centre when asked by President Kennedy what his job was answered ‘to put a man on the moon’.