World Government Summit: International learning on wellbeing

February 25, 2019

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By Aideen McGinley, Chair of the Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland Advisory Group and Co-Chair of the Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring Wellbeing in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this month, 4,000 experts, world leaders, policymakers, academics and government representatives from 195 countries met in the United Arab Emirates at the World Government Summit – a global platform dedicated to the development of governments around the world. 

 The international conference was an opportunity to exchange innovations and experiences, and to build strong networks of collaboration – led by Her Excellency Ohood Bint Khalfan Al Roumi, the Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing in the United Arab Emirates. I was there as the Chair of the Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland Advisory Group and was delighted to have the opportunity to share best practice and work up proposals with a high level idealisation group who recommended to the summit that all of the 195 countries, through a white paper process, should describe how wellbeing is at the heart of their governments’ work. This will be complied into a definitive overview of what is in place across the globe in time to report out to the next summit. 

 Dubai was well-placed to host this international dialogue focused on shaping future governments’ approaches to policy, with its National Program for Wellbeing and Happiness and having in place the first Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing of any government in the world. So what could be learned and taken back over 3,600 miles to Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and Ireland?

 Firstly, that a focus on wellbeing requires a fundamental re-design of government, requiring government departments to work together and with others; to work differently; and to work, above all, with citizens at the centre. In Northern Ireland, this means Community Planning Partners going beyond statutory obligations to being fully supportive, by aligning the Programme for Government, corporate and Community Plans, and most importantly resources, with the outcomes communities want.  

 Secondly, governments, from the national to the local, must re-define their purpose as beyond GDP. How they do this may be different, but there is much to be learnt from each other. Whether it’s the Welsh approach which was under the spotlight at the summit with the focus on legislation; to developing a wellbeing dashboard to improve transparency of decision making such as the work done by Happy City in the UK; how to manage conflict around the allocation of resources as in Genoa; or as part of broadening how sustainability is understood, as in the NetherlandsWhether it is called ‘wellbeing’, ‘human development’ or ‘quality of life’ – all of the approaches are focused on outcomes, citizens and the future. These commonalities are the translators we need to learn from each other on the successes, from extensive community engagement of 7,000 people in Wales to data visualisation in New York, to the challenges of delivering on community expectations, collective resourcing, and finding proxy indicators that are both meaningful and measurable.

 This is why the Carnegie UK Trust encourages finding ‘unusual friends’. This is why we go to best practice where we find it – internationally in places such as New York, global conferences in New Zealand and Dubai – and closer to home, such as our planned mutual learning and exchange visit between Northern Ireland and Wales next month. We go to where people are – connecting with policymakers and practitioners working to improve local wellbeing outcomes at their desks – through the Embedding Wellbeing Support Network and on the ground.

 This ensures our horizons are broadened, our approaches are informed by best practice, and our work continues to be cross jurisdictional, cross-sectoral, evidence based, and allows us to be a critical friend to those in power, so we can play our part in helping to improve wellbeing across the UK and Ireland.