Guest blog: Martyn Evans of The Carnegie UK Trust on Measuring Wellbeing


by Martyn Evans, Chief Executive at The Carnegie UK Trust

When looking for good practice at an international level it comes as a bit of a shock to find it on your own doorstep. The Carnegie UK Trust, based in Dunfermline in Scotland, has had a focus on wellbeing since 1913 when Andrew Carnegie signed the Trust deed requiring us to “improve the wellbeing” of the people of the UK and Ireland. Our recent work in this area builds on the excellent programme run by the New Economics Foundation. Two years ago we set out to learn more about how wellbeing was being measured. We led on research and international study trips with IPPR North. We concluded, to our surprise and delight, that the Scottish National Performance Framework, now called Scotland Performs, is a global pioneer. Our view was later corroborated by a Professor Stiglitz in his address to the OECD World Forum in India, in 2012.

Scotland Performs was not developed in isolation. It stands on the shoulders of other innovators from Guelph to Virginia. It does not confine itself to a subjective ‘happiness’ index. It moves away from a dry debate on statistics and is becoming embedded in policy-making processes.

Why does all this matter? As Professor Stiglitz said, “What we measure affects what we do; if our measurements are flawed, decisions may be distorted.” Our post WW2 public narratives have come to rely on GDP (which measures the ‘busyness ‘of the economy) as a composite measure of social progress. All credit to the then French President Sarkozy who established a commission to identify the limits of this well-regarded measurement tool.

There is still a lively debate about whether an alternative single measure of wellbeing, a rival to GDP, can be developed.  We have taken the view that any single figure would suffer from similar defects to GDP. We favour a ‘dashboard’ of indicators. This dashboard can, and in my view should, include GDP.

We have advocated for the process of Scotland Performs to become a legal requirement of future Scottish Governments. Cross-party support for this has resulted in Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill which will embed Scotland Performs in legislation. Of course it is the process that will be a legal requirement-establishing outcomes and measurement of progress. It will be for the parties to establish the outcomes they prioritise and want to be judged on. The lack of public dialogue and involvement has been the Achilles Heel of Scotland Performs to date – but we have an opportunity this year to open up the framework to public debate and scrutiny. This process is important, as it allows the public to ask questions such as why do we only measure employment and unemployment when the quality of work is also important?

Is the experience of the Scotland performs of much interest to other parts of the UK? Well our Evidence Exchange report (2013) with the Joseph Rountree Foundation tells us that there is an appetite for learning from each other across the UK.

Exploring how the concept of wellbeing can be used to promote social change has a special urgency in Northern Ireland. Simon Hamilton MLA, who is Finance Minister,along with Assembly Finance Committee Chair, Daithí McKay MLA, wrote in a joint forward to our publication Measuring Wellbeing in Northern Ireland; “It is time to place the wellbeing of our citizens at the heart of what government is about, at the heart of a shared narrative.”

More than 15 years after the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, some of the most enduring post-conflict challenges are about wellbeing, including community safety, good relations and building social capital. By securing the interest of Simon Hamilton and Daithí McKay on this issue there is a window of opportunity to influence wellbeing measurement in Northern Ireland. We have established a Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring What Matters in Northern Ireland. The Roundtable will meet at least four times this year and its members will also participate in a study to Scotland.

For more information on our work on measuring wellbeing click here.

For more information on the work of the Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring What Matters in Northern Ireland follow the Roundtable on Twitter at @CUKTwellbeing.

Please note: the opinions in this article do not necessarily represent the views of The Knowledge Exchange or its parent company Idox. 

Recent articles on wellbeing  (please note  you must be a member to view them):

Measuring national well-being: children’s well-being, 2014

Well-being at work: a review of the literature

Wellbeing and policy

The role of culture and leisure in improving health and wellbeing

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