As policymakers increasingly focus on measures of prosperity beyond traditional economic indicators such as GDP, Ruth Townsley, Happy City’s Measurement and Policy director, throws the spotlight on a new joint framework for measuring conditions for wellbeing in Wales – assessing its challenges and potential.
A New Index for Wales
Based on Happy City’s groundbreaking Thriving Places Index for England, Thriving Places Wales measures how well different areas are enabling the conditions for equitable, sustainable wellbeing to thrive.
Thriving Places Wales, released in April 2018, was developed by Happy City, Data Cymru and the five Gwent public service boards. The concept, framework and methodology used in England and Wales are the same but some of the indicators are different, reflecting the Welsh context, availability of suitable data sources and priorities.
The drivers for Thriving Places Wales
One of the key drivers behind the development of Thriving Places Wales was the Welsh 2015 Wellbeing of Future Generations Act – a act obliging public bodies to do what they do in a sustainable way.
Public bodies must take into account the impact they could have on people living their lives in Wales in the future when making policy and funding decisions.
The conditions in the framework are those shown to be most important for people and communities to thrive. Both the Thriving Places Index and Thriving Places Wales version offer a broader, more comprehensive view of wellbeing compared to financial and deprivation-based indices. So far in England, the Thriving Places Index has reinvigorated and given direction to health and wellbeing by providing a framework to guide policy and decision making.
Developing the Welsh Thriving Places Index
The three partners had distinctive roles in shaping the Thriving Places Wales. Happy City provided both the overall index framework and the seven years research that went into it’s development, alongside consultancy, training, technical and quality assurance. Data Cymru provided specialist indicator-searching expertise, and Gwent councils assessed the relevance and efficacy of the content, to ensure its practical usefulness.
This partnership ensured all bases were covered, providing a strong concept and framework, appropriate and relevant indicators, and meaning to users. Twenty five of the measures used in England are available for Welsh council areas from the same source. The remaining 30 in Thriving Places Wales are Welsh alternatives to the English ones.
In finding alternatives it was vital to retain the essence and overall concept and balance of the domains and sub-domains. We noticed different trends in Wales:
- Generally there were more subjective versions of indicators – one example is the ‘participation’ sub-domain. In England we used general election voter turnout as the best available measure – not ideal, but as well as using local election turnout in Wales (where local elections all take place at the same time) we could also include a subjective self-reported indicator from the National Survey Wales – ‘the percentage of people who feel able to influence decisions affecting the local area’.
- It’s worth noting that some of the more subjective indicators available in Wales have smaller sample sizes – more representative samples would strengthen the usefulness of and confidence in the indicator.
The development of Thriving Places Wales also helped identify areas where indicators were fewer or more proxy in nature, of which the same was true in England. In Wales the gaps were in:
- Green space – where work is needed to better capture the relationship of proximity and use of green space to wellbeing benefit.
- Mental health, where broader, more nuanced indicators are needed in Wales.
- In contrast to England, a wider range of sustainability indicators were available in Wales, including eco footprint and use of renewables.
The end result is that Thriving Places Wales uses a broad range of 55 measures that reflect the increasing understanding that wellbeing is a multi-dimensional concept, determined by many diverse factors. Scorecards were produced for all 22 Welsh councils at www.thrivingplaces.wales.
How it will be used and future plans
Thriving Places Wales is a place-based tool, to be used by councils and other organisations interested in and responsible for local places – to explore local strengths and needs, guide decisions and make priorities around a shared framework of progress. While it usefully facilitates comparisons between areas, this is not its key purpose. Nor is it designed to be used as a league table of local authority performance.
It’s hoped that, by assessing conditions for thriving communities at a ‘whole-place’ level, different local actors – from civil society, local government, academia and business, to citizens and small community groups – the Thriving Places Wales will encourage a collaborative approach to tackling wellbeing problems. It’s a step forward in providing a consistent and comparable way of agreeing, measuring and tracking progress towards shared wellbeing goals.