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How can Wellbeing Science improve Government Policy?

 

March 22, 2017

Government policy must think beyond GDP. That was the conclusion from the government H20 track at the World Happiness Summit in Miami last week. Evidence from academic papers 1 2 3 4 and the World Happiness Report confirm that governments can use policy and “smart public finance” budgets to improve national wellbeing and happiness. These concepts were also used during the FreeBalance International Steering Committee workshops preceding the H20.

The use of wellbeing and happiness science applied to national public policy provides better measurements for government effectiveness than growth and income. Low perceived wellbeing leads to conflict and instability.

The public policy lessons from wellbeing science are:

Trust in government

  • Trust in institutions, especially government is low and declining
  • Corruption is the most significant factor of government distrust in many countries, including developed countries
  • High inequality associated with low happiness and wellbeing
  • High inequality associated with state fragility
  • Social injustice significant factor in inequality perception
  • Policy openness and open government can increase perceived trust
  • The quality of service delivery is rated more important than quality of democracy
  • Improved management of public finances enables government service delivery improvement

Public policy considerations

  1. Improve anti-corruption legislation (where necessary) and enforcement (necessary almost everywhere) in public ways
  2. Address distributive, redistributive and procedural characteristics of social injustice in legislation and practice
  3. Increase use of open data and open government
  4. Identify areas of service delivery improvements (particularly in certain sectors, address below)
  5. Run budget scenarios based on service delivery performance outcomes

Income, growth and employment

  • Poverty is associated with low wellbeing and happiness
  • Increasing income is not always associated with wellbeing and happiness improvements, many situations where economic growth has resulted in overall reduction in wellbeing and happiness
  • Increasing income is associated with wellbeing when combined with other factors
  • Notion of country development to achieve growth needs to be shift to sustainable, inclusive growth that considers wellbeing effects
  • Unemployment has significant long-term negative effects on personal & national wellbeing
  • Unemployment associated with mental health problems
  • Meaningful employment associated with higher wellbeing

Public policy considerations

  1. Reduce unemployment through educational and assistance programs
  2. Provide social support for the unemployed
  3. Focus on meaningful job growth
  4. Reduce poverty through pro-poor policies

Health, Education and Environmental considerations

  • Impact of mental health far greater than physical health on perceptions of wellbeing and happiness
  • Mental health problems extend beyond the individual to reduce family and community happiness perceptions
  • Education systems can have positive or negative impact on wellbeing and happiness
  • Focus on educational performance and excellence has an overall negative impact on wellbeing
  • Social, creativity and personal skills around wellbeing that are critical for future wellbeing are underfunded in many education systems
  • Environment plays a significant role in happiness perceptions
  • Green spaces and environmental design could be critical to improving wellbeing in cities

Public policy considerations

  1. Increase funding to manage mental illness
  2. Provide education curriculum that addresses future wellbeing needs, including so-called “soft skills”
  3. Reduce performance anxiety for teachers and students in education systems
  4. Provide more holistic public planning for growth and urbanization that enables community and greens spaces

Here are my curated notes from this past week:

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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