By Robin Clarke, Sciencewise Dialogue and Engagement Specialist
During 2015 Sciencewise provided support for six public dialogues held across the UK by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. The Centre had been established in 2014 to build the evidence base for what works when seeking to improve people’s wellbeing, and then passing this on to policy makers to factor into their work. In essence the Centre is about providing advice about how to improve the quality of people’s lives and how public bodies, businesses, communities and individuals can play their role in achieving this.
The six dialogues I supported as a Sciencewise Dialogue and Engagement Specialist (DES) covered three areas of people’s lives:
• Work, adult learning and wellbeing
• Community wellbeing
• Cultural and sports activities, and wellbeing
Two dialogues were held on each of these themes. We wanted to know how people understood wellbeing, how this applied to each of the themes, and what could be done to improve that wellbeing, who might be key to achieving that and how that could be done.
Having observed or delivered many Sciencewise supported dialogues over the past few years I have always found it inspiring how the public get stuck into often complex policy areas and come up with well thought through ideas for whoever commissioned that dialogue. This project was very similar to others in that respect, but there was also something that felt quite different. I had a few, mainly unvoiced, concerns that participants might struggle to grasp what wellbeing is, and be unable to apply this abstract notion to the themes we were interested in and then think about it in policy terms.
But with a well-designed dialogue process with some really good supportive facilitation participants were fully engaged with the issues very quickly. I can’t recall seeing groups of people, with no previous connections apart from living in the same town or city, gel so quickly. I think part of this must also have been to do with the mutually shared recognition of the vital importance that wellbeing plays in people’s lives. At one point I even observed several participants in a coffee break helping another think through how to apply for his dream job. As well as helping inform the Centre’s work plans I would bet that the dialogues were also the start of some good friendships.
So what did participants say? In brief, they want to:
• Feel safe, have enough money and a secure job, be in good physical and mental health, have access to good quality affordable food, have sufficient housing space, access to the countryside and transport;
• Feel loved, respected, have good social connections, and be allowed to be who they want to be; and
• Feel fulfilled, have a sense of achievement, be inspired, have fun, have opportunities to grow whether that in be a job or through studying a course.
There is much to be gleaned for policy makers from the reports of this dialogue project which can be found on the Sciencewise website. The dialogue also went down well with the Centre which has already published some thinking about what it is going to do as a response to what the public said.