Public dialogue on wellbeing has influenced policy in three separate Government departments - Cabinet Office, DCLG and DWP
In 2014, the Cabinet Office followed up an earlier dialogue on wellbeing by commissioning (with support from Sciencewise) a further complex dialogue exploring how wellbeing evidence could be used in tackling three different policy areas in three different departments:
• Increasing community control through community rights, led by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG)
• Increasing the incomes of low earners, led by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)
• Reducing loneliness, led by the Cabinet Office.
The evaluation report, published in March 2015, identified a series of impacts to that date, including:
• Increasing income for low earners. The main impact and value for the policy maker leading on this topic was to hear first hand members of the public deliberating: "hearing directly from participants was such a highlight ... it really got me thinking about how ... policy leads often don’t get the chance to speak enough to the end users of our policies". Specifically, the policy maker identified two areas where the dialogue had provided new insights:
- Zero hours contracts: the dialogue confirmed for the policy maker "That the public feel very inhibited by zero hours contracts, they prevent people developing their skills or increasing their workload" and that this added weight to discussions about policy choices that DWP was progressing. The evaluation confirmed that the policy maker involved had used the dialogue findings in discussions with colleagues on this issue.
- Work taster weeks. This was suggested by dialogue participants as a way of reducing the uncertainty of changing jobs, and was seen by policy makers as "a good suggestion for future in-work support trials: we are ensuring this can be done".
• Community rights. Again the main value for policy makers was confirmation "that we’re doing the right thing with these policies".
One particular insight for policy makers was the "general reminder that people speak a different language to us in Whitehall, and that taking up these rights can be actually quite challenging". One said "The dialogue showed us that the public can see taking up rights as being risky: we hadn't really seen it like this before". This led to one policy makers concluding that "Perhaps we should be more interested in making a smaller step to the first rung of the ladder. Although something like a community garden might not be of immediate interest to the policy, it might empower people to go on to bid for an asset – smaller first steps”.
There were two other specific insights emerged from the dialogue that were of value to policy makers - the need for DCLG to involve Transport for London in their discussions, as some of the rights have transport implications; and the connection between community rights, wellbeing and heritage (e.g. the importance of local markets to local identify and wellbeing).
One DCLG staff member said "I wish we had done something like this a couple of years ago when the Localism Act was coming in".
• Reducing loneliness. The main benefits for policy makers were the opportunity to hear members of the public deliberate on their policy area, and to confirm that their policy making was on the right track, as the messages they heard from the public were in line with what they expected. One policy maker said: "the fact that no new ideas emerged was, if anything, reassuring". Another saw that Whitehall policy makers interacting with the public was "something I realise we probably don’t do enough of given how valuable it is".
The dialogue resulted in two reports - an overall report with recommendations by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), which project managed the project on behalf of the Cabinet Office, and a report on the actual dialogue results by Hopkins Van Mil, who designed and delivered the workshops.
The results were used to brief Ministers in all three departments prior to the report being published, presented to the Cabinet Office Social Action Team and extensive wide dissemination by NEF, Sciencewise and HVM.
Related project: Embedding wellbeing science in decision-making