There are good reasons to think that well-being should be treated as both an end of policy, as well as a means of achieving other policy goals. While the elements of well-being are clearly desirable outcomes in themselves, and arguably the ultimate goals of human endeavour, there is also evidence that targeting specific aspects of positive well-being (e.g., autonomy, emotional well-being) might be an effective way to drive desirable behaviour changes. For instance, a sense of individual autonomy – broadly, the extent to which people feel able to make their own decisions – seems likely to enhance outcomes in a range of areas of traditional policy focus, such as people’s interactions with the education system.
Due to its ‘means and ends’ character, it is possible to identify a number of different uses for regular measures of population well-being. They would enable national governments to:
- To assess change over time
- To review and evaluate policy decisions
- To draw comparisons (e.g. internationally)
- To assess differences between subgroups of the national population
- To identify areas of need or opportunity
- To evaluate the potential impacts of policy proposals
- To shape policy formulation (e.g. content and delivery)
- To inform the targeting of new policy (e.g. by population subgroup)
The policy cycle
The diagram above, taken from our report, shows the ways in which National Accounts of Well-being could be used to achieve this range of goals at different stages of the policy-making process. While the process is deliberately described in generic terms that can apply to policy-making across developed nations, a number of clearly defined roles for the use of well-being indicators emerge at particular points of the process, from defining policy aims and identifying need, developing and shaping policy proposals, implementing and delivering particular policy interventions, to evaluating the impact of policy actions.