Dimensions of better wellbeing as a basis for policy

Erik Stam

On Tuesday 8 September, the presentation of the pilot 'Supporting policy from a scientific perspective' will take place in the House of Parliament. This pilot, led by Pieter Duisenberg (VSNU), is part of the broader Operation 'Insight into Quality'. In addition to Duisenberg, there is a scientific core group of three members and seven researchers who have carried out sub-studies. Erik Stam of Utrecht University is one of the core members. His contribution is mainly aimed at better embedding the dimensions of Better Wellbeing in legislative proposals and policy evaluations in the form of 'learning to evaluate'.

Evaluating policy: from accountability to learning

Much is being evaluated, improved and accounted for in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the quality of government policy can be substantially improved. The policy cycle is still too much based on an evaluation framework in which evaluation is seen as merely accountability. Accountability in terms of cost-benefit analyses and in terms of accountability being paramount and followed by political settlement if results are not achieved.

Erik Stam argues for more 'learning evaluation' because that does more justice to the complexity and uncertainty that characterize policy. The questions of the goal (response to the societal issue), the effectiveness and efficiency (costs and benefits) of policy are complemented by the indicators of better wellbeing. This can lead to the improvement of (choices in) policy.

More dimensions of prosperity

National policy aims to increase welfare in a broad sense for all citizens in the Netherlands. Prosperity, however, has many dimensions: in addition to material prosperity that can be expressed in monetary values, there is prosperity that cannot be expressed in monetary values - but is measurable nevertheless. The use of the Better Wellbeing Index (BWI), with its eleven dimensions of prosperity, makes it possible to identify the coherence and interaction between these different dimensions, and to uncover policy dilemmas. The eleven dimensions are: safety, health, income, personal development, environment, job security, housing, social involvement, social relations, subjective well-being and the work-life balance.

In addition to the role of uncertainty in policy, complexity in the interaction between all these components can also lead to all kinds of indirect effects that influence the effectiveness and efficiency of policy. Identifying this complexity can increase the added value of policy for prosperity in the Netherlands.

Better Wellbeing Index

Read more about the Better Wellbeing Index (BWI) on the website of the strategic research theme Institutions for Open Societies of Utrecht University.

Erik Stam is professor Strategy, Organisation and Entrepreneurship at Utrecht University School of Economics.