Building momentum for a new economy, place by place – by Liz Zeidler
By Liz Zeidler, Founding Director of Centre for Thriving Places
It’s safe to say that leading economists, environmentalists and political leaders rarely agree. But from the OECD Director General Angel Gurria, to Jeffrey Sachs and George Monbiot and many more, there are a growing number of powerful voices saying that some form of wellbeing economics is vital for a better future.
Few in the WEAll membership would disagree with this view of course, and thankfully it is increasingly not just an academic or theoretical discussion. Real progress is being made at a national level in pioneering countries around the world. From New Zealand to Scotland, Iceland to Wales, small nation states are starting to shift the compass from growth-at-any-cost to a new model of prosperity centred on wellbeing.
But there is a challenge at the heart of this progress, in that the unifying factor in these countries is size. Smaller nations are innovating, taking some political risk and showing courageous leadership in this space in a way that larger are not. For those of us living and working outside of these pockets of progress, do we need simply to wait and hope?
Centre for Thriving Places (and under its previous name Happy City) has been tackling this challenge for over 10 years. It was clear even back in 2010 that it was never going to be easy to get national or global agreement to shift to a wellbeing economy approach. The transition needs cross-party, cross-sector, cross departmental and cross-generational collaboration. New ways of thinking and doing, and new measures of progress are needed to build a credible base on which to deliver change. These are currently hard to come by in major national government environments.
Momentum can and must be built by pioneering people and places, at a local level and a national scale. The Thriving Places Index is designed to make this practical and achievable and it is being used by a growing number of Local Authorities, funders, community programmes and far-sighted businesses across the UK.
The approach needs to be as relevant to the mayor of a major city as they are to a junior community development worker on the frontline of tackling complex social and environmental challenges, so the TPI at its most fundamental level asks three powerful and unifying questions:
- Are we creating the right local conditions for people to thrive?
- Are we doing this equitably so everyone has the chance to thrive?
- Are we doing this sustainably so future generations can also thrive?
Published annually for all Local Authority areas in England and Wales, the TPI is an asset based framework, drawing in a broad range of data from different recognised sources. It paints a meaningful picture of what supports the wellbeing of communities, and what can be done locally to improve it.
In every corner of the UK there are clear strengths and challenges when you look through a sustainable wellbeing lens. By providing comprehensive, but clear and comparable data for all local authority areas, the TPI allows learning to be shared, and a collaborative approach to systemic issues to be fostered. It is a rigorous and accessible way to support local decision makers across sectors to assess and prioritise policy and practice, based on the impact it has on the wellbeing and sustainability of people and communities.
Whilst a national focus on wellbeing set by central or devolved government is something to be celebrated, it’s not a prerequisite for beginning to make the change that we want to see. Let’s not sit by and watch as levels of inequality spiral and the climate emergency deepens, waiting for the national political and legislative environment to support a new way of governing. Pioneering leaders from all sectors need to show the courage to innovate a new approach where they are now – one focused on growing our capacity to thrive, now and for generations to come.
About the Thriving Places Index: The 2020 results for Local Authorities in England and Wales are now live at www.thrivingplacesindex.org – head there to explore the data and find out more ways to get involved – wherever you are.
About the author: Liz is an internationally recognised leader in sustainable wellbeing with over 20 years of experience in connecting, challenging and supporting change-makers. She has been a key part of the development of all Centre for Thriving Place’s wellbeing measurement tools and approaches. She is a globally in-demand speaker and advisor on community wellbeing and place-based approaches to measuring, understanding and improving wellbeing in all sectors.
Photography by Gareth Iwan Jones www.garethiwanjones.com
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