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Ian Bache and Louise Reardon

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Ian Bache and Louise Reardon

Chapter 4 continues the focus on the second question of the book – how and why has the idea of wellbeing risen up the political agenda? It begins with an overview of developments across a number of political systems before turning to a detailed comparative analysis of the rise of wellbeing in the UK and EU systems. In doing so it both responds to the call for more comparative studies of agenda-setting and provides insights into the relationship between processes that connect different political systems within the context of multi-level governance. This comparative study allows not only for a more systematic exploration of the key variables in policymaking in different contexts (e.g., the institutional structures, decision-making processes and the role of interest groups) but also the potential for understanding the exclusion of ideas from the agenda or ‘non-decisions’. The discussion of each case study is structured according to Kingdon’s multiple streams approach, considering in turn policy, politics and problem streams. The comparative analysis reveals both institutional and ideational biases that shape the agenda-setting dynamics of the wellbeing issue in different contexts and produce different emphases in approaches to defining and measuring wellbeing.
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Ian Bache and Louise Reardon

Chapter 7 draws together the threads of the previous six chapters and reflects on the value of our theoretical frameworks in light of the findings presented in the previous chapters. It argues for a synthesis of approaches that might be used in future research seeking to analyse the relationship between agenda-setting and paradigm change. It also discusses further the prospects for wellbeing in public policy and, specifically, the possibility of a ‘third wave’ of interest in which wellbeing is recognised as an important benchmark of progress, is internalised by key actors, is institutionalised in policy practices and leads to policy changes that have a significant effect on the lives of citizens.
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The Politics and Policy of Wellbeing

Understanding the Rise and Significance of a New Agenda

Ian Bache and Louise Reardon

Government interest in wellbeing as an explicit goal of public policy has increased significantly in recent years, leading to new developments in measuring wellbeing and initiatives aimed specifically at enhancing wellbeing. This book provides the first theoretically informed account of the rise and significance of this agenda, drawing on the multiple streams approach, to consider whether wellbeing can be described as ‘an idea whose time has come’. It reflects on developments across the globe and provides a detailed comparative analysis of two political arenas: the UK and the EU.
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Ian Bache and Louise Reardon

This chapter sets out the theoretical framework for the book. In relation to the first question – how and why has the idea of wellbeing risen up the political agenda? – it outlines concepts that relate to the diffusion of ideas across boundaries before turning to Kingdon’s multiple streams approach to understanding agenda-setting. This approach identifies three separate processes or ‘streams’ of problems, policies and politics that develop largely in isolation from each other but which present the greatest opportunity for policy change when they are brought together. In relation to the second question – what are the policy implications of this rising interest in the idea of wellbeing? – the analytical framework turns to Hall’s conception of social learning and contributions that subsequently developed this approach.
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Ian Bache and Louise Reardon

Chapter 3 begins to address the first question of the book – how and why has the idea of wellbeing risen up the political agenda? – drawing on the analytical framework developed in Chapter 2. It identifies two ‘waves’ of interest in wellbeing since the end of the Second World War that a share a critique of GDP as the dominant indicator of societal progress: the first wave rising in the 1960s and falling in the 1970s, and the second beginning in the 1990s and continuing to the present. It explains the rise and fall of the social indicators movement in the first wave and the distinctive features of the current second wave, which is the main focus of the book. This second wave is characterised by increasing attention to environmental issues and greater confidence in the measurement of wellbeing, and particularly subjective wellbeing. In this chapter we limit our discussion of the second wave to developments that have placed the issue on the agenda of major international organisations, before turning to developments in specific political systems in Chapter 4.
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Ian Bache and Louise Reardon

Chapter 5 turns to the second main question of the book – what are the policy implications of the rising political interest in the idea of wellbeing for policy? In addressing this question the chapter focuses on developments at the UK level, where there is high-level political commitment to using wellbeing in policy and where policy developments are seen as among the most advanced in the world. We employ Hall’s framework of social learning to analyse UK policy developments, highlighting different policy variables and the prospect for different orders of change, specifically reflecting on the potential for fundamental realignment of most aspects of policy development or ‘paradigm change’.
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Ian Bache and Louise Reardon

The past decade has seen a dramatic increase in governmental interest in the idea of wellbeing. At international level, there are initiatives within the EU, OECD, UN and at national level, within states as diverse and geographically spread as Australia, Bhutan, Ecuador, France and Morocco. This chapter outlines the nature and development of this rising interest in wellbeing before articulating some of the challenges wellbeing presents to economics and politics. It explains why these developments demand the attention of political analysts and outlines the key contribution of the book as the first theoretically and empirically informed analysis of the rise and significance of wellbeing in politics and policy. In addition, it identifies the two main questions of the study as: 1. How and why has the idea of wellbeing risen up the political agenda? 2. What are the policy implications of this rising interest in the idea of wellbeing?
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Ian Bache and Louise Reardon

Chapter 6 reflects on key controversies that are central to the prospects for wellbeing in policy, focusing on four issues in particular: reliability and validity (of data), responsibility (for action), distrust (of politicians) and distraction (from other concerns). It suggests that it is difficult to adjudicate between the various arguments as they often take very different starting points, either meta-theoretical or disciplinary. In seeking to steer a course through these arguments the chapter takes the distinction between ‘wicked’ and ‘tame’ problems as a reference point, arguing that the challenge of bringing wellbeing further into policy should be categorised as the former. The arguments are grounded in relation to empirical research on the UK, although a number of the arguments apply more generally.
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Daniel Albalate