Economic development cannot be delivered without social improvement
Embedding public value within the heart of the activities of Cardiff Business School is a unique feature of the school.
Public bodies have recognised that the Act offers an opportunity to take a holistic approach, and that economic development is not the only solution to improving our lives here in Wales.
I recently met Satish Kumar, a former monk and peace activist who has dedicated his life’s work to making the connections between people and planet. As editor of Resurgence magazine, he has written extensively about how we’ve lost our way and how we’ve allowed the economy to take precedence over ecology.
He points out that the words, ‘ecology’ and ‘economy’ derive from the same Greek root, ‘oikos’ which means home. Interestingly, ‘logos’ in ecology means knowledge, and ‘nomos’ from economy means management of our home, quite a way from what we think of now when we talk about ecology and economy.
Looking at the origins of these words and their interconnections, how have we slipped so far from these meanings? That inherent link between knowing what makes us happy and healthy human beings and knowledge of the home and the planet that we live on.
The interdependencies are fully recognised within the Well-being of Future Generations Act. For example, the definition of a ‘prosperous Wales’, are striving for are an ‘innovative, productive and low carbon society which recognises the limits of the global environment and uses resources efficiently and proportionately (including acting on climate change); and which develops a skilled and well-educated population in an economy which generates wealth and provides employment opportunities.’
This is quite a shift from the traditional approach to economic development. There is no mention of GDP or GVA, and to deliver this vision we will need to think about the economy in the context of social, environmental and cultural well-being.
It allows us to take inspiration from innovative thinkers across the world, to not only build for a Wales for the here and now, but to think and act now for a Wales we will have in five, ten, or even fifty years. This idea is nothing new. It was Robert Kennedy who said back in the 60s that GDP measures everything in life except that which is worthwhile.
How we effectively measure public value holistically is a challenge for academics as well as the public sector. How do we know what what we measure is actually making any difference to the realities of people’s lives?
If we think about how public value is about social improvement as well as economic development, the Well-being of Future Generations Act takes that one step further. It is about people and the planet and all those who haven’t been born yet.
When we look at value in that sense, we’re looking at the extent to which decisions taken by public bodies are maximising their contribution to all seven of the well-being goals, and making a real difference to the lives of people here in Wales.