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Wednesday November 8, 2023

Why Australia’s wellbeing framework matters

  • Why Australia’s wellbeing framework matters image
    Happy multigenerational people having fun sitting on grass in a public park

Understanding a country’s wellbeing goes beyond measuring economic indicators. Our most recent Work with Purpose guests – health policy experts Leanne Wells and Professor Rosemary Calder AM – dive into Australia’s first wellbeing framework, ‘Measuring What Matters’, and discuss how it makes a difference for communities on the ground.

Measuring the wellbeing of a country beyond strictly economic indicators such as gross domestic product or employment numbers is not a new idea.

Joining the ranks of New Zealand, Germany, Scotland and other countries, Australia has released its first federal Measuring What Matters framework, which includes five new wellbeing pillars: healthy, secure, sustainable, cohesive, and prosperous.

Health consultant Leanne Wells and Professor Rosemary Calder AM from Victoria University discuss why these indicators are relevant to the Australian community.

Understanding how government is delivering on what matters to the people

Leanne says that measuring wellbeing beyond the traditional economic indicators allows for a broader scope of public policy debate, discourse, and aspirations for the country.

“To me, it’s about relevant, responsive, modern governance, and better policy. It’s also about being people and community centred. In looking beyond traditional economic measures, we are measuring how well we are delivering on what matters to people.”

She mentions that research shows that the community is receptive to broadening how the government measures productivity and prosperity, and that “Australians believe wellbeing should be the guiding purpose for government.”

Focusing on outcomes

Delving more into measuring delivery, Rosemary says that measurement should describe the outcome of what the government is delivering.

“There’s been long-term criticism of GDP as the only measure of the wellbeing of the nation, that it measures what we’re producing, but not the benefits or deficits from what we produce.”

The challenge is less about the availability of data but more about what is being measured.

“We have a lot of data about when people present to hospitals [and] when they have a GP appointment. We know how people seek access when they’re not well. What we don’t measure or know anything about is how their health improves after those interventions. What do we achieve?” she says.

Leanne also says that “it’s about what we are measuring, why we’re measuring, and how we’re using that information to transform and respond through better policy and better programs.”

Investing in preventive health

Prevention is better than cure, which is why measuring with the right indicators is crucial. Rosemary says that interventions at the population level help build an understanding of how people are actually doing in the community, as well as identify risk factors affecting wellbeing.

“How do you identify those risk factors? How do you identify the communities that have the greatest concentration of some of those risk factors? Then how do you work at that community level to bring about change?” she asks.

Using preventive health as an example, Rosemary adds, “We don’t do much about prevention. We do invest a lot in vaccinations. That’s fantastic. We need to back that up by investing a lot in the risk factors that contribute to very preventable illness in our community.”
Improving wellbeing with inclusion and equity

To improve wellbeing measurement, it’s important to consider inequities in the country and how measurement might affect productivity and performance in different settings.

Rosemary says that many social indicators of wellbeing are not as regularly available compared to economic indicators.

“[For] a whole lot of different groups within our communities, we don’t measure their health and wellbeing at all. We don’t distinguish what is the difference on why they are at high levels of healthcare risks or chronic disease.”

Ultimately, improving wellbeing requires understanding it in the context of diverse backgrounds and circumstances.

“It’s fundamental that we have an inclusion and equity lens on this… If we are to improve wellbeing across the board [and] if we start by improving wellbeing for the most disadvantaged, [then] we improve it for everyone,” Leanne says.

Moving forward with the framework

The purpose of the framework is for government, businesses, and academia to use it in measuring the wellbeing of Australia’s various communities. However, the framework is a work in progress and will still evolve to capture contemporary data. But Leanne says that she hopes the framework will spur important conversations and better policy decisions.

“It opens up a discussion about data. It opens up a discussion about better policy and program design, and it opens up a discussion about how we evaluate and collect data across a whole spectrum of services and programs that we currently don’t do and could do across the spectrum of programs and services that government funds,” she says.

When asked what she thinks is the first step to progress this journey of continuous improvement, Rosemary says it is to engage with the community.

“To measure what matters, we actually need to understand what people say matters to them. I think I would urge the government to now raise awareness of this framework and to engage in a fairly extensive consultation process over the next 12 months to ensure that the first budget that endeavours to measure what matters is doing so with good sound information and contribution from the community it’s meant to serve.”

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