As a whole, the public policy process is multi-layered. In a recent ONS publication “Measuring Subjective Wellbeing for Public Policy (2011) the authors argue that: “In order for any account of wellbeing to be useful in policy, it must satisfy three general conditions. It must be: a) theoretically rigorous, b) policy relevant and c) empirically robust. In other words any policy promoting well-being and happiness needs to conceptualise the policy aims (for example happiness) and contextualise the aim(s) in a theoretically rigorous manner
For example, any policy that is designed to improve children and young peoples well-being needs to consider developmental theories and concepts of child and childhood alongside the policy aims. It’s also essential that theories of policy process itself are also taken into consideration. In any public policy process high number of stakeholders are involved. All stakeholders need to be taken into consideration in the process. For example, children’s participation in policy design process can be argued from a number of perspectives. A Children’s Right campaigner might point out that in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) (UNCRC), Article 12 states that: “State parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child. Could a child development specialist argue that involving young people through participation would support children’s development?
The ONS (2011) report argues for the need for the policy to be relevant, saying: “By policy relevant, we mean that the account of wellbeing must be politically and socially acceptable and also well understood in policy circles.” This statement is very general and gives very little practical advice on designing a policy. Political opinions and arguments change depending on who is in the positions of power and ‘socially acceptable’ can also be quite hard to define. For a policy to be relevant it needs to be successful in terms of achieving its aims to serve the people for whom it has been designed. Any policy needs to enhance peoples desire to live their life in a way that enables them to reach their full potential.
The third corner stone of prompting wellbeing according to ONS (2011) is that it needs to be empirically robust. The ONS report (2011) outlines how to achieve this by stating: “… empirically rigorous, we mean that the account of wellbeing can be measured in a quantitative way that suggests that it is reliable and valid as an account of wellbeing”. This statement from ONS reflects the tradition of valuing quantitative data over qualitative when organising and presenting data. However, the same ONS (2011) document points out that: “Subjective well-being is beginning to be used to monitor progress and to inform policy…” This provides further evidence of the current trend of valuing subjective measures of well-being.
It might be that subjective well-being measures alone are not sufficient and that research process needs to remain open minded allowing a number of methods to be considered and used.
As a conclusion well-being and happiness research can play a meaningful role in policy design. This can be achieved by first conceptualising well-being and happiness and then developing conceptualisations that are relevant and sensitive to local context. This can be achieved by involving all interest groups and stakeholders in the process.