Guest Blog – The National Performance Framework

As with all guest blogs, what follows are the views of the author, Jennifer Wallace, Head of Policy at the Carnegie UK Trust, and not those of SPICe or indeed the Scottish Parliament.

What kind of Scotland do you want to live in ten years from now? A Scotland that is wealthier and fairer; smarter; healthier; safer and stronger; and greener? These ambitions are all highly sought after, but can we work towards them simultaneously as equally important aspects of living well in Scotland?

To understand the Carnegie UK Trust’s involvement with the concept of wellbeing, we need to go right back to our trust deed, which sets out our purpose as to improve the wellbeing of the people of the UK and Ireland. The trust deed, written by Andrew Carnegie himself, was far ahead of its time in charging us to improve wellbeing, as at that time, wellbeing was not a common form of words for the activities of charitable organisations. Our Trustees have sought to interpret this remit over the last 100 years by funding projects which they believe will improve societal wellbeing – from researching the future of public libraries, to digital inclusion, to town design.

The Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework

The Scottish Government broke new ground in 2007 when it sought to work towards, measure, and report on a holistic definition of social progress and introduced the National Performance Framework. The National Performance Framework (NPF) is single framework to which all public services in Scotland should be aligned, encouraging more effective partnership working towards national outcomes on the economy, society, the environment, and democracy.

The NPF not only sets the vision for Scotland, it also has the potential to make a positive impact on the policymaking process – by helping to generate new approaches to policymaking, partnership working, and evaluating individual programmes and overarching social progress. Embedding the NPF in legislation as part of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 secured the sustainability of the framework and the outcomes based approach for successive Governments across the political spectrum.

Our international research found Scotland to be a world-leader in developing a wellbeing framework. However, case studies of other how governments and civil society organisations measure wellbeing in France, the USA and Canada demonstrated the importance of engaging with the public for the awareness, legitimacy and use of wellbeing frameworks – until now, a step missed out by the Scottish Government in the development of the NPF.

Carnegie UK Trust – Working to improve wellbeing

The Trust has developed a core strand of work on wellbeing in public policy.  Since the establishment of the first Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring What Matters in Scotland in 2010, it has been actively involved in advocating for wellbeing frameworks which allow governments to measure social progress for citizens in a meaningful way.

As a direct result of our strong history on wellbeing, we were invited on to the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework Roundtable to monitor and refresh the Framework.  We took a particular interest in updating the NPF, communications, and engagement. The Trust recommended that the Scottish Government make up for lost time by engaging with the public in a refresh of the NPF. In 2016, they commissioned us to carry out just such an engagement exercise.

Engaging the public – what do citizens want?

Research by the OECD has found that asking citizens what wellbeing means to them is a vital part of establishing meaningful and legitimate wellbeing frameworks – it reveals what matters to people and provides a starting point for government and citizens to work together to promote wellbeing. The commitment by the Scottish Government to review the existing national outcomes, taking into account what citizens say is important to their wellbeing, was therefore both welcome and in keeping with international best practice.

In December 2016 – January 2017, the Trust carried out discussions with 20 groups across Scotland, with citizens at all ages and stages, while Oxfam Scotland conducted 10 street stalls, engaging with more than 300 passers-by on behalf of the Scottish Government. In response to the opening question of ‘In ten years’ time I want a Scotland that is…’, participants were asked to select 12 outcome statements most important to Scotland in the future from combined a list of the current NPF outcomes, some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and actions from the Scottish National Action Plan on Human Rights.

And the results? A range of themes came out as important to people for a good life, however, education, equality and community were valued consistently highly by all groups. From discussions about jobs and employment, to the environment, to good quality health care, to integrated transport, the interconnectedness of the conversations about different aspects of wellbeing was clear.

As explained by one of our participants in Aberdeenshire:

‘Things like the economy, gross domestic product and all the rest of it and, of course, those things are important but are they the most important thing? I think some of the comments around the table around what makes us feel good, what makes us appreciate where we live, is beyond economic issues. It’s more about that sense of community, a sense of belonging, solidarity, if I can use that word.’

NPF – New Performance Framework

The public engagement exercise has clearly informed the Scottish Government’s review of the NPF. The draft National Performance Framework now includes 11 new national outcomes on human rights; fair work; poverty; and culture; and a re-focusing of an outcome for children, with more emphasis on the children’s own voice and perspective.

The outcomes have also been realigned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the presentation of the new framework is much more engaging.  Also, a statement of values has been added to the Framework.  It says ‘We are a society which treats all people with kindness, dignity, compassion and respect, and acts in an open and transparent way’.  This takes account of feedback about aspirations for communities as support networks.  One participant from the Highlands described this as where ‘people are kinder and where people care for each other’.

Public engagement designed to gather input directly into the refresh of the National Performance Framework is both the achievement of a goal and a first step. A first step towards improved awareness and legitimacy of the framework, and a first step toward improving the wellbeing of citizens by giving them a say in what the Scottish Government is working toward – informed by them and for them.

Under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, the Scottish Government is currently consulting the Scottish Parliament.  The consultation documents can be found on the websites of the Local Government & Communities Committee and the Environmental Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.