Course rationale, structure, and approach
Are you in any way involved in national, local, or organizational policy-making, situational analysis, planning, or learning? If so, you could probably improve your contributions and strengthen your confidence by sharpening your ability to understand and discuss evidence relating to various aspects of wellbeing. On this course, the emphasis is on ‘social wellbeing’. We invite you to consider the links between your personal pursuit of wellbeing and your roles as a social actor, as someone with an explicit sense of co-responsibility for the common good and for other people’s wellbeing. Our assumption is that we can all learn a lot more about the interactions between personal and social wellbeing, i.e. between the universal human preference for living well and for living in decent societies.
Here are some of the issues this course will address:
Values and practical priorities: We all value wellbeing - we want it for ourselves and for other people we care about. But do we think carefully enough about how our choices and actions influence wellbeing?
Distractions and obstacles: Wellbeing, despite its obvious importance, is often neglected in research, in planning, and in performance assessments. Historically, most planning has been about avoiding or mitigating troubles, or about basic resources and conditions, rather than about promoting and fulfilling people’s aspirations for living excellent lives.
The opportunity - a recent attention shift: Explicit attention to wellbeing is on the rise worldwide, in many different kinds of situation and organisation. This signals a global wish to draw attention to what really matters in life and to consider what it might mean for people to live really well.
The challenge - how can we make use of it? In our professional and prosocial roles, can a ‘wellbeing lens’ make a benign difference to the ways we assess situations and causes; set targets; and assess progress?
Reflect upon diverse understandings of wellbeing
Use a “wellbeing lens” to assess what organisations or governments say and what they do
Explore approaches to including wellbeing criteria in evaluation of policies and services
Collaborate on achieving better outcomes and debate the moral and practical implications of wellbeing
About this course
The course is put together by a blend of academics, public sector policy-makers and consultants who have an active interest in wellbeing promotion. We draw on positive psychology, social sciences, moral philosophy, economics and statistics. We also make use of theories and practices of planning (local and national, urban and rural) and community development from various parts of the world.
We hope that the course will promote and support constructive debate, encouraging you all to share your experience. We assume that you already know a lot about personal wellbeing and social quality, but that you would like to think and talk about these issues more systematically. Everyone has some social roles through which they can influence the social processes that shape wellbeing. So we offer here a set of conceptual debates and practical considerations about the links between wellbeing and social quality. We invite you to reflect on how individual wellbeing is facilitated or inhibited by social institutions and processes that we can influence.
After introducing some key debates, we will ask you some simple questions, and use your answers to develop a new body of knowledge about patterns of thinking about wellbeing, which we will feed back to you during and/or after the course.
We will also ask some more complicated questions which invite slightly longer answers ranging from a sentence or two to fuller case studies - as you prefer. The more you engage, the more you are likely get out of the course, but if you are pressed for time it is fine by us if you only engage with the short and simple questions and those issues which are most relevant for your own work and interests.
You are encouraged to take this course during the prescribed three-week period, so as to engage with a community of co-learners, and query the course team if you like, as issues crop up. But the learning resources will remain available to you all year if you choose to upgrade. After the third week, you can still engage online too, but the discussions will be quieter and you won’t normally get quick responses to your comments or queries.
There are three weekly themes:
Week 1. introduces the ‘wellbeing lens’ as an approach leading towards appreciative learning, aspirational planning, empathy, and integrative planning. It also provides the background to a recent shift in policy making to look more holistically at policy outcomes rather than narrow economic targets as indicators of national performance.
Week 2. ‘Aspirational planning’ explores the concept of transforming our approaches to social planning in a positive direction, making pathways to wellbeing clear in our statements of mission or strategy. We will also look at the importance of wellbeing at the workplace.
Week 3. ‘Wellbeing in learning and evaluation’ offers practical guidance on how to assess progress towards wellbeing outcomes - whether you are assessing your own organisation’s performance or looking at broader social trends, and whether you are trying to develop scientifically robust numerical indicators or using more narrative and interpretive approaches to learn about wellbeing.
Since we recognize that people taking the course may have very different personal, scholarly, or occupational interests, each of these themes will be explored at various levels, from personal and interpersonal levels, through community or organizational level, to national and international.
While you are all encouraged to engage in discussions on this course platform, during or after the course you are also encouraged to engage in wellbeing and happiness discussions on Neil Thin’s ‘Happiness Lens’ blog.