By Aideen McGinley, Chair of the Advisory Group for the Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland project, Carnegie UK Trust

Across the UK and Ireland, local government, in discussion with communities and citizens, is being given the freedom to map out the economic, social, environmental, and democratic outcomes they are striving for, responsive to local priorities and challenges.

The reform of local government in Northern Ireland in 2015 gave local authorities and their partners the opportunity do just that, as they were bestowed new powers such as local economic development and Community Planning. But with new powers come new responsibilities, the need for new skills, and the need to work in new ways.

All of Northern Ireland’s recently launched Community Plans, from the Causeway Coast and Glens down to Newry, Mourne and Down, have, to some extent, mirrored the wellbeing agenda and outcome-based approach seen in the Executive’s draft Programme for Government. However, gaps and challenges remain, and independent analysis commissioned by the Carnegie UK Trust found that there is an opportunity to provide tailored support to the Community Planning Partnerships to implement their commitments – to move from Plan development to policy delivery.

To take this opportunity and to build on the legacy of the Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring Wellbeing in Northern Ireland, the Trust has launched its new project Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland – a three-year project offering significant financial and in-kind support for up to three Community Planning Partnerships to implement a local wellbeing outcomes approach through their Community Plan. The Trust is inviting all local authorities to apply with their particular Community Planning challenges. These challenges may be internal – such as improving alignment of the Plan with the approach taken in the draft Programme for Government or gathering local data which links their activities to outcomes of the Plan – or they may be external – for example, engaging with citizens or communicating effectively about the Plan and what it seeks to achieve –and at any part of the policy cycle.

We see this as a partnership project. In return for taking part, participants will be asked to commit to the principles of openness, partnership working, and shared learning. We are looking to gather evidence on successes (and challenges) experienced by Community Planning Partnerships. We hope this will improve the implementation of wellbeing frameworks within the three Partnerships selected. We also want to share the learning with others in Northern Ireland and with their counterparts across the UK and in Ireland, to pass on what we have learnt about how to plan for wellbeing.

This is because our wider research on wellbeing and evidence tells us that evidence doesn’t speak for itself – we need intermediaries such as the Network of Wellbeing to help facilitate learning across the UK and Ireland. We hope that as local partnerships develop neighbourhood plans in England; Local Outcomes Improvement Plans in Scotland; and Local Wellbeing Plans in Wales, we can work together to disseminate what works well for our Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland participants, and help to improve local wellbeing practice across the UK and Ireland.

The Carnegie UK Trust’s programme Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland is currently open to receiving expressions of interest from all local authorities in Northern Ireland. For more information please click here or email Lauren Pennycook, Senior Policy and Development Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust.