Jennifer ‘Jen’ Wallace is the Director of Policy and Evidence for the Carnegie UK Trust. She leads Carnegie UK’s work to put collective wellbeing for all into the heart of decision making in the UK and Ireland. Here she talks to NOW’s Director, Roger Higman.
Jen Wallace has a passion for data. A social researcher, by background, she got interested in wellbeing after spending 15 years looking at people’s experience of public services. Too often, she found, “that the same people are failed again and again by services that are offered in silos rather than with a view to the needs of the whole person”.
Focusing on wellbeing, she says, can act to address this “silo thinking”. It offers a way to build support for people and communities that takes account of their complex lives. It also engages people in a more positive, visionary, and ultimately meaningful discussion that transcends single issues and deficit-thinking by asking how we might organise ourselves and our societies so we can all live healthier, happier and more sustainable lives.
Her work at Carnegie UK enables her to pursue her interest in wellbeing data all the way from research through to its use in the design and implementation of policy. This has involved work that is transformative and cutting-edge, yet also hard-nosed. For example, Jen is proud of the work that Carnegie UK has done to promote kindness in policy. She sees the “radical edge of kindness” – its power to transform how services are delivered.
Her passion shines through when she mentions ‘Our Life in the UK 2023’ – the first in what will become an annual series of reports – that present the “big picture” of how people are doing across the four dimensions – social, economic, environmental and democratic – that comprise Carnegie UK’s vision of ‘collective wellbeing‘.
“I really like knowledge”, she says. “If people have better knowledge, they make better decisions. I want to give people better information about the complexity of people’s lives”.
She clearly wants change too. “The thing that makes me feel something has been meaningful is seeing how other people react to it”. She wants people to “take it off the page” and put the data to use through new policies to address issues like disability rights, social inclusion and poverty.
Jen gets stuck in herself through sitting on the Scottish Government’s Wellbeing Economy Expert Advisory Group, alongside We-All for Scotland. This has involved difficult discussions about long-term priorities at a time when the cost of living crisis is focusing political minds on short-term remedies. Still, she’s proud of the measures she’s helped to promote. including the Scottish Child Payment, a weekly top-up to help families on Universal Credit.
And she’s a great believer in working in coalition – citing Carnegie UK’s recent work to support the passage of the Onine Safety Act 2023 as an example. This created a legislative framework to force tech companies “to act on a massive threat to the wellbeing of young people, against entrenched opposition from powerful interests”.
It’s painstaking but necessary work, and through Jennifer and others, Carnegie UK is playing a key role in strengthening the commitment of governing institutions across the UK to a “just transition” and a wellbeing economy that works for all.