RETHINKING WELLBEING Seminar Series 2012 - 2013

Scotland's Futures Forum, in collaboration with Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Scottish Government, hosted Rethinking Wellbeing, a three-part seminar series in the Scottish Parliament. This series focussed on the environment, the economy and society as a way to rethink our approach to wellbeing and open up a discussion on how Scotland can find different and better solutions to solving intractable and wicked problems of environmental and social sustainability.

The aim of the seminar series was to challenge our perceptions/preconceptions of the environment and wellbeing. On a more practical level, the objective was to set the context for:

  • Improving the environmental regulatory framework
  • Maximising the benefits of preventive spending
  • Understanding and improving quality of life

The series took into account of the fact that wellbeing can only be fully understood within broader environmental, economic and social contexts. This realisation is also behind the increased prominence of preventive spending and takes into consideration the EU research and innovation programme - Horizon 2020 - for dealing with major global societal challenges. Deep-rooted problems need to be solved by looking at the system as a whole - otherwise we run the risk of treating the symptoms rather than the root causes.

The series looked at three fundamental and inter-related systems that provide the context for policy making and asked in what ways we should reconsider the environment, the economy and society. The series aimed to do this across three dedicated seminars focusing on each system.


SEMINAR 1 - Rethinking the environment

19 September 2012

Our first seminar in the series was held on 19 September 2012. This seminar, chaired by Tim Birley, looked at how it is that we treat the environment as a separate category when it is integral to sound business and to the quality of individual and community life. It examined the environment as a resource for wealth creation and wellbeing for the people of Scotland – and argued that the environment is a vital part of re-building the economy as well as significantly impacting on our health as individuals and as a community. Tom Crompton, Change Strategist at WWF looked at the ways in which the environment features in decision making, at values and decisions. Professor Chris Spray, Chair of Water Science and Policy at Dundee University explored ecosystem services and local governance.

Both the report (pdf) and the full transcript (pdf) are now available to read, as is Professor Spray's presentation (pdf).



SEMINAR 2 – Rethinking the economy

15 November 2012

Our second seminar in the series, chaired by Tim Birley, focused on the economy and heard presentations from Professor Dieter Helm and Miriam Kennet. Economic factors are central to decision making for the sustainable use of our environment and in promoting the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. But is the current economic model, the focus on growth and our relationship with debt really sustainable in the world post the banking crisis and recession? Do we need to think about the economy differently? We were also delighted to welcome Professor Jan Bebbington, Director of St Andrews Sustainability Institute and former Vice-Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, to our panel for the open discussion.

The report (pdf) is now available to read.



SEMINAR 3 – Rethinking society
20 February 2013


This third seminar focussed on the issue of increasing inequality, which has been gaining ever greater prominence over recent decades and has been brought into sharp relief by the economic crisis. There are opposing views on the role of the state in resolving this and ensuring that economic benefits and wellbeing are shared across society. These developments challenge us to think seriously about our position on the state, delivery of public services, private enterprise and the type of society we want to live in. To what extent are our behaviours shaped by our own choices, the structures of society around us and the places we live in? What does a sustainable place look like? What values and outcomes are important to us? Are these reflected in political debate and if not, why not?

The presentations by Professor George Morris of NHS Scotland (pptx) and Judith Robertson of Oxfam (15.9MB pdf) are now available (please note the latter is a large file that may take considerable time to load if using a slow Internet connection).

The report (pdf) from this seminar is now available.



SEMINAR 4 – Different routes to enable greater wellbeing

 12 June 2013

Our fourth seminar in the series, chaired by Matthew Taylor, set out to build on the three previous seminars that had looked at wellbeing from the perspectives of the environment, the economy and society. Matthew Taylor opened by saying that Scotland leads the way on thinking about wellbeing through its National Performance Framework and associated indicators, which have been commended by the Nobel Prize winning economist Professor Stiglitz. What is missing in the wellbeing debate is an important component: the attitude that people have to the society in which they live, and especially the degree of trust in society which people have, which has declined over the last two generations. This loss of faith in society is evident in the loss in trust of strangers, and the decline in congregational institutions such as the church, trade unions or political parties. In determining wellbeing, there is an urgent need to engage in a conversation about the kind of society people want to live in.

The report (pdf) is now available to read.