There have been some pretty significant changes in the politics and policies in the Welsh Assembly this year – and I’m not referring to UKIP winning their first seats in the Sennedd. Since the start of April, a new Welsh law has been in place, one that aims to give future generations a good quality of life, by shaping the long-term impact of decisions that are made today.

This Act has been years in the making. Between 2008 and 2013, I worked with a network of individuals and organisations across Wales who all wanted to make sure that individual and community wellbeing was at the heart of any national or local decision-making. Collectively, we felt that if we could get a better understanding of people’s lived experience, we’d end up with more effective policies.

Back then, looking at issues through a wellbeing lens helped many organisations step away from their single issue, or step back from their silo and grasp the opportunities that were available. As a result, an incredibly broad range of stakeholders got involved and collectively learned that:

  • no one organisation or activity can improve a person’s wellbeing on their own;
  • an individual’s and a community’s wellbeing is best understood from the perspective of that person, and
  • individual or community wellbeing is dependent on the conditions those people find themselves in and the relationships they have with others around them.

Roll forward a few years and the new Wellbeing of Future Generations Act has prompted the Director of Sustainable Development at the United Nations, Nikil Seth, to say “What Wales is doing today, the world will do tomorrow.” High praise indeed.

So what’s all the fuss about?

The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act gives forty four public bodies across Wales the statutory duty to improve the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of Wales – the Wellbeing Duty. The Act also tells these organisations that they must go about meeting this duty by following the sustainable development principle that “seeks to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Under the Act, public bodies will also need to show that they have applied the sustainable development principles, or Five Ways of Working in going about their work. In other words, they will need to demonstrate that they are thinking more long-term; working better with people and communities and each other; looking to prevent problems and taking a more joined up approach to issues.

The public bodies that are identified under the act include local authorities, local health boards, the fire service, the Arts Council, Sports Council, National Libraries – it’s a long list.

And what are they all working towards? Through law, public bodies must set out and publish “wellbeing objectives” that are designed to maximize their contribution to achieving each of the wellbeing goals and taking all reasonable steps (in exercising their functions) to meet those objectives.

The Wellbeing Goals are listed as:

  • A prosperous Wales;
  • A resilient Wales;
  • A healthier Wales;
  • A more equal Wales;
  • A Wales of cohesive communities;
  • A Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language; and
  • A globally responsible Wales.

And in this brief outline, there isn’t the space to explain the role of the Future Generations Commissioner, the Auditor General, Wellbeing Assessments or the Public Service Boards and their responsibilities under the Act. The Core Guidance on the Act also challenges the public sector in Wales to review their corporate planning, asset management, procurement and other decisions so that they can achieve their long-term, local wellbeing objectives.

That this legislation has got through to the statute books is a credit to all the organisations and individuals who contributed to its development. It will require a host of organisations to bring it to reality. On a daily basis, organisations will have to do a lot of work that they’ll find really challenging – which risks them not doing it at all. The other concern is that organisations will see this Act as another piece in an already complicated jigsaw and only do the minimum to comply with its requirements.

But I don’t see it that way. I have had the privilege of working with one of those public sector organisations as it prepares to respond to the Act. I have been inspired to hear officers say to their colleagues that the Act represents “a generational opportunity to do something different” – something that they want to do anyway. I have heard others say that the Act has opened doors to organisations and decision makers that they couldn’t have dreamed of influencing in the past. All of which makes me hopeful that Wales will indeed push on “in accordance with the sustainable development principle.”

In the meantime, lots of people will be watching to see the impact this Act will have.