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© Linguistic Landscapes 2008 What does DCSF mean by ‘wellbeing’? And why might it matter? Prepared for DCSF Research Conference 21 st November 2008 Gill Ereaut
© Linguistic Landscapes 2008 What led to this research? Subtle differences observed in usage of the term ‘wellbeing’, within DCSF, across Whitehall, and by other agencies and groups –A cause for concern? Or not? Our brief: –“…take stock of current usage; compare against the various policy contexts in which we will be talking about ‘wellbeing” and advise on a strategy for effective communication”
© Linguistic Landscapes 2008 Methods Applied Discourse Analysis (DA) DA – a set of tools and concepts now in widespread use in academic social science We apply these methods to organisational and commercial problems A different and powerful lens through which to see familiar things differently.
© Linguistic Landscapes 2008 How ‘well-being’ behaves in real-life usage: things we had to make sense of It’s something with several components, or variants - commonly emotional, physical or social wellbeing It’s something general surrounding something more specific : children’s health and wider wellbeing It can act as an adjective or qualifier for a noun*: wellbeing outcomes; wellbeing agenda; wellbeing duty; wellbeing benefits; wellbeing power; wellbeing measurement *largely seen in DCSF but also some other texts It has no real opposite – no single term does the job: you have to be specific ( poor, ill, sad etc) or simply state a lack ( lack of wellbeing ) It’s never criticised as an ideal or aspiration – no-one argues that wellbeing is a bad thing It can act as an extender (‘etc’) to bring together a set of other items, or act as catch-all ( x, x and wellbeing) It inhabits one stock phrase in particular: health and wellbeing It’s a concrete noun - something that can be improved, increased, threatened, delivered, even driven up It’s something specific to different groups : children's wellbeing; the wellbeing of employees; teenage wellbeing
© Linguistic Landscapes 2008 ‘wellbeing’ Multiple discourses of wellbeing DCSF wellbeing discourse – ranges widely across this scheme
© Linguistic Landscapes 2008 Beyond DCSF, and beyond Government, ‘wellbeing’ is disputed territory Wellbeing is a cultural construct – what people collectively agree makes ‘a good life’ ‘Wellbeing’ is clearly being contested in UK right now, within and beyond Whitehall ?
© Linguistic Landscapes 2008 ‘Wellbeing’ within DCSF ‘Philosophical ‘ and ‘Holistic’ versions of wellbeing certainly exist in DCSF’s raison d’etre and ambition: Wellbeing also exists within DCSF as an operationalised definition: This new department brings together for the first time in one place all policy … for children and families. Our aspirations are straightforward and ambitious: every child deserves to be safe and loved and … have the chance to … fulfil their potential. Ed Balls 18/7/07 Children and young people have told us that five outcomes are key to well-being in childhood and later life – being healthy; staying safe; enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribution; and achieving economic well-being. ECM Summary p4
© Linguistic Landscapes 2008 Why does this matter? It matters because the current situation potentially carries risks for DCSF
© Linguistic Landscapes 2008 Risks for DCSF in the status quo Ambiguity around ‘wellbeing’ has implications and risks for: i.Connecting with children and parents ii.Policy communication and development
© Linguistic Landscapes 2008
Risks for DCSF in the status quo Ambiguity around ‘wellbeing’ has implications and risks for: i.Connecting with children and parents ii.Policy communication and development iii.Cross-government working and delivery of joint PSA’s
© Linguistic Landscapes 2008 Recommendations In principle and in practice: Recognise that ambiguity around ‘wellbeing’ has implications for the Department Acknowledge the fundamental difference between two key usages of wellbeing for DCSF: –Wellbeing as DCSF’s ambition and raison d’etre –having a philosophical ideal in mind, and being holistically concerned with making the lives of children better –Wellbeing as an operationalised definition –The specific things DCSF set out to do that it believes will contribute to its ambition, and which it defines and measures Reflect this as appropriate in internal and external language and presentation.
© Linguistic Landscapes 2008 Overview There is significant ambiguity and tension around the definition, usage and function of the word ‘wellbeing’ in –DCSF –the public policy realm –the wider world Wellbeing is a cultural construct – what we collectively agree makes ‘a good life’ –This changes through time, and is open to both overt and subtle dispute Given the central role of ‘wellbeing’ to DCSF’s commitments, we recommended a deliberate strategy to manage the DCSF position within this ambiguity.
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