Some pics from FBC event

Here are some pics from the Franco-British Council's fun event on Measuring Well-Being earlier this month. Thanks again to them for organizing it and inviting me.

This is David Halpern, the head of the Behavioural Insight (or 'Nudge') unit at the Cabinet Office, which is doing interesting work on nudging citizens towards socially beneficial activities. Apparently he never takes off his headphones.

Here is Lord Richard Layard, looking happy:

This me next to Jonathan Rowson from the RSA. Jonathan runs their Social Brain programme. And he's a chess grandmaster!

And here is the press release the FBC sent out about the event:

The FBC, supported by the International Institute for Environment and Development, brought together leading politicians, economists and philosophers from France and Great Britain, to discuss the French and British governments' initiatives to measure well-being, at a lively and engaging event at Somerset House on February 2nd 2011.

David Willets MP, British Minister for Universities and Sciences, said policy-makers had become "trapped in the model of GDP", and paid tribute to the French government's Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report for taking the debate up a level. He admitted there were challenges to measuring something as subjective as well-being: "Most British people, stoic and phlegmatic as we are, tend to answer the question 'how happy are you on a scale of one to ten' by replying 'about a seven'". The French on the other hand were reported as being at the bottom of the European happiness scale along with the Italians and Germans.

There was discussion about what sort of well-being measurements should be used, with various approaches compared. Two broad approaches could be called the Bentham approach - of asking how happy you are or how good you feel - and the Aristotle approach - of asking how fulfilled or meaningful you feel your life is. Lord Richard Layard, emeritus economist at the London School of Economics, argued for using the Benthamite approach of focusing on happiness and life satisfaction. David Willets MP seemed to favour a more Aristotelian approach. Philosopher Alain De Botton argued for a broader range of questions, to measure everything from sex life satisfaction to loneliness, and wondered if in future we'd see new ministries appear, such as the Ministry for Sex Satisfaction, or the Ministry for Loneliness.

Aileen Simkins, who is leading the well-being measurement initiative at the Office of National Statistics, suggested the ONS will take a nuanced approach, asking households how happy and unhappy they are, how satisfied with their life they are, and how worthwhile they think their life is. There were also panels and discussions about other measurements to be included in a national well-being assessment, including environmental, social and civic measurements.

There were some concerns: is the well-being agenda becoming too politicised? Is the intense focus on happiness making people less able to cope with unhappiness? Would the media accept a government-led happiness drive? As expected in any discussion on the Good Life, there were many different views and definitions of well-being, but there still appeared to be a general consensus that the initiatives by the French and British governments are a step in the right direction.