An Introduction to "Wellbeing in Northern Ireland" with Carnegie UK Trust's Martyn Evans

Oct 22, 2018

When Andrew Carnegie set up the Carnegie UK Trust, his mandate was short and to the point: Its mission is improve the wellbeing of the people of the United Kingdom, a task that Carnegie realized would change over time as people's needs changed. "The Trust is required to take risk," says its CEO Martyn Evans, who gives an overview of their work today, including libraries and research on towns, fulfilling work, and digital futures.

This speech is part of the International Seminar on Wellbeing in Northern Ireland, convened by Carnegie Council and the Carnegie UK Trust.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Now I'm going to turn the floor over to my colleague Martyn Evans, who's the CEO of the Carnegie UK Trust. Martyn will tell us a little bit about the background for this project "Wellbeing in Northern Ireland," and then we will proceed after that to the presentations.

Thank you.

MARTYN EVANS: Thanks very much, Joel. It's a complete pleasure to be working with Joel and his team again. We have been doing occasional work together for the last seven or eight years. It's always good when Joel is across in the United Kingdom or we're here. What we find is that sometimes you can say something in a different country and it is heard more clearly in the country you are actually addressing. So, in part, our hope here is all the great things we're doing and you are doing in Northern Ireland can be reflected both back to Northern Ireland and we up the idea and understanding of what's happening in the States, I'm hoping.

I am going to tell you just a little bit about the Carnegie UK Trust for those of you who don't know. You have in front of you the map that confuses most people in the United Kingdom, let alone abroad. Britain is Scotland, Wales, and Ireland; the United Kingdom is the United Kingdom of Great Britain, which is those and Northern Ireland; and Ireland of course is that blue bit which we don't have to name because you know it so well. We still work in all of those jurisdictions, including Ireland, because we were set up by Andrew Carnegie when Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom, and we have been delighted to still work there. You'll hear a little bit about our work in Ireland because it's complementary but different from our work in Northern Ireland.

Strangely enough, and to our great benefit, when Andrew Carnegie set up the Trust he had a very short phrase: We were "to improve the wellbeing of the people of the United Kingdom." That's all he said. That was the job of the trustees. And he said to the trustees, "And you have to make choices as the needs of the people change from time to time." So the trustees are not looking back to what Andrew Carnegie thought, they are looking forward to what the needs of the people are at the time. We are very lucky we have this word, which is now quite common, maybe getting slightly overused, but for 100 years we have had that requirement.

Our work on enabling wellbeing is working across a range of areas. We are very pleased that Rolf Alter is here because we work with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)—it is a big program of theirs on wellbeing—and we have done work on regional wellbeing, which I'll come back to.

This is both an intellectual process, we produce reports; but also a practical process, we want to work with people. I hope by the end of today you'll have an understanding about our practical work both in Northern Ireland and a little bit in the Republic of Ireland.

If you know Carnegie at all, you know libraries. We have funded over the 100 years 600 libraries across the United Kingdom and Ireland, and we are still very actively engaged in public library policy through these kinds of practical works.

We do research. This was the largest research on libraries ever undertaken in the United Kingdom. Over five years we interviewed 10,000 people about their use of libraries, in order to confound the perceived use of libraries. One of the things I'm never tired of saying is the highest age group that uses libraries is 16-to-25-year-olds. The perceived view is they're all in decline, it's older people sitting there quietly. It isn't. It's young people using libraries. That has to be shouted very loudly because if you don't do research, you don't know what's really happening. We are proud of our research on public libraries.

The Trust is required to take risk. This is a picture of a lodge that we built in Trossachs in Scotland. We built it to significant opposition from elsewhere, which we weren't allowed to build in beautiful places, in order that people who didn't have access to private transport could visit the outdoors and have somewhere to shelter in those places where, as in the Trossachs, it tends to snow or rain, one or the other.

The risk and reputation that the Trust wants to pursue are not big risks for little gain but big risks for big gain. That's a constant discussion that we have. I think our work reflects some of that. And, of course, you get things wrong when you take risks, and that's important to realize, that you have to have mitigation on risk. But I'm proud of that.

I'm going to tell you three other things we're doing.

We're based in a town. We are the largest town-based foundation in the United Kingdom. No one else is our size based in a town. When Andrew Carnegie set us up, he had already set up the Dunfermline Carnegie Trust, and he loved it. He liked it. His lawyer was the chair of it. He said, "I would like a UK Trust, and I'm going to give it this stipulation: It can fund anywhere in the United Kingdom except Dunfermline." So we're not allowed there, which is a great benefit, because nobody can walk and knock on my door and say, "Can we just have another swimming pool because the Carnegie swimming pool is now 100 years old?" Well, they can do it and they do do that, but we can't fund them.

Flourishing Towns is very important. We just produced a report, which we're going to Berlin to talk about in two weeks' time. We also wanted to call it "Brexit: The Revenge of Towns." Towns voted to leave. They voted to leave whether they were deprived towns or successful reasons, and for different reasons they voted.

A significant 40-odd percent of people live in towns in the United Kingdom, and it's an unrecognized public policy area squeezed between a strong rural lobby and a very effective city lobby. It has been squeezed out of the public policy debate. We have had that as a theme for five years.

And Fulfilling Work is one of our themes because—it's the same in America; I was reading this—the employment figures are sky high. There are more people in work now than over the last 50 or 60 years. Employment is at a very high level. What we now worry about is the quality of that work. What matters is how you're working. Again, this is an evidence-based issue for us. We've been working with a range of partners on measuring and defining fulfilling work.

Part of that is the same story as other things. We were invited privately to do this by people who had political authority and power, but they needed to conserve that. So can you work and build a consensus? If you can't build a consensus, they don't have to spend their political capital.

We have just published our report on measuring fulfilling work, "Measuring Job Work." I was at a Conservative Party conference last week talking about this. We are hoping it will be taken on.

My final theme is about digital futures. We know for wellbeing that the people rely on digital in the future, and we are doing a lot of work on this idea of social justice in digital.

We are just starting to work—I was asking for Joel's advice about this—on the regulation of digital. We are working quite strongly on this idea of "do no harm," finding ways that they can self-regulate, because this is a contexted area, more I must say in America where it butts up against the individual rights that the Senator was talking about, but the collective responsibility. So that's a fascinating area of work, but not short of risk there.

I want to come back very briefly and says this is from Rolf's organization [OECD], regional comparisons. We like to say to people, "seek unusual friends." When you're seeking change seek unusual friends, if you talk to the people you know—May knows this—when you're trying to change, there's a kind of echo chamber of what you already think.

So when we are saying to people—and we're saying it to our colleagues in the local authorities—"Look, your wellbeing profile in Northern Ireland is very similar to the wellbeing profile of Quebec or Eastern and Northern Finland." Now, these days you don't have to go and visit those places. You can talk to them: "How are you doing? How are you changing?" You can also find people who are doing far better than you and ask them how they have done it, and hopefully they'll find you and say, "How did you do that?" These regional comparison data drive a very interesting piece of the work, especially in our work in local government, which I hope you'll get a flavor of some of it through the day.

This is what we're doing. These are my last three slides.

When the Northern Ireland Assembly Government fell, we wanted to carry on doing some work. Aideen McGinley, who was my co-chair on the roundtable leading to the work you're going to discuss this afternoon. The board wanted to carry on doing that. So we invited each of the 11 authorities in Northern Island to be a partner with us in looking to work. There are quite a number of them in the room today who are our partners on this early journey of finding out more. We're not grant-aiding them, we are partnering and with some of our resources help them do things which they wouldn't otherwise do in public.

We are making a fairly large investment ourselves, finding a way that they can work together to find unusual friends and friends. We are meeting tomorrow in the Carnegie Corporation Building on Madison Avenue with a range of American and Canadian partners who are working this area too.

These are the places. They are fantastic partners to be with. As I said, we've got two years. We are just getting to know each other, and we hope to get to know each other far better and work together over the period.

Going back, these are the two people from the two parties who were in government at the time we did our work with Aideen. Simon Hamilton from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Daithi McKay from Sinn Féin, and they gave us a degree of permission privately to do this work together for that same reason in other areas: it allowed them to preserve their political capital, to test the water; for us to see what this is about, what is a wellbeing framework, and what is the outcome. When we produced our report, they were good enough to put this into the foreword: "It is time to place the wellbeing of our citizens at the heart of what government is about."

The reason why this was important in terms of a discussion of wellbeing in terms of a society that's divided, is you could have a conversation about the future which didn't depend on where the resources were currently being allocated. You could say—and the Senator said this—"What were your aspirations?" and you would probably find your aspirations for your children, for your family, for yourself, were no different wherever you were. So an outcomes-based wellbeing framework became in part a contribution to a program for government that was draft published before the Assembly Government work.

Here are the domains of wellbeing. You've got a little leaflet on your table about it. It's much more complicated than just feeling good of being healthy. It's quite a sophisticated conversation.

I'm going to leave it like that. I'm hoping you've got an idea we are working on a range of issues and this has been a fantastic journey for us.

I reflect what the Senator was saying about the welcome that we have received when we've been working across Ireland and Northern Ireland. It has been fantastically energizing. So I'll say in this forum the work that has been done in Northern Ireland actually is more interesting on wellbeing than the work that has been done in almost every other—in fact I'd probably say any other—jurisdiction in the world, as interesting if not more interesting than in Estonia, as interesting if not more interesting than somewhere else.

It's worth shouting about that, but I know that I've worked in Scotland for 30 years—and Northern Ireland is the same—you don't like to shout about your successes. But, hopefully, we'll talk about it in a rational way, in a very positive way, and you'll hear what's going on.

Thanks very much indeed.

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