A tool that was designed for assessing the wellbeing benefits of transport schemes in Wales has shown how the consideration of wellbeing can be built into the design stage of infrastructure and built environment projects.
Social outcomes should be at the very heart of infrastructure and built environment projects. At Mott MacDonald, we see it as our purpose to improve society by considering social outcomes in everything we do; relentlessly focusing on excellence and digital innovation, transforming our clients’ businesses, our communities and employee opportunities.
Far from being a marginal concern, the effects that a scheme has on accessibility, inclusion, empowerment, resilience and wellbeing – the five elements that make up our social outcomes framework - ought to be central to the reason why the project it is needed in the first place. That’s why the UN Sustainable Development Goals put health and wellbeing, sustainability and reduced inequality on an equal footing with traditional drivers such as economic growth and employment.
Moreover, it’s vital that projects should not just enhance people’s lives now, but long into the future. We would all like to imagine that in 20, 30 or 40 years’ time, our children and grandchildren will still be using and benefitting from the infrastructure, environments and services that our generation put in place.
So, how can these considerations be integrated into the planning and design stages of a project? Here is just one example, from Wales, of how we are using innovative tools to advance the wellbeing of communities in the ways set out in our social outcomes framework.
A central role for wellbeing
In Wales, the consideration of social outcomes was made a legal requirement – alongside environmental, economic and cultural concerns - by the passing of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in 2015. Public bodies covered by the Act, or any private company performing work for them, has a legal duty to demonstrate how what they are doing serves seven wellbeing goals. These seven largely echo the UN SDGs, covering health, equality, community cohesion, resilience, sustainability and prosperity, with the addition of a more bespoke goal centred on Welsh culture and language.
To help demonstrate a tangible contribution towards achieving these goals and to embed an evidence-based approach to the evaluation of projects, Mott MacDonald designed the Wellbeing Impact Evaluation (WELLIE) tool, which examines the impact of infrastructure and the built environment upon community and individual wellbeing. WELLIE is seamlessly integrated into business case development and provides a worksheet to embed the principles of sustainability into each stage of the analysis which is undertaken as part of scheme optioneering. This analysis feeds into scheme development from the earliest stages to ensure that community impacts are integral to the business case for projects.
“Compliance with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act shouldn’t be a tick-box exercise that is conducted after you’ve already designed your scheme,” says Alexandra Egge, town planning specialist at Mott MacDonald and the creator of WELLIE. “It should be at the forefront. WELLIE puts wellbeing at the very beginning, so that as you are designing your scheme you are thinking at every step about how to maximise performance against the provisions of the Act and sustainable development in general.”
An eight-stage framework
WELLIE was created to work within the WelTAG appraisal process, which assesses transport projects in Wales. It operates through a framework of eight stages. At each stage, WELLIE introduces concepts and asks questions that may need significant investigation and further work to address. There is an arsenal of tools and expertise within Mott MacDonald that can be accessed by clients who want to provide robust and informed answers to these questions, and evaluate and optimise social outcomes.
- National and local policy: establish the wellbeing objectives of relevant public bodies, and assess the baseline level of wellbeing.
Wellbeing SWOT analysis: map strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats against the wellbeing goals.
Ways of working: indicate how project work will align with the five ‘ways of working’ in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (long-term, prevention, integration, collaboration, involvement).
Objective mapping: map wellbeing goals to scheme objectives to highlight how objectives were formulated and the drivers for change.
Impacts and assessment: identify how potential schemes could impact upon the wellbeing goals and which metrics will be used to measure a scheme’s impact upon the goals.
Shortlist impacts: for each shortlisted option, use these metrics to anticipate the quantifiable impact upon the wellbeing goals.
Metrics and monitoring plan: set metrics to monitor scheme performance and prepare a monitoring plan, including setting responsible parties and timelines.
Monitor results: monitor scheme performance and feed back results for analysis and ‘lessons learned’ to responsible parties.
“WELLIE was set up to help us comply with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, but also to improve the way we do our projects in general, and help us achieve tangible outcomes in terms of social, economic and environmental wellbeing,” says Alexandra Egge. “It’s really all based on sustainable development principles: ensuring that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability to meet those of future generations.”
Case study: thinking outside the box on transport
Last year WELLIE was used in the formation of a town centre masterplan in Pontypridd, South Wales, where a long list of options was considered for improving connectivity between the rail station and the town centre. Workshops were held with key stakeholders to encourage conversations about wellbeing at the earliest discussions of possible options, and the WELLIE tool was later used to score the various options that were developed.
Without the application of WELLIE, the options that would have scored most highly were traditional transport solutions such as additional bus routes, the resignalling of traffic junctions and addition of bike lanes. However, once the WELLIE filter was applied, the highest scoring proposal was a pedestrian and cyclist promenade along the river front. As well as providing connectivity and promoting healthy transport options, it offered a boost to local businesses and made moving through the town a more enjoyable experience. The focus on wellbeing also led to placemaking-led proposals, such as offering incentives to developers for regenerating unused town centre buildings, which supported the project objectives and sought to address the root causes of some of the town’s transport challenges.
In summary, WELLIE sparked a dialogue between planners and stakeholders which centred on the wellbeing of the community and desired social outcomes. The result was the development of a package of transport and non-transport measures that would achieve the aim of improved connectivity at the same time as enhancing individual and community wellbeing in a broad spectrum of ways. The masterplan therefore enjoyed more stakeholder support and engagement from the local community.