I was fortunate to have been involved in the creation of the Welsh Well-being Act – the only legislation internationally (unless you know differently?) that specifically seeks to govern for sustainable development by changing the basis for administrative governance.
The full text of the Act is available at the UK’s legislative site here but the following is a quick summary of what makes it special.
The Act legislates that the Welsh Government and all the public bodies named in the Act must apply the sustainable development principle promoting sustainable development by pursuing (equally) seven broad goals and following 5 behaviors, as summarized in the infographic below.
Of interest to ideas of civic bureaucracy, the Act established new place-based collaborative bodies (Public Service Boards) charged with creating and maintaining a long-term well-being plan for their areas. These are informed by new natural resource area statements collaboratively developed by Natural Resources Wales – Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru, the then newly integrated environment, forestry and nature body for Wales. Both documents then inform local land use planning, which has sustainable place-making as its new policy purpose.
Each public body and the Welsh government is required to say how it is implementing the Act and to report on progress, but the Act is not about the managerial targetry which is the basis for governance of sustainable development. Against pressure from other parties in the Senedd and many NGOs, Welsh Ministers expressly argued for a reflexive approach based in the mutual learning of working with the Act, reflecting uncertainty, complexity and place. This approach is backed by the Act’s creation of a Future Generations Commissioner whose primary role is to foster the implementation of the Act.
The goals in the Act are binding and were developed in collaboration with civil society groups. They each have descripitve texts in the legislation (not the glib headings in the inforgraphic) and those texts generally steer an emancipatory course in their choice of wording.
The Act has been described as a license to think differently in the face of the weight of existing practice and expectations. While the Act can seem clunky and process-led at times, that is how best to reshape the way public administration exercises power. As Philip Pettit says of civic republicanism: ‘The ideal of freedom as non-domination suggests that pedestrian matters of institutional design are of the first importance; it argues for a gas- and- waterworks version of republicanism’