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Our Approach to Wellbeing

What is Wellbeing?
Why Wellbeing?
Why Wellbeing in Developing Countries?

What is Wellbeing?

The WeD approach to wellbeing considers

  • what people have or do not have (material);
  • what people do or cannot do with it (relational);
  • what people think or feel (subjective). 

WeD is grounded in practical research in developing countries. Wellbeing is viewed as a process rather than a state or an outcome, and what people understand by wellbeing is context-specific. 

The material refers to the 'stuff' of wellbeing, such as food, bodies, shelter and the physical environment.  In practical application this typically refers most immediately to economic assets and income, but it should not be restricted to this.

The relational concerns social interaction, the rules and practices that govern 'who gets what and why.' It involves power and identity, the connections between people and also the making of difference between them. It is the arena of action, which brings the material and subjective to life.

The subjective concerns cultural values, ideologies and beliefs and also people’s own perceptions of their situation

These three aspects are not different areas of life, but interlinked.

In policy terms the WeD approach builds on and advances

  • livelihoods approaches which promote an integrated actor-oriented focus on people's lives emphasising strengths rather than needs;
  • the human development approach focus on capabilities and entitlements. 
It adds to these a distinctive focus on culture and meaning; on the centrality of personal and social relationships; and on people's own perceptions and experience of life and how this relates to objective measures of wellbeing. 

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Why Wellbeing?

Wellbeing is increasingly recognised as the ultimate goal of community and development programmes and public policy. This poses questions not only about what is good for individuals and communities, but also the nature of the good society. Its distinctive orientation is:

  • Positive
  • Holistic
  • Person-centred

Being positive places the emphasis on what people have, can do or hope for; rather than seeing people and places in terms of their problems, deficiencies or what they lack.

Being holistic gives a rounded understanding of quality of life that sets conventional material indicators in the context of other things that matter to people.

Being person-centred recognises the importance of social and personal relationships and people’s own perceptions, including the way these are shaped by culture, values and meaning.

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Why Wellbeing in Developing Countries?

Considering wellbeing in developing countries is important because such countries - and especially poorer people within them - are particularly subject to being characterized negatively and in outsiders' terms.

Focusing on developing countries also brings to discussions of wellbeing greater awareness of the importance of context and politics

Understandings of wellbeing and opportunities for achieving it differ by historical, geographical and cultural context as well as by social position, such as gender, age, ethnicity, caste or class. What wellbeing means locally therefore needs to be explored, and should not be assumed.

Politics underlie how wellbeing is understood, who is seen to be entitled to it, and how it is pursued. This means that local understandings of wellbeing cannot simply be taken at face value. In addition, calls to re-frame policy in terms of wellbeing may reflect very different political agendas.

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