Well-being Factsheets for ministerial budgets

/ Author: Karel Feenstra
© Hollandse Hoogte / Flip Franssen
At the request of the Dutch House of Representatives, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) publishes the Monitor of Well-being and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) annually on Accountability Day in May. In September 2022 – by way of experiment – CBS drafted factsheets to accompany the budgets of four ministries (Education, Culture and Science; Justice and Security; Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality; and Social Affairs and Employment). The factsheets focused on the budget themes of each ministry, providing a clearer picture of trends in the area of well-being and the SDGs in each policy area. In response to the request from the House of Representatives to place well-being indicators at the centre of ministerial budgets, the Ministry of Finance commissioned CBS to develop these factsheets further, in consultation with the ministries. Budget Day this year, 19 September 2023, was the first time CBS presented specific Well-being Factsheets for each government ministry.

Broader perspective

The Monitor of Well-being and the SDGs 2023 comprises much more than the situation in the Netherlands here and now. It also examines the consequences of the present Dutch way of life for future generations in the Netherlands (later) and for people living in other countries (elsewhere). It is difficult to present a clear picture of this broader perspective, but it is also important to do so. ‘It’s a hot topic in both public and political debate,’ says CBS’ Chantal Blom. Blom is project manager of the Well-being Factsheets project and together with her team compiled the factsheets for all government ministries (with the exception of the Ministry of General Affairs, because of its specific nature). The factsheets were presented on Budget Day.


Blom: ‘Following the presentation of the four initial factsheets in 2022, we held discussion rounds with all government ministries to establish which well-being indicators match their specific policy areas. As we also include SDGs in well-being, it can also be seen which ministries are contributing to the SDGs in their own policy areas. We have added 26 new indicators to the dataset for the 2023 Well-being Factsheets’.

Concept of well-being

‘By compiling these ministerial factsheets, CBS has developed a valuable new instrument to help us gain an insight into key indicators for each ministry’s policy areas. For future editions, it would be useful if we could identify potential links between policy areas,’ says Natasha Stroeker. She manages the team of knowledge coordinators at the House of Representatives. Government policy often involves various departments: important themes go beyond the confines of one ministry. There has been a longstanding need for a clearly defined concept of well-being. The Temporary Committee on a Broad Definition of Welfare headed by Rik Grashoff was already exploring this in 2015.

Annual Budget

In 2018 Lammert van Raan, member of parliament for the Party for the Animals (Partij voor de Dieren), tabled a motion (34298-24) to incorporate the concept of broad well-being in all government decision-making. The theme also featured on the knowledge agendas of the Parliamentary Committees on Education, Culture and Science, on Finance, and on Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. One proposal discussed by these committees was to integrate the Monitor of Well-being and the Sustainable Development Goals with the government’s budget and accountability cycle. In addition to CBS, the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP), Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) are working together to embed well-being in the budgetary structure. A motion tabled by Hammelburg et al. (35 925-88) in 2021 comprised a concrete proposal to place well-being indicators at the centre of the government’s annual budget and other government accountability reports. Ms Stroeker: ‘It’s a good job we now have the factsheets. With more and more data at our fingertips, we can monitor more accurately what the consequences of policy decisions will be. We are now in a position to see what certain choices mean in the long term (later) and for people in other countries (elsewhere). The factsheets make it possible to see the effects and consequences of Dutch government policy beyond the here and now. We have a moral duty to look beyond our own generation and beyond our own borders.’

Small recreational area with wind turbines and factories in the background
© ANP / Peter Hilz

Complex task

The Ministry of Finance is responsible for presenting the annual budget, annual reports and relevant data to the House of Representatives. ‘The demand for a clear concept of a broader definition of well-being is as logical as it is complex,’ says Allert Knapper. Knapper is project manager for budget management at the Ministry of Finance. ‘It starts with the very selection of indicators: which indicators do we want to present, which ones don’t we? However tempting it is to zoom in, we also need to understand the broader context. That’s why we are so pleased with the factsheets; they link various components of our well-being here and now with their consequences for later and elsewhere. It is this multiyear approach that is so important for the Ministry of Finance.’

Broader mindset

Gonneke de Ridder, cluster coordinator of multilateral policy and SDG focal point for the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, sees another component of the complexity of the broader concept of well-being. ‘We need to think beyond ‘here and now’ to be able to make good policy. It’s clear that future consequences also concern our own interests. But when we try to think one generation ahead, it is difficult to put these interests into precise words. The factsheets are a great step towards making this more concrete.’ To understand the information on the factsheets and in the dashboards, where indicators are coloured green or red, it is also essential for users to know what they are looking at. To facilitate this, CBS has added explanatory notes to the factsheets.

Work in progress

In essence, the government budget cycle is an accountability and steering instrument. Knapper: ‘The bottom-line is: are our policies working? To answer this, alongside a clear overview for each ministry we need a broader view, and this is where the Well-being Factsheets can help.’ On Budget Day 2023, a first version with factsheets for each ministry was published. They comprise a total 246 indicators, of which 26 have been newly developed. Together they present a picture of how well-being ‘here and now’, ‘later’, and ‘elsewhere’ is represented in each policy area.

More effective policy-making

De Ridder: ‘The factsheets provide more insight into trends in our policy areas, which means we can implement and adjust our policies more effectively. The next step is to make links between policy areas visible: which policies reinforce each other? Where are the bottlenecks? The factsheets are an important source of inspiration for central government and an instrument to be developed further.’ Everyone involved confirms the dynamic nature of the Well-being Factsheets. ‘We’re proud of the version we have produced this year, but it is very much a work in progress. By adding the explanatory notes and the infographics, we have tried to make the Well-being Factsheets as user friendly as possible. From here on we’ll analyse what works and where we can make further improvements,’ says Blom.