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How do we think about human wellbeing when it comes to marine and coastal development?

This is one of the questions we are currently considering in the Blue Governance group.

Governments and companies who wish to exploit marine and coastal resources often claim they 'support employment' and 'generate wealth' to link the use of these resources to increased societal wellbeing. We call this a neoclassical economic understanding of human wellbeing.

But, we could argue human wellbeing is much broader, for example "a state of being with others and the environment, which arises when human needs are met, when individuals and communities can act meaningfully to pursue their goals, and when individuals and communities enjoy a satisfactory quality of life”. Fluffy, yes? Perhaps... but shouldn't we consider human wellbeing more broadly if we want to use the concept as a reason for making changes to our oceans and coasts?

We investigated how other scholars have discussed the links between human wellbeing and regional development. We reviewed 74 empirical studies, taking notes on why wellbeing was studied, how wellbeing was defined, and what methods the authors used to analyse wellbeing.

We identified 4 key points. We saw an increase in the use of the 'sustainable development' concept. In fact, the ‘triple bottom line’ or ‘three pillars’ (social, economic, and environmental) drivers of the sustainable development movement have changed how we think about regional development policy and planning.

We found that wellbeing was considered differently depending on whether it was pre-development planning or post-development impact being considered. The former studies asked how to consider potential wellbeing impacts prior to application approval. The latter often tested the claims of positive socio-economic impacts of an industry or aiming to understand the industry more fully.

We identified 4 key wellbeing components: employment and livelihoods, health, education and skills, and the quality of the surrounding environment. The first 3 are common socio-economic indicators, data are easy to find and considered reliable and informative indicators for empirical research. The fourth component was surprising, but might reflect the influence of the sustainable development agenda we note above.

We also identified new approaches to investigating wellbeing and that they tended to combine quantitative indicators with qualitative descriptions of people's wellbeing experiences. Essentially - social science is moving towards a central position in this field - leading to a rather huge HURRAH from us social scientists!

Importantly, we realised that like us many scholars were critical of wellbeing indicators built on a limited interpretation of ‘development’ (primarily driven by economic policy) and concluded future work in this space must take an interdisciplinary approach!

If you would like to read the science paper upon which this blog is based, you can find it here.


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