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Eliciting Young People’s Views on Wellbeing Through Contemporary Science Debates in Wales


Renewed vigour in wellbeing measurement combined with a shift towards a ‘new sociology of childhood’ has resulted in growing emphasis on incorporating the voices and perspectives of young people in discussions of what matters to them and how this can feed into broader indicator development. This has led to a more sustained effort to ask young people directly about what contributes to their wellbeing. This raises important questions about how young people should be engaged in discussions about what wellbeing means to them. This paper provides an account of an innovative approach to eliciting young people’s views on wellbeing in Wales, United Kingdom, using the vehicle of ‘contemporary science debates’ (CSD). CSD is designed to engage young people in innovative and participative discussions on social and ethical issues associated with contemporary science. Here, it is used to provide young people with the opportunity to debate the relevance of wellbeing to their every-day lives and give them an opportunity to make their opinions heard. The paper explores the value of using this approach as a methodology for gathering information on what young people understand about wellbeing and provides an initial analysis of which aspects of wellbeing were identified as important for them. It situates this within the broader context of giving voice to young people in the development of subjective wellbeing measures.

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  1. Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology emphasising and promoting mental health rather than focusing on mental illness.

  2. There has been increasing coverage by the media of the use of ‘wellbeing’ within policy. However, it has often misleadingly been used interchangeably with happiness. See, for example: The Guardian Happiness index to gauge Britain's national mood (accessed 14/09/11), and the DirectGov website featuring the ONS Debate on measuring wellbeing - Happiness in the UK, and how to measure it (accessed 02/01/12)

  3. (accessed 12/09/11)

  4. The national debate ran from 25th November, 2010 till 15th April, 2011. More information on the outcome of the debate can be found on

  5. (accessed 12/09/11). Through RTH Techniquest is developing and delivering programmes in the convergence areas across Wales for 11–19 year olds who face or who are at risk of disadvantage or under-achievement, to improve their career opportunities.

  6. Convergence areas refer to designated areas of highest levels of support from the European Union Structural Funds (2007–2013). The West Wales and the Valleys regions have been awarded the highest level of support known as Convergence, from the European Union for the Structural Funds programming round 2007–2013. Convergence covers 15 local authority areas in the West Wales and the Valleys region. Over £690 million from the European Social Fund will be used to tackle economic inactivity, increase skills and employment. (accessed 27/07/12)

  7. (accessed 12/04/12)

  8. The new economics foundation is an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being in the UK (accessed 27/07/12)

  9. (accessed 14/09/11)

  10. These dramatised accounts were true stories adapted and anonymised from newspaper and online articles. The names of the characters are pseudonyms, and photos were added to make the cards more interesting visually.

  11. The Welsh Baccalaureate is a qualification for 14–19 year olds that combines personal development skills with traditional qualifications such as A-levels and NVQs. See: (accessed 09/01/12)

  12. In the UK, the final year of compulsory schooling is year 11, so young people will have chosen to progress into Year 12. Year 12 is the year in which students turn 17 years old, so Year 12 has a mixture of students aged 16 and 17; Year 13 has 17 and 18 year olds, year 14 has 18 and 19 year olds.

  13. WBQ1 is an abbreviation for Welsh Baccalaureate Year One, and contains a mixture of ages between 16 and 19 years old.

  14. For more detail on the category analysis of the content of the categories, see Newton et al. (2011).

  15. In the UK, the final year of compulsory schooling is year 11, so young people will have chosen to progress into Year 12. Year 12 is the year in which students turn 17 years old, so Year 12 has a mixture of students aged 16 and 17.

  16. However, one of the trials was made up of a predominantly male group who were members of a football academy.

  17. WBQ1 is an abbreviation for Welsh Baccalaureate Year One.

  18. If fastfood were merged under food, it would have increased to rank three, replacing sports, but would have not affected the order of the frequency of the other items.

  19. Detailed information on the content of all the cards used in the trials can be found in Appendices 1.1 and 1.2 of Newton et al. (2011)

  20. The UNICEF report prompted the Children and Young People’s Wellbeing Monitor for Wales to measure progress along the UNCRC. In response to criticism that children and young people’s voices were missing in the 2008 Children and Young People Wellbeing Monitor (Welsh Government 2008), it commissioned new qualitative research to gather their views, subsequently incorporated in the 2011 Welsh Government publication.

  21. At the international level, it is also worth highlighting the International Survey of Children’s wellbeing is piloting a range of subjective wellbeing measures as part of its wider remit to “ collect solid and representative data on children’s lives and daily activities, their time use, and in particular on their own perception of their well-being. The survey should also reveal how well children have a say in matters that concern them and how effectively they can influence and determine the course of their own lives”.

  22. London riots: Looting and violence continues (accessed 14/09/11)


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The authors would like to thank all the young people who participated in this study and acknowledge the support of ONS (particularly Stephen Hicks, Paul Allin, Theo Joloza, Jen Thomas and Lucy Tinkler), Techniquest (particularly the support of Dave Breen and Dr Anita Shaw) and the Reach the Heights project (part-funded by the European Social Fund and managed by the Welsh Government) that made this research possible.

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Correspondence to Cerys Ponting.

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Newton, J., Ponting, C. Eliciting Young People’s Views on Wellbeing Through Contemporary Science Debates in Wales. Child Ind Res 6, 71–95 (2013).

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