Cat posters and wellbeing budgets

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
19 July, 2019

There was a line of ’80s and ’90s motivational posters, often involving pictures of cats, with quips that might help improve spirits around the workplace. One of those, from memory, read something like, “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps!” Other variants read, “You don’t have to be crazy to work here; we will train you.”

None of them would pass modern sensitivity standards, and they were never really motivational or funny in the first place. But they did come back to mind on reading through an Official Information Act response.

In May, I attended the lock-up for the first wellbeing budget, in which every dollar spent was supposed to do the most good possible to improve wellbeing.

I wondered in this newsletter then whether the government was really taking things as seriously as it should be.

The budget’s $1.9 billion commitment to improving mental health outcomes addresses a very important issue. But taking the problem seriously means making a serious commitment to figuring out which programmes and which providers do the most good. Doing it right requires designing the programmes with one eye on how they might be evaluated.

An Insights reader followed up with an OIA request of the Ministry of Health for any planned future evaluation frameworks, plans or processes for the budgeted initiatives. So we might know how seriously it’s all being taken.

He forwarded the reply to me this week.

It read, “Currently, no evaluation frameworks, plans or processes have been created as this work is just commencing.”

But it also promised that once work is underway, the Ministry would start incorporating information collection and evaluation into the implementation of the initiatives.

Fair enough that they haven’t yet gotten anything fully fleshed out, but this sounds more like evaluation has been a complete afterthought for something as important as mental health outcomes.

We might have hoped for pointers to evaluation frameworks that the government has been thinking about as models.

Or discussion of the specific outcomes it is considering measuring.

Or how it is thinking about building evaluation into programme design – that part especially matters at this point.

Instead we’re back to the cat posters. You don’t have to be crazy to work under a wellbeing budget, but if you are, we might have a hard time telling whether the wellbeing budget has helped you or not.

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