Community researchers in Solomon Islands conduct garden and agrobiodiversity surveys. Credit: CBC-AMNH

By Erin C. Betley, Amanda Sigouin, Pua’ala Pascua, Samantha H. Cheng, Kenneth Iain MacDonald, Felicity Arengo, Yildiz Aumeeruddy-Thomas, Sophie Caillon, Marney E. Isaac, Stacy D. Jupiter, Alexander Mawyer, Manuel Mejia, Alexandria C. Moore, Delphine Renard, Lea Sébastien, Nadav Gazit, and Eleanor J. Sterling

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Well-being is at the core of public policy efforts to support just, equitable, and sustainable futures in a rapidly changing world. These changes include increasing frequency of climatic, environmental, and economic shocks that affect human well-being. But what constitutes living well, or a good life? Well-being spans the interrelated social, cultural, economic, political, health, and environmental dimensions of human lives. Researchers and practitioners may struggle to understand and apply well-being frameworks and methods (hereafter constructs) that have been developed and implemented to date. They also may find it challenging to determine what to track and measure amongst the infinite variety of possibilities about who decides what and how to measure, how results are used within and across different scales, and whose worldviews, knowledge, and values frame well-being metrics. In this paper we identify well-being constructs that consider environmental dimensions and also equity. We analyze these constructs to see how they were developed and applied to decision-making.   

To identify well-being constructs, we conducted a review of peer-reviewed and grey literature. We noted a consistent lack of transparency and specificity in how well-being is defined in many well-being-focused studies. Further we observed that the constructs rarely consider interactions between well-being dimensions, such as between human health and the environment, and often do not consider differences in local and cultural understandings of those dimensions. We found variation in how constructs consider equity across the many ways equity can be defined. We argue that when assessing well-being frameworks, use of a lens that centers equity can support public policy aimed towards enhancing well-being. Similarly, some of the most promising well-being constructs we identified thoughtfully address the interrelationships between human well-being and its environmental dimensions, creating space for holistic approaches to interlinked policy objectives across sectors.