Relational Welfare

Department of Education and Lifelong Learning

Relational Welfare

The purpose of the research group is to help residents live good and dignified lives in strong communities, across generations and social backgrounds. Through innovation and research, citizens, local governments, academia, NGO's, private sector and other relevant stakeholders will work together to develop new and more sustainable welfare solutions.

Relational welfare

Relational welfare is a concept and approach to welfare development that was coined by the British social innovator Hillary Cottam (2011, 2018). The research group's definition on Relational Welfare is inspired by her work, Larry Davidson's work on recovery, human rights, citizenship and living conditions, Sen and Nussbaum's framework on capabilities, WHO's approach to health promotion and the Taos Institutes work on community based practices:

“Relational welfare is a human-centred and collaborative approach premised on human rights, social justice and societal sustainable development. Relational welfare means that welfare is a resource that people co-create together, where personal and collective relationships and environments are placed at the centre of development. Within this, the public’s foremost mission is to build public value as a common good by supporting conditions that support all people to flourish and live a life they have reason to value and the capacity to sustain. The purpose is to strengthen the resources, relationships and communities to create positive and sustainable life courses, now and in the future.” (Ness & Heimburg, in press)

There is a tremendous need for innovation and knowledge development in communities and local governments to create welfare and sustainability in the future for "the common good". Basically, this is about pursuing human rights and social justice. The research literature describes co-creation and relational welfare approaches as a form of governance that can save a public welfare system under pressure in the face of scarce resources and increasingly complex challenges. Co-creation and relational welfare integrate citizens, professionals and services into closer forms of collaboration than dominant management logics.

The core of relational welfare is capacity building in people, between people, in local communities by bringing public, private and/or civil actors to collaborate in the creation of public welfare through processes of sharing knowledge and resources with each other. These perspectives involve moving from looking at sustainability and welfare as a task for Public Sector Organizations with defined missions separated info different sectors, to looking at it as a joint mission across sectors, organizations and actors in a whole-of-society approach.

The municipality is regarded as an arena for collaboration and co-creation, in a community that builds resources and solves challenges together. Such a model, often referred to as "municipality 3.0", challenges common conceptions of the municipal sector's, as well as the role of the citizens. In this perspective, the municipality is primarily conceptualized as a local community, rather than an organization. The guiding principle is that the local community is best developed through a joint focus on tasks, opportunities and problems. This means that the main task of the municipality is understood as mobilizing people’s coping of everyday life, strengthening social networks, increasing community participation and empowering local communities. The focus is directed towards what citizens, volunteers, businesses, professional professionals, leaders and politicians can achieve jointly, both at the interpersonal level and across organizational boundaries and levels of government.

Viewing the municipality as a local community does not relieve the public responsibility for service provision and development of services. On the contrary, this means that public services must be knitted into an integrated part of the local community. If we assume an understanding where health and well-being are created in all parts of society, it makes sense to see the municipal services as an integral part of what promotes health and well-being in people's everyday lives. Thus, the challenge will be to find good solutions to mobilize the resources of the local community's to move in the same direction, in systems that provide the opportunity to receive and provide support as needed.

Extensive knowledge development and innovation capacity building is required in the municipal sector if local governments are to succeed in such further development.

The municipal sector needs to build capacity to systematically try, test, fail, succeed, learn and share practices and knowledge about relational welfare solutions and collaboration, and how such a development can be led. In a very few years, co-creation and relational welfare have gone from being unfamiliar concepts to being widely used in terms of governance, both in Norway and internationally. Despite this optimism, knowledge development in the field is far behind. There is a great need for theory development and empirical exploration of collaboration and relational welfare. This constitutes the starting point for the research group Relational Welfare.

Ongoing Research and Development projects:

  • Recovery and recovery-oriented services and practices within mental health and substance abuse care
  • Well-being Communities in Europe – Experimenting with deliberative and participatory practices towards well-being
  • Public Conversations Project
  • Interprofessional collaboration for children and youth in schools who are in contact with child welfare services (a PhD-project in collaboration with the COIN-research group)
  • Relational Capacity
  • Asset Based Community Development (ABCD)
  • Democratic Innovation in deliberative and participatory democracy
  • Citizen assemblies in local communities
  • Public Health and strength based communities of learning
  • Think it out – dialogical reflection groups in prisons
  • Action research methods for transforming communities (Edited book)
  • It takes a village: Co-creation of social inclusion amongst families with children in preschools.( PhD project at Nord University and Levanger Municipality, Norway).
  • Health promotion at the local level: From disease prevention to community development (Edited book)

Collaborative partners