How to measure wellbeing?
The good news is that wellbeing can be – and is – being measured at the local, national, and international levels.
There are a range of approaches to measure wellbeing, suited for different contexts and aims.
How to measure wellbeing?
Charities, social enterprises and community groups
Charities and social enterprises want to measure what matters, to improve lives and make a difference. Funding bodies are increasingly asking for measures that capture real impact, beyond traditional outcomes. Wellbeing is now widely recognised as an evidence-informed, established approach to understanding how your service, project or programme makes a difference.
Read more about why charities and funders benefit from using a wellbeing lens.
- Measuring your wellbeing impact
- Brief guide to measuring loneliness
- Community wellbeing indicators
- The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales – WEMWBS
- Centre for Thriving Cities: Thriving Places Index
- Centre for Thriving Places: Happiness Pulse
If you’d like advice on which measures to use to evaluate your activities, contact Ingrid Abreu-Scherer.
Workplace and employers
Our feelings of wellbeing at work are influenced by day-to-day experiences with colleagues and management; how purposeful we feel; and the work that we do. Employers can have a major influence on a person’s sense of wellbeing, which can have a multitude of benefits for the organisation itself. Businesses can also make a difference to our lives through their contribution to the places we live in and the products and services they offer. Many changes in our quality of life come from innovations in business
- Workplace wellbeing 12-week email series
- Workplace wellbeing question bank
- Wellbeing snapshot survey and benchmark data
- Workplace wellbeing toolkit and cost-effectiveness calculator
- Short workplace questions: Thriving at Work Review Voluntary Reporting Standards for Disability, Mental Health & Wellbeing
- PHE workplace wellbeing tool
- Happy City Thriving Places Index
Governments – national, devolved, local and wider public sector
Whether you are an elected member, an analyst, a policy official, a public health commissioner, or other part of government your remit will have specific objectives. Yet your overarching aim in central or local government is to improve people’s lives.
Good advice for decision-making should consider all the important impacts on people’s lives. There are a number of indicators that and guidance for measuring wellbeing, which we can use to develop and deliver better policies.
A wellbeing approach means:
- focusing on a broader range of outcomes than you might traditionally e.g not just GDP or life expectancy although they are still important
- focusing on outcomes rather than activity – what difference did it make? These outcomes can also be goals like the SDGS that help focus shared activity towards a positive idea of progress.
- focusing on outcomes that really matter to peoples lives specifically subjective personal wellbeing
- Broad measures means introduces using frameworks or dashboards for doing this overall e.g. bringing economic, social, environmental together
- broader measures within specific department areas too e.g. within health or economy. so looking at quality of life not just length of life and jobs & cost of living not just GDP
- using objective measures such as crime rates or GDP but also subjective measures of do I feel safe alone at night or do I feel better off. This mix leads to different policy choices because it helps understand the problem better
- it means looking at and building ‘capital’ too to help with sustainability of wellbeing and intergenerational impacts – human, mental, social, natural, economic
- UK National Wellbeing Dashboard
- Sources of wellbeing data
- Measuring wellbeing inequalities: a how-to guide
- Understanding local wellbeing needs
- Guide to wellbeing economic evaluation
- PHE fingertips tool
- Green Book
- Public Value Framework
Traditional measures of progress and success – particularly a focus on life expectancy and GDP growth – are inadequate in terms of capturing what matters most to us and the places where we live. There is increasing momentum to draw on a range of measures to better capture how nations are doing. International wellbeing frameworks include:
- The Sustainable Development Goals endorsed by more than 150 countries include targets for the environment, safety, and health.
- The OECD has developed the Better Life Index to score and compare the issues that matter to us, from housing to the quality of our jobs.
Governments and regional bodies around the world, from the European Union to New Zealand, are explicit in their goals to target and value key aspects of wellbeing.
Evaluating wellbeing: six steps
The steps below are a helpful outline of approaching evaluation of wellbeing, and are adapted from the NESTA standards of evidence.
How to establish what works?
1. Know what you want to achieve, what you do and why it matters
- This is your theory of change that you can usually do yourself
- Draw on existing wellbeing data
- Draw on research from other sources and learn from the practice examples below
2. See if there is a change by capturing data
- A good first step is to add measurement of wellbeing impact into projects, measuring wellbeing before, after, 12 months after. The techniques exist and although they are new, imprecise and evolving we will get better at it but we need to start using them.
→ Adding Subjective Wellbeing to Evaluations guide from the Social Impact Task Force
- Test out small things not just overall programmes – which parts make the difference? Can it be shorter or longer?
- When the learning about what works is embedded into activity policies and projects will be set up to collect evidence as you go along.
- Do include costing information so you can establish cost effectiveness of the impact generated.
3. Understand if your project is causing the change using a control or comparison group
Robust methods to isolate the impact include using a control group, random selection and a sufficiently large sample.
- We really like the Test, Learn, Adapt approach set out here by the Behavioural Insights Team, Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science, and David Torgerson, Director of the University of York Trials Unit.
- We also really like Randomise Me, an online trials generator a free easy to use online tool to create your own randomised controlled trial (RCT) also with Ben Goldacre, Better data and Nesta.
→ If you are a charity already including this measurement and thinking about how to do an economic evaluation of what you do, or a programme you deliver, pro bono economics may be able to help.
→ If you’re in the civil service, the Trials Advice Panel can help set this.
4. Understand if the impact can be shown repeatedly
Your findings can be validated by having one or more independent replication evaluations that confirm your impact. This could include endorsements or industry standards. This needs standardised processes etc.
5. Show that your project or approach can be scaled up and used by others with the same outcome
Manuals, systems and procedures ensure that the project/approach can be consistently applied by others with the same positive impact.
6. Continuously learn from practice
Sustained high performance needs action, purpose, enjoyment and, crucially, continuous learning. Learning is also important to wellbeing. Evaluation of impact is one way to learn. You can also learn from:
→ your own practice using continuous improvement, reflective practiontioner and work based learning approaches.
→ what others are doing – see our practice examples below