On Tuesday 21 May 2013, around 40 people gathered in Newcastle's Mansion House to discuss Measuring wellbeing - and changes to wellbeing - in Newcastle.

In the third part of the then draft Wellbeing for Life strategy, we had noted the need to

“develop a framework of measurement so that we can evaluate the extent to which our work together is making a difference, drawing on both national outcome frameworks and lessons from those who are developing frameworks for measuring the multiple dimensions of wellbeing”

With this commitment in mind, we scoped some of the drivers and developments around measuring wellbeing and invited guest speakers from across Europe to inform our discussions and deliberations as we move forward. 

We set out to explore issues including:

  • Understanding wellbeing: What are the dimensions?  What are the key drivers and challenges?  How is discussion developing in different places? 
  • Measurement tools and indicators: What quantitative indicators are available?  How qualitative research adds to our understanding. Research and evaluation techniques.  What research, practice and evaluation networks exist?  How do we compare wellbeing nationally and internationally?  How can we compare wellbeing between communities?
  •  Implications for policy design and implementation: What is the role of policy and intervention?  Which services and policies help?  What should be done at national, regional and local level?  Can we identify leading practice?

Programme and presentations

We created a programme that interspersed presentations from speakers with lots of table discussion time.  Participants were invited to record their conversations using conversational mapping.

Our speakers were:

Measuring wellbeing.  A case of the blind men and the elephant?  Helen Wilding, Wellbeing for Life Development lead, Newcastle

How's life in your region? Measuring local and regional well-being for policy making. Monica Brezzi, Soo-Jin Kim & Vicente Ruiz, OECD Public Governance and Territorial Development

Measuring national wellbeing in the UK. Jen Beaumont, National Measuring Wellbeing Programme,  Office of National Statistics

Taking the temperature of local communities.  Measuring wellbeing at a local level. Nina Mguni, The Young Foundation

The Good Life Index - experiences from Southern Denmark.  Rune Stig Mortensen, Region of Southern Denmark

Changes and effects: the use of indicators as a support for programming in the Sardinian Region.  A case study on tourism policy.  Sonia Pistis, Sardinian Region, Italy

Measuring wellbeing: the Sardinian Deprivation Index Case.  Eloisa Canu, Sardinian Region, Italy 

Our conversations

Each of the tables engaged in intensive conversations sparked from the issues in the presentations.

Here are some of the themes that arose:

  • there isn't a single measure of wellbeing - best to think in terms of domains or dimensions of wellbeing and 'baskets' of measures
  • self-reported measures of wellbeing looks into perceptions and what is important to people.  This is important for participation and sense of control.  But, they are also influenced by cultural context such as what is socially acceptable.
  • some people, such as children and young people or those who are excluded from mainstream surveys through poor literacy or exclusion, are not represented in many measures of wellbeing
  • the issue of 'levels' - wellbeing is of interest to a specific service or project, to local areas, to cities, to countries and also internationally.  Different measurements are possible and useful at different levels
  • are we measuring wellbeing to inform our priorities or measuring what we have already homed in on as priorities?
  • understanding wellbeing through conversations is more important than understanding wellbeing through data
  • problems of comparisons - if we are comparing wellbeing of one population group with another, how do we understand what this is telling us about what is important to those communities
  • sometimes a measure (e.g. income) can be thought of as a dimension of wellbeing (in this case economic wellbeing) and other times it is thought of as a factor that is associated with or making a contribution to wellbeing
  • it is important that data is open so that interested people can explore measuring wellbeing for themselves
  • wellbeing and health literacy levels and power imbalance means people can be excluded from conversations and debate about what is important
  • there is a time-lag between policy interventions and effect on wellbeing which doesn't always fit with political cycles

Resources that may be helpful

In addition to the papers and background materials we originally scoped, you may find the following interesting...

What matters most to personal wellbeing?   Analysis from the large scale 2011/12 Annual Population Survey explores the influence of a range of factors on personal well-being across Great Britain. The analysis provides a sense of the relative importance of these factors in shaping people’s views about their own well-being – one aspect of national well-being.