A theory of change for community wellbeing

As well as this week’s blog, check out our latest call for evidence on joint-decision making in communities.


Professor Jane South

Jane South is a member of the Centre’s community wellbeing team and professor of healthy communities working in the field of volunteering, active citizenship and community health. In this blog she shares the thinking behind the new theory of change model the team has created after carrying out research, workshops and public dialogues.

Download the PDF slides explaining the theory of change model

Personal experience tells us that the communities we’d like to  live in are positive, safe and sociable. And, of course, research shows how much community life and good social connections matter for our health and wellbeing.

As part of the Centre, our communities evidence programme is reviewing and summarising existing evidence for what works to make communities more positive places for people to live in. To help us do this, we’ve developed a ‘theory of change’. This describes the ways change can happen to improve community wellbeing.

There has been increasing interest in the UK in using a theory of change approach to help unpack how programmes work, which in turn makes it easier for evaluations to ‘test’ the pathways to outcomes. Our theory of change describes a cyclical process of six stages with the ultimate aim of improving community and individual wellbeing. It’s our first attempt and draws heavily on what we heard from people and community organisations across the country during the engagement phase at the start of the project. You can see the results of that engagement in our Voice of the User work.

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How the process for change works

The starting point for change is community conditions (box one in the diagram). The places where we live, how we relate to others and whether we have a say in how our local area run all influence our wellbeing. But while some people are part of communities that help them flourish, others are not.

There are things that government, organisations and individuals can all do to improve community wellbeing. For the purposes of this theory of change we’ve called these interventions (box two), but this doesn’t mean they have to be initiatives ‘done to’ communities – they could be things that people organise themselves in their neighbourhood.

Mechanisms of Change (box three) are then created, such as improving living environments, strengthening social connections and making it easier for people to take part. Things begin to change at a local level and these improved community conditions then give us the best chances to live, work and play well (box four) . Eventually changes can lead to long-term wellbeing outcomes (box five) for communities and individuals, and the ultimate reason for making change happen.

Where this community wellbeing cycle works well, there are feedback loops and things keep improving as people are more connected and involved  in community life and feel the benefits. Potentially there could be net savings from improvements in community wellbeing, although this is not a necessary part of the change process. And obviously, improving community wellbeing requires investment over time.

How can you use the theory of change?

We hope that this theory of change provides a framework for understanding and improving community wellbeing. It will also be used to help us interpret evidence. Communities are of course diverse and what works in one community may work differently- or not at all – elsewhere.  This theory of change could be used and adapted in local projects as a planning and evaluation aid.  Key questions include: What is the relationship between wellbeing benefits for the individual and for the whole community? How do we measure more of what matters, such as changes in social relationships, safety, trust and belonging?

What happens next?

Over the course of this project, we will be reviewing the community wellbeing evidence for interventions related to housing, social relations and co-production. As we find answers about what works we will refine and update our theory of change, backing it up with the evidence.

But a lot of the evidence doesn’t exist in academic journals, it lies with people working on the ground. We welcome comments on this initial theory of change – does it fit into the way you already think about improving wellbeing in your area? Do you have ideas of how it could be used? Are there things that are missing, or don’t make sense for you? We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below, on our forum, on Twitter, or via email at info@whatworkswellbeing.org.

Resource round up and Centre update

During the election period we’re not publishing any new evidence, but we’ll still have a great line up of blogs, case studies and some useful resources to make sure you get your wellbeing evidence into practice  fix.

Workplace wellbeing
If you haven’t already downloaded it and posted it up on your office noticeboard (or whatever hi-tech equivalent you’re using), here’s our handy one-page factsheet on the latest evidence for wellbeing benefits at work.

And once that’s whetted your appetite, you can dip into our briefings on learning in the workplace and designing a good quality job.

Resilience in hospices and mental health in the media
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and we’re sharing two case studies that link with this year’s theme of surviving and thriving. Hospice UK give us an insight into a programme to improve staff wellbeing in an emotionally demanding environment. Meanwhile, Mind’s peer education for professionals is a look an an ambitious project that successfully challenged mental health stigma by training journalists.

Share your evaluations
We’ve currently got two calls for evidence live:

We will be putting out more calls throughout the year, and you can follow us on Twitter @whatworksWB for updates when these come out.

Other resources
You can find all of our evidence, research and guidance on the following themes:

Up next
After 8 June, here’s just a taster of what you can expect:

  • new evidence reviews on dance and sport and adult learning
  • guidance for community organisations on measuring personal wellbeing
  • a one-stop set of wellbeing indicators for local authorities
  • a round up of the evidence on green space and wellbeing
  • a discussion paper on community wellbeing.

 

 

 

 

Call for evidence: visual arts, mental health and wellbeing

Deadline: 1 June 2017

How does participating in visual arts impact the subjective wellbeing of adults (18-65 year olds) who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition? We are carrying out a review of all available evidence to find out.

If you work in an organisation that runs, funds, or works in any way with visual arts for adults experiencing mental health issues, we need your evaluation reports* – whether printed, digital or visual evidence – to help us tell the whole story.

Criteria for submission and review

We will accept sources for review and possible inclusion in our systematic review using the following criteria.

  • submissions must be evaluation reports only.
  • reports submitted must have been completed in the past three years (2014-present) and include author details (individuals, groups or organisations).
  • evaluation methods may be qualitative methods, quantitative methods or mixed methods.
  • the central report objective must be the measurement of wellbeing outcomes and/or evaluation of the processes by which wellbeing outcomes are achieved in visual arts interventions or initiatives related to adults with mental health conditions.

We can only consider your evaluations if they are submitted through this call for evidence. Evidence submitted to individual researchers in the programme cannot be considered. If you have previously sent documents to the culture and sport team please re-submit through this call.

Please send your evaluations to evidence@whatworkswellbeing.org with the subject header: visual arts evidence review.

Link to PROSPERO record

*These evaluations form part of what is known as grey literature: “literature that is not formally published in sources such as books or journal articles” (Lefebvre, Manheimer, & Glanville, 2008, p. 106). This may be produced by charities, government departments, businesses, community groups and others; and may include reports, theses or dissertations, trials, and more. To find out more about why we include work not published academically and qualitative evidence, and the rigorous standards of our evidence collection, you can read our Methods Guide.