What wellbeing data do local authorities need to make better decisions?

la-indicator-rep

 

Download Understanding local needs for wellbeing data (July 2017)

Download only the appendices (with indicator sets and guidance)

 

 

  • Local Wellbeing Indicators use existing data and the best research to show true picture of local residents’ lives and community wellbeing.
  • Indicators look at personal relationships, economics, education, childhood, equality, health, place and social relationships- currently no local authority uses all of this data in one place to meet local needs.

For the first time, local authorities can use data on things like job quality, anxiety levels, social isolation, green space and how physically active people are to get better insights into what really matters to their communities.

Currently, local authorities have to rely solely on traditional metrics, such as unemployment and material deprivation, to build an idea of where people are struggling and thriving. The new indicators now offer, in addition to these, a real-world set of measures for data that follows people’s quality of life from cradle to grave. This gives a more sophisticated picture of where communities may be at risk of health, financial and social problems.

Their origins and next steps

To develop the indicators, What Works Centre for Wellbeing partnered with Happy City and consulted with individuals in 26 different organisations, including nine city councils, seven county or district councils, the three devolved governments (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), and nine other organisations including the Local Government Association, Defra, The Health Foundation and the New Economics Foundation.

We are now working with Happy City to visualise the indicator data for different regions of the UK. We are also using pilots of the indicators in some representative local authority and public health settings to see if they are flexible enough to be useful, whatever the profile of an area, for example urban versus rural.

Will they work for you?

To refine and develop the indicators, we encourage you to try out the set and share
your learning with us, so we can continue to refine and develop it for use by practitioners who are not data specialists. Our aim is to continually improve them to provide an accessible snapshot of local wellbeing, and make sure the indicators fit with other established initiatives and data sets, such as JSNAs, quality of life surveys and so on.

If you are planning to test the indicators, or have any questions, please get in touch and let us know: info@whatworkswellbeing.org.

Call for evidence: Community infrastructure (places and spaces) impact on social relations & community wellbeing evaluations

What’s happening?

We are carrying out a systematic review to find out whether interventions designed to improve community places and spaces are effective in improving social relationships and community wellbeing. We are particularly interested in any effects (positive or negative) on inequalities, and any differences in effects across different settings and population groups.

The review team will be doing a careful search for published material, but would also like to include ‘grey’ literature – such as evaluations that have yet to be published, or reports and evaluations produced by charities, government departments, or community groups.

How can you get involved?

If you are aware of an evaluation of an intervention designed to improve community places and spaces, with the aim of improving social relations or wellbeing, you can submit it to our systematic review and help us build an evidence base for community infrastructure interventions.

We are particularly seeking evidence that meets the following criteria:

  1. Evaluation studies with assessments of social relations or wellbeing taken before and after the intervention – this is to allow us to determine whether the intervention was associated with any changes in wellbeing.
  2. Evidence that includes comparison groups that were not exposed to the intervention is particularly welcome.
  3. Evaluations of interventions designed for populations at risk of inequalities
  4. Qualitative (e.g. interviews) and quantitative (i.e. figures-based) evidence is welcome.

All examples must be written in English and include an author and date. We can only include evidence which can be made publicly available. If the work was done outside the UK, it would be helpful if you could tell us something about how relevant you think the findings are likely to be to the UK setting.

Please send your submissions electronically to us at evidence@whatworkswellbeing.org with the subject line ‘Evidence: Wellbeing and Community Infrastructure”

Submission deadline: 9 August 2017.

The protocol is on PROSPERO

What can we learn about wellbeing and social capital from South Australia?

We partnered with Wellbeing and Resilience Centre  at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and the University of Adelaide in the state of South Australia to look at their population level wellbeing data. It includes the same personal wellbeing questions as the UK data.

The research, published last month, is based on the South Australian Monitoring and Surveillance System, a monthly chronic disease and risk factor surveillance system of randomly selected people. It’s a very large survey that is representative of the population and looks at a large range of possible related factors. It shows only links – correlations – not causation, but is still useful as an indicator of where policy and community action could focus.

We found similar patterns to the UK, with higher wellbeing more likely for:

  • women
  • those living in rural areas
  • married
  • those able to save.

Lower levels of wellbeing were found in:

  • younger respondents
  • those living in the metropolitan area
  • the never married
  • those unable to save.

Control over decisions that affect our lives

The interesting thing about this dataset is that it also allows us to look at social capital. This was measured by how:

  • safe people feel
  • much people trust each other in their neighbourhood
  • how much control they have over decisions that affect their lives.  

We found that worse measures of social capital indicated lower levels of wellbeing, even when controlling for age and gender. The strongest relationship between social capital and wellbeing was when it came to how much people felt they had control over decisions that affect life. Those who do not have control were over 10 times more likely to have poor wellbeing.

The research points out that social capital, trust and relationships within a community, is at its strongest when disasters, problems or change affect a community. Investment in strengthening social capital along with resilience infrastructure- things like flood defences – in times of non-emergency could improve community resilience.

Health conditions and associated risk factors

The data also looks at a wide range of health indicators at the same time as wellbeing and social capital. Somewhat surprising in the analysis was the lack of meaningful associations between the chronic diseases and wellbeing, except for asthma. Previous findings have possible explanation: that two people can have the same health condition yet have very different levels of wellbeing, because it is ‘self-perceived health’, and especially experience of pain, that is the bigger contributor to overall wellbeing.  

The study did find that all risk factors for chronic diseases – alcohol harm, physical activity and fruit & veg consumption – were related to a person’s wellbeing. Only Body Mass Index (BMI) had no bearing on it.

A state of wellbeing in South Australia: the PERMA PLUS public health model

The current government of South Australia aims to become the first government in the world to systematically measure and build wellbeing across different cohorts and lifespans of the society to reduce the number of people experiencing catastrophic mental illness and to improve the resilience of the population. They aim to ‘foster factors that allow individuals, communities and societies to flourish.’

They use an evidence based model called PERMA Plus as the basis for the projects they do to improve wellbeing and resilience.  

Positive emotion

Engagement

Relationships

Meaning

Achievement

Plus

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition (5 veg 2 fruits a day)
  • Physical activity  
  • Optimism

Sport, dance and young people’s wellbeing: what works?

Today we publish new international evidence on the impact sport, dance and physical activity have on the wellbeing of 15-24 year olds.

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Download the sport, dance and wellbeing briefing
Download the full evidence review

Read the case studies from Ireland, Scotland and England.

 

 

Key findings:

  • Yoga, and the Tai-chi like movements of Baduanjin-qigong, provided strong evidence of their effectiveness at reducing feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger, while improving attention spans and how the young people reported their overall wellbeing.
  • Empowering young girls through peer-supported exercise has a positive effect on their self-belief.
  • Aerobic and hip-hop dance can lead to greater increases in happiness compared to other activities like ice-skating or body conditioning.
  • Taking part in ‘exer-gaming’ programmes, like Wii Fit, in groups can help encourage overweight young people to participate in physical activity and make friends.

The research was carried out by our culture and sport research team in Brunel University London, The London School of Economics and the Universities of Winchester and Brighton.

What works to boost social relations?

As part of our Community Wellbeing Evidence Programme we are exploring the evidence on how the way organisations design community infrastructure can support, or hinder, social relations. We are publishing our scoping review today, and you can download it here.

The Jo Cox Foundation’s Great Get Together took place last week. It was a national street party, a chance to meet your neighbours and to make a statement:  there is more that unites us than divides us. With the launch of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission earlier this year, there’s a welcome focus on the social relations that form the foundation of our society.

When we talk about social relations, we mean the exchanges between us and the physical and social environment around us. There is good evidence that the strength of our social relations is an important determinant of individual health and wellbeing. And it’s also a central component of community wellbeing.

Before starting our programme of work, our Centre talked to different people and organisations around the country about what community wellbeing meant to them.

People continually told us that the relationships within their community, and the spaces they lived, relaxed and worked in, mattered a great deal to them. Improving social relations for community wellbeing means promoting those conditions in society that bring people together. It enables us to participate in community life and allows us to feel part of a network of shared meanings. That’s why social relations are an important component of our Theory of Change.

So, what do we know about how to boost social relations? This was the question we tackled in our new scoping review.

What did we find?

We searched widely and found 34 existing reviews that examined community-based interventions or changes in policy, organisation or environment that were designed to boost social relations within a community, and measured community-level outcomes. A number of recommendations were made about what works, including:

  • Create good neighbourhood design and maintenance of physical spaces such as good meeting places, public parks, safe and pleasant public spaces, public seating, accessible and walkable spaces, and local shops.
  • Support mixed populations – in terms of income, ethnicity and so on – in new neighbourhood developments.
  • Increase the number of local events such as car boot sales, markets, and street parties.
  • Create ways for local people to share information such as notice boards or email groups.
  • Provide greater opportunities for residents to influence decisions affecting their neighbourhoods and encouraging engagement

We also found evidence suggesting that it’s not easy to improve neighbourliness through large-scale policies. Instead, it is better to encourage local understanding and action.

What next?

Based on this scoping review we are now carrying out a systematic review of interventions to boost social relations through improvements in community infrastructure (places and spaces).

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation identified “neighbouring and spaces for interaction” as a research priority, and the Legatum report on wellbeing and policy highlights evidence of links between the physical environment and social relationships, and refers to a ‘magic formula‘ of having easy opportunities for social interaction but retaining the ability to choose when, who, and where we meet.

‘Bumping spaces’ – places designed for people to meet up in informal settings – were identified as a priority theme in our collaborative development phase. Despite the recognised importance of the topic, we did not find any existing systematic reviews of how community places or spaces affect social relations. Our task is to fill that gap.

We’ll be asking for your help

While we’ll be searching books and academic publications, we know that lots of evidence is not written up formally. Instead, it sits with community organisations who have evaluated their own interventions, but perhaps haven’t published them publicly. Please look out for our call for evidence, when we’ll be asking for your help to circulate to your networks to uncover the crucial clues about what works best to boost social relations.

You can sign up to receive an alert when the call goes live by emailing info@whatworkswellbeing.org.

Election 2017: can wellbeing data help unpack what matters?

Uncertainty appears to be the new normal when it comes to politics. The traditional lenses we use to examine public attitudes and behaviour, like income and GDP or healthy life expectancy, are still part of the mix. But it is wellbeing concepts that give us a really useful vocabulary to talk about the incredible changes we’re seeing in attitudes at a local and national level.

The most important early observations from a wellbeing perspective are:

1. Governance, specifically trust in the delivery of public services, matters. This is something that’s relevant all the time, not just at elections. Governance is often overlooked when it comes to it’s effect on our wellbeing, compared to other things like health, personal finance or relationships. However, it’s now coming to the forefront as we try to better understand what voting behaviour is telling us about people’s lived experiences.

Using the World Bank indicators, analysis shows that what ranks highest in importance for people are ‘effectiveness of government services and efficiency of government and policy delivery’. This is particularly important at lower GDP levels, but still holds true in richer countries.

The European Social Survey suggests that once a country reaches a good level of GDP, other governance factors become important, particularly ‘voice and accountability’, ‘political stability and absence of violence and terrorism’.

The evidence shows that when people are satisfied with the way they are governed, wellbeing is higher and more equal. Political stability bucks this trend, presumably because the longer a government remains in power, the more people feel that their interests and opinions are not being taken into account.

In the UK we have seen a decline in views of  government effectiveness since 2004. There have also been sharp changes in voice, accountability and political stability between 2002 and 2006.

fig5The last factor cited in the survey – ‘absence of violence and terrorism’ – has taken on new relevance following the three terrorist attacks that happened in Manchester and London during the election campaign. Hopefully more analysis will be carried out to fully understand its exact impact, but it certainly created an unprecedented context in which people cast their votes.

2. Being seen and heard matters. The European Social Survey suggests that two conditions affect our perceived satisfaction with society: unemployment levels and ‘perceived quality of society and societal wellbeing’, which includes things like quality of public services and feeling listened to.

We’ve seen high employment in the UK, and arguably this has cushioned the UK from the wellbeing impacts of the financial crisis. But  many clearly “feel more acutely that their interests and opinion are not being taken into account.” We can see that the financial crisis recovery didn’t reach everyone.

Additionally, the strength of our social fabric gives countries resilience and there are additional wellbeing benefits when a country’s strong social relations can help them weather crises. An interesting example is Iceland.

3. Wellbeing, and wellbeing inequality, can tell us more of the real story than income and political voting records alone when it comes to the mood of the country, or any given area. It was the an important indicator, for example, of how different regions voted in the EU Referendum.

It would be interesting to see more analysis at a constituency level before drawing too many specific conclusions. However, it’s an exciting time to be in the midst of a new way of measuring and understanding what really matters to people – which is all wellbeing really is about.

We already know, from research carried out by our evidence team at the London School of Economics, that when average wellbeing drops, an incumbent government is more likely to be booted out. When it rises, this has little effect on voting patterns. We can see that average national wellbeing rose between 2011 and 2015, and then levelled off in 2016, and we’re left with tantalising questions about its relationship to our current hung parliament.The election raises important issues for our Centre. The changing world of work, how people view their public services, social trust are just some of the elements that are shifting the balance of politics as usual. We need to keep working to understand what it means to be human and what matters to us most.

We must focus our collective efforts on creating the conditions to improve our wellbeing. This means:  

  • policy that values what matters to people including dignity, control, trust and place
  • a focus on societal advancement with human beings at the centre and the purpose of the wellbeing of future generations.  

These problems can’t be solved by government, business or charities alone. New types of collaboration are needed. This is what we aim to achieve as a collaborating centre at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. And we’re looking forward to sharing new evidence over the coming months that will help policymakers and practitioners make better decisions to improve people’s lives.

Does income matter for children’s happiness?

Gundi Knies is Research Fellow at the ESRC-funded Research Centre for Micro-Social Change and Understanding Society, both based at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex.

Children’s response to economic hardship

As a teenager I read that children living in households affected by unemployment showed socio-psychological responses to their family’s economic hardship that were similar to their parents’: They had more headaches and were sadder, and – like their parents – they felt ashamed and tried to hide their economic hardship from others. They did not feel like they belonged.

This had a profound impact on me. At university, I learned about poverty and social exclusion and was impressed by the government of the time’s ambitious pledge, in 1999, to end child poverty by 2010. Child poverty rates in Britain had been among the highest in OECD countries, and the newly implemented policies looked well placed to address a great deal of the issue. Excellent news!

The link between child poverty and children’s happiness

Child poverty rates did indeed half over the period 1999-2008. Yet, despite this, children in the UK came out at the bottom of the league table of subjective, or self-reported, wellbeing. Was there perhaps no link between children’s material and subjective wellbeing after all?   

I had come across numerous studies that suggest that income matters for happiness, albeit based on research with adults. The small number of quantitative studies on children’s happiness did not corroborate the association. What’s more, most of the studies had taken place in the classroom, which means children were from similar backgrounds, the income measures were much cruder than those used in research with adults, and many aspects of life that may be correlated with both income and happiness – such as the community context and health – were not considered.

With the arrival of data from interviews with around 5,000 children aged 10-15 taking part in the first wave of Understanding Society it was possible to provide evidence on the association between children’s life satisfaction and material well-being using a more comprehensive modelling framework. The empirical results did not suggest an association between income and children’s happiness.

Instead, it suggested that children may be receptive of more visible aspects of their material situation, and that they are unhappier than their more well-to-do peers if they cannot afford to enjoy goods and activities perceived as necessities by a majority of the population, such as holidays and school trips.

But then things got tougher

Sincce the Great Recession in the 2000s, child poverty rates in the UK have been on a steep rise again and a number of programmes designed to address structural disadvantage from the early years were phased out. I decided to revisit the question of whether income matters for children’s life satisfaction.

This time I considered even more aspects of children’s living circumstances that may explain why some children are happier than others. This included the neighbourhood context and school holidays. Most importantly, I could take advantage of more powerful longitudinal data.

We followed the same children over a period of up to five years, it was possible to show that:

  • richer children tend to be more satisfied with life than their less well-off counterparts (just like adults)
  • it mattered more the poorer the child is
  • at every point in the income distribution, older children (so, those aged 13-15, but not those aged 10-12) got happier when their family improved their income position over time, and vice versa
  • children are unhappier if they are excluded from perceived necessities, such as holidays and activities with friends due to their family not being able to afford it.

We should also bear in mind that children have a limited ability to notice the exact income of their family, so it is difficult to identify an effect of income changes on children’s happiness.

Increasing income is only part of the story

Income does matter for children’s happiness. But the income effects were small and we may conclude that maximising wellbeing in this age group means more than simply increasing their family’s income. Of course, this only applies to the effect on how children and young people rate their own wellbeing; there may well be bigger effects on structural outcomes!

On the other hand, as more and more children find themselves at the bottom of the income distribution, where extra money is appreciated the most, income may become more important to children’s rating of their own happiness.