As the new Evidence team at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, Deborah Hardoon (left) and Silvia Brunetti share some  initial reflections on the most interesting and challenging aspects of the Centre’s work to build the global evidence base on wellbeing, and support policymakers and practitioners to turn that evidence into action.

Deborah Hardoon, Head of Evidence
Sivlia Brunetti, Evidence Officer

This is an exciting time to join the What Works Centre for Wellbeing team. Globally, a focus on wellbeing, beyond traditional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures of success is taking root, from the Sustainable Development Goals to national initiatives such as New Zealand’s living standards framework. There is momentum in the UK too. Earlier this year the UK Treasury explicitly included social welfare, or wellbeing, as the focus on policy appraisal and evaluation.

Highlights of the first evidence programme

As a  Centre, after an initial three year evidence programme that is being completed this year, we now know much more about what works to improve wellbeing, particularly in community spaces and in the workplace. We are consolidating all this into a report to be published in September bringing together the findings across the programme and understand the links between them. We also recently announced our funding award, for our work to support charities to use evidence to improve people’s wellbeing.

Wellbeing evidence and action in the future

There is still plenty of work to be done to synthesise and communicate the evidence about what works and to help it inform policy and practice around the UK. Here are a just a few reasons we are looking forward to our next evidence programme and implementation work at the Centre – because we won’t just be kept busy – but also fascinated…

  • There is a treasure trove of data to explore: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have been collecting subjective wellbeing data for five years now, and beyond ONS, in over 20 other surveys, some of which we have used in our programme. There are now workplace surveys that include wellbeing questions and a growing body of evaluation data just waiting to be interrogated.
  • There are many profound questions to explore where evidence and measurement can add value: or example, how should we value or weight different people’s wellbeing, to achieve the goal to both reduce misery for those people with the lowest level of wellbeing and improve average levels of wellbeing?
  • Tackling complexity: We constantly seek to strike a balance between the need for generalisable and useful knowledge on the one hand and communicating the complexity present at a local level on the other. This is also core to our role in bridging the gap between evidence and policy and practice.
  • Identifying attribution: While we have more and better data on wellbeing, accessing data at the level at which policies are implemented and evaluated remains a challenge. We will be working with organisations, particularly in the charity sector to strengthen the evidence base with evaluations which seek to directly capture this.
  • It’s about making people’s lives better: We are finding evidence of positive effects on wellbeing from a range of activities, which stimulates lots of great conversations with policy makers and practitioners about real actions that can make a difference and gives us lots of encouragement for the potential for us all to live better lives, be happier and more fulfilled.

As we tackle these challenges and opportunities, it would be great to hear from you – what you think are the most important and interesting issues in the area of wellbeing evidence over the next few years? We would love to hear from you: evidence@whatworkswellbeing.org

And if you are interested in what we have learned so far, please do join us for our end of programme conference in September.

Understanding Wellbeing in the UK - 13 September