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Jan 19, 2023 | by Stewart Martin

Finding purpose in wellbeing measurement

As a What Works Centre, we help build a robust evidence base, and support people to measure their impact and use what we know works in practice.

To do this, we want to understand how a variety of measures work in different contexts and to capture and share peer learning.

Here, Stewart Martin, our Civil Society and Community Wellbeing Lead, discusses robust and appropriate wellbeing measurement with a focus on the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. 

This blog accompanies a new practice example from 999 Club, a South East London homelessness prevention and support charity, exploring their experience of assessing the effectiveness of their services using standardised wellbeing measures.

Understanding and improving wellbeing measures

As a What Works Centre we work to develop the wellbeing evidence base. We also work with organisations to help share that evidence base, collect their evaluations to further develop the evidence base, and develop their approaches to measuring their impact on wellbeing.

One of the ways we do this is through the use of our measurement guide, which includes a range of wellbeing measures. Among the measures we recommend are the Office for National Statistics 4 (the national measures for subjective wellbeing) and the widely tested Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales (WEMWBS) and accompanying Shorter Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWBS), which capture multiple dimensions of mental wellbeing. The WEMWBS scales are designed to measure mental wellbeing – and evaluate programmes and services that aim to improve this – through a series of statements.

Our work to understand the contexts in which these measures are used appropriately in practice and to generate evidence on intervention effectiveness is ongoing and we are always looking for examples of their appropriate use in practice. 

We are also looking to determine how various measures work for different populations and contexts, and what insights and lessons have been applied by organisations within their specific settings.

Measuring wellbeing at the 999 Club

One such example came to light through an event run by Pro Bono Economics, which explored wellbeing measurement by homelessness organisations. At the event, 999 Club CEO Tom Neumark outlined his organisation’s experiences of using the shorter 7-item version of the scale (SWEMWBS).

The charity wanted to reliably and credibly assess the short and long-term impact of their services on their clients’ wellbeing, and use these insights to demonstrate value and to help inform programme design and future investment. 

SWEMWBS was developed in collaboration with charities and the public sector and its inclusion in the UK’s Understanding Society national survey allows organisations to benchmark their progress against the national picture. It uses seven statements (shown in bold below) from the 14 statements that comprise WEMWBS:

  • I’ve been feeling optimistic about the future
  • I’ve been feeling useful
  • I’ve been feeling relaxed
  • I’ve been feeling interested in other people
  • I’ve had energy to spare
  • I’ve been dealing with problems well
  • I’ve been thinking clearly
  • I’ve been feeling good about myself
  • I’ve been feeling close to other people
  • I’ve been feeling confident
  • I’ve been able to make up my own mind about things
  • I’ve been feeling loved
  • I’ve been interested in new things
  • I’ve been feeling cheerful

Participants then rate their responses on a scale of 1-5, where 1 = none of the time, 2 = rarely, 3 = some of the time, 4 = often, and 5 = all of the time.

Read Tom’s practice example to discover how 999 Club adapted and evolved its approach to measuring wellbeing to combat “zero to hero” scores and start asking the right questions.

Tom shares his experiences of using the SWEMWBS, what worked and what didn’t, and how his charity turned its attention to the ONS measure of individual sense of purpose – guided by our What matters for our sense of purpose? resource  – to more accurately measure the impact of their specific services. 

He also discusses how behaviours in self-reporting have the potential to mask the actual impact of our interventions, and details how the organisation’s staff responded.

The challenges and insights will be of interest to fellow VCSE organisations looking to measure their impact through wellbeing metrics.

Asking the right questions

As a Centre, our role is to make knowledge visible and available, sharing peer learnings and experience to help others understand and measure wellbeing and its drivers.

While we encourage comparable, consistent and robust measurement, we recognise that there is not a one-size-fits all approach. The choice of which wellbeing measure to use depends on a range of factors that include: your conceptual framework, evaluation question, as well as on your population and sample size.

To find out more about the WEMWBS scales and how they are being used in practice, read our review of UK studies that use the WEMWBS scales, produced with Kohlrabi Consulting. The review consolidates evidence on what works to improve mental wellbeing in UK projects and pilot studies.

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