Please note that What Works Wellbeing will close operations on 30 April 2024.  Read more
Dec 21, 2023 | by Shahina Kabir

Looking back at 2023: a year of wellbeing evidence and practice

We focus on where we can make the biggest difference, based on current knowledge, expertise and networks.

As 2023 draws to a close, we take a moment to reflect on a busy and impactful year for the Centre, sharing highlights from across our key focus areas of activity: national wellbeing measures and methods, places and community, working age, and loneliness and connection.


As a convening organisation and evidence intermediary, our purpose is to find out what works to improve wellbeing and partner to put that knowledge into action and create conditions for us all to thrive.

This year we marked 10 years of the What Works Network, joining other centres at an event in April to celebrate. The anniversary allowed us to reflect on our collective achievements, and explore what’s next in using evidence in decision making.

> Revisit our Wellbeing evidence at the heart of policy report, and our Our Impact 2022-23.

National wellbeing measures and methods

We want wellbeing recognised as a meaningful and measurable goal for decision makers in the UK, used alongside metrics such as GDP and life expectancy to assess national progress. 

To do this, we have moved the evidence base forward through:

  • Learnings from time use data – Our research Fellow Elena Mylona discussed what capturing how we use our time can tell us about wellbeing. 
  • Exploratory analysis of England’s Health Index – To better understand the relationship between different health factors and people’s subjective wellbeing, we conducted an exploratory analysis of data from the ONS Health Index for England.
  • Plugging data gaps  – We worked with Pro Bono Economics to produce an updated version of our guide, which helps charities assess their wellbeing impact even if they aren’t specifically capturing wellbeing data.

We also led conversations and amplified wider findings by:

  • Exploring wellbeing frameworks – Looking at core components, and summarising global and local examples, explaining how those looking to develop a framework can use the OECD’s Knowledge Exchange Platform (KEP).
  • Wellbeing and debt – Summarising key insights from the Office for National Statistics into how the cost of living is impacting UK wellbeing.
  • Using the updated UK Measures of National Wellbeing – Helping inform the ONS’ review, which resulted in the first ever update of UK measures of wellbeing. We explored data from the dashboard throughout the year, from February 2023, May 2023 and finally November 2023 which included data from some new measures. 
  • Children’s wellbeing in 2023  – Reflecting on The Good Childhood Report 2023 from the Children’s Society, and identified key findings and trends about children’s wellbeing. We discussed why consistently capturing a picture of how young people feel is important for our nation’s current and future wellbeing.
  • Global guidelines for measuring subjective wellbeing – A decade on from the OECD’s guidelines, we summarised their new paper that reviewed how the guidance has been adopted in OECD countries and where it needs to go next.
  • Shared practice examples of using wellbeing measures in practice – Including Tearfund’s experience of adapting the UK derived Wellbeing-adjusted Life Year (WELLBY) to an international context, evaluating their programmes across Africa; and Power2’s use of the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBs) to demonstrate impact.
  • We considered a wellbeing approach to health – Our Executive Director Nancy Hey contributed to the report ‘A Covenant for Health’, which proposes a cross-party government commitment to building a healthier nation over a generation.

Through guidance, highlighting practice and our own research, we have promoted the use of wellbeing evidence in a robust, consistent and confident way.

Place and community

Our aim is that community wellbeing is measured consistently, comparably and appropriately, it is not just the sum of individual wellbeing, and that wellbeing inequalities within and between communities are reduced. 

We have moved the evidence base forward through:

  • Places, spaces and social connection: an update – Five years on from our original review, we updated our publication about how changes impact quality of life. This is the first time we have undertaken a refresh of this kind.
  • Rural wellbeing – We contributed to a project to understand what works to improve wellbeing in rural communities and support policymakers to use this in decision making. 
  • Infrastructure and wellbeing – We contributed to the National Infrastructure Commission’s Quality of Life discussion paper on the natural and built environment.
  • Community agency and control rapid review – Our Community Wellbeing Lead Stewart Martin presented new research findings and outputs from our latest research; looking at community wellbeing and what happens when people come together locally.

We led conversations and amplified wider findings by:

  • The role of power, agency and control in wellbeing – Dr Radha Modgil’s explores ideas of personal power and how they might benefit individuals and communities.
  • Family wellbeing – In response to the report, ‘Love Matters’, we considered the significance of family wellbeing as an area for research and policy, including the current evidence gaps and next steps.
  • #BeeWell year two – Our Executive Director Nancy Hey took us through headline findings from the annual survey of secondary school children in Greater Manchester. We also used the life readiness section of the survey as an example of the measurement of hope.
  • Intergenerational evidence and practice –  Alongside the Co-founder of Intergenerational England, we considered the potential challenges of an age-segregated society and how to approach growing the evidence base for intergenerational practice.

By focusing on building evidence of wellbeing interventions that are effective in improving community spaces and enabling people to fulfil their potential, we have increased the understanding of community wellbeing and its key components of place, people and power.

Working age

Evidence tell us that wellbeing is lowest for working age adults, so improving the wellbeing of these groups is a priority for reducing inequalities. 

We have turned evidence into action and moved the evidence base forward through:

  • Work and terminal illness – This year we summarised learnings from our project with Marie Curie. In the next phase of our work, we built a cohort of people professionals from different organisations to support the development of guidance on how to create workplace policy and practice. 
  • We produced a guide to measuring staff wellbeing and developing an action plan, which is accompanied by downloadable staff survey templates.
  • What jobs make us happy? – We looked at 10 years of UK labour market data to explore the relationship between life satisfaction and job types.
  • Student Mental Health Evidence Hub – Together, with a consortium of partners, we’ve produced a Hub that will help universities and colleges provide support for students. For its launch, we discussed the evidence base, summarised the Hub, and explored further resources and learnings.
  • Finding and keeping work – In this webinar a panel of experts explored how employers and policymakers can support people to find and keep work across the life course to ensure the sustainability of the UK workforce.

We led the conversation and amplified wider findings by:

  • Results of the world’s largest-ever four day work trial – Our Evidence Associate Michael Sanders reviewed the report of the findings, questioning whether we should be sceptical of the insights in the wider context of how we can improve the robustness of workplace evaluations.
  • Analysis of student wellbeing – We introduced two new reports by Evidence Associate Michael Sanders, using survey data to investigate the wellbeing and mental health of university students.
  • Using workplace data from the Civil Service – In our report we explored whether wellbeing is still on the path to recovery following the pandemic and discussed the wider value of gathering workplace wellbeing data.
  • Wellbeing in workspaces – In a guest blog, Dr Sophie Keller discussed her research into workspace design to promote wellbeing. She described her approach to identifying and practically applying wellbeing principles in a realworld office redesign.

We’ve continued in our aim to ensure that wellbeing is at the heart of how we shape jobs, organisations and working practices across all sectors to support future employment, individual wellbeing and the economy.

Loneliness and connection 

Our focus is on discovering what works to alleviate loneliness and improve social connections across the life course in the UK.

We have moved the evidence base forward through:

We’ve contributed to conversations and amplified wider findings by:

By collaborating with the Campaign to End Loneliness and leading academics we have been able to grow the evidence base on causes, outcomes and interventions.


A huge thank you to everyone who has accessed our information or contributed to our work in 2023, whether that’s engaging with our resources, collaborating with us on new research, or subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We wish you well over the holiday season and beyond.

Sign up to our mailing list to keep up to date with our ongoing work, and look out for further website announcements in the new year.

Related

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Summer wellbeing highlights: evidence, learnings and analysis from 2023
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Apr 6, 2023 | By Robyn Bignall-Donnelly
Spring wellbeing highlights: what we’ve learned so far in 2023
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Dec 22, 2022 | By Robyn Bignall-Donnelly
2022 Impact – Our year in review
Centre Blog

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