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While public policy is conducted by the government and public sector, all sectors – business and civil society, as well as government – design and enact policies to problem solve and make decisions. Policy helps guide what these sectors do, why and how.

Following our recent blog debating the wealth of wellbeing research highlighted at July’s inaugural Wellbeing Research & Policy Conference, our Executive Director, Nancy Hey, shares her reflections on the conference’s policy day. 

Discussions included how far we have come in implementing research in policy and  practice in all sectors, and what the next steps are in creating a sustainable future for wellbeing. 

Implementing wellbeing evidence in societies

The Centre’s founding mission is to “understand what government, business and civil society can do to improve wellbeing”. This was also at the heart of discussions at July’s conference.

The two-day event highlighted the richness of national and global wellbeing data, as well as how far we have come in using the evidence-base in a practical way over the last 20 years to progress wellbeing measurement and policy across party lines.

In two decades we have established that feelings matter, and adopted harmonised, robust metrics to systematically capture and understand them. These include the Office of National Statistics’ four measures of subjective wellbeing (ONS4) and wellbeing dashboard, which includes objective and subjective measures of the 10 domains of life in the UK. 

How people perceive their lives is important for governments and their electorates, alongside and beyond objective social, environmental and economic metrics. This has been adopted by the UK Government in its approach to data and evaluation, as seen in the Levelling Up White Paper and the HM Treasury’s Green Book and Supplementary Guidance.

We can also look outwards at what other countries are doing to successfully embed and evaluate subjective wellbeing. This helps us to recognise transferable context and distil lessons. 

At the roundtable on international wellbeing policy initiatives, Dr. Alden La, Advisor at the Wellbeing Planet Earth Foundation, highlighted Japan’s recent creation and release of a wellbeing dashboard. The country is also including wellbeing as a KPI across policy sectors, and has launched a $50 billion initiative to invest in community wellbeing through digital means. Further international examples include Canada, Germany, Italy, Ireland and New Zealand

The continuing challenge of putting data into practice

In his opening keynote, Lord Gus O’Donnell posed practical questions about the challenge of turning ideas into policy development:

“How will we sustain wellbeing through governmental reorganisation and the cost of living crisis?” 

This is where we come in.

As an organisation, we contribute to a strong evidence-base and share insights to promote what we know works to increase wellbeing in the UK. This is why we also support the move towards the Wellbeing State which uses wellbeing as an overall criterion for evaluating policy choices.

Government – statistics, policy making and appraisal

The roundtable on how to best operationalise wellbeing policy looked at using wellbeing research in policy making and evaluation. The session included:

  • a special focus on the new HM Treasury Guidance on using wellbeing data robustly, consistently and with confidence in all stages of policy making;
  • the importance of timely and long-lasting data, including the prioritisation of weekly rather than quarterly updates from ONS. Insights on wellbeing and loneliness are going directly to central policymakers alongside Covid and economic data;
  • the role language plays, particularly in politics, as aspects of a wellbeing approach will not always be called ‘wellbeing‘.

Children and young people

Echoing the recent Times Education Report, Lord O’Donnell suggested that an important area to improve understanding is children’s wellbeing as it is our future national wellbeing. Both O’Donnell and the report recognise the need to prepare young people for later life by cultivating resilience and teamworking skills. This, as identified in the report, suggests putting wellbeing at the heart of the UK education system.

Action can be taken at all levels of government, including devolved governments and local authority. #BeeWell in Greater Manchester is an example of what can be achieved by uniting a wide range of local groups and making data accessible. 


Chaired by Karen Guggenheim, CEO of World Happiness Summit, the roundtable on local policy & community Interventions to raise wellbeing included:

  • the evaluation of Action for Happiness’s community course and how to value its cost effectiveness (Dr. Mark Williamson);
  • place-based approaches from Blue Zones (Dr. Dexter Shurney);
  • the relationship between individual and community wellbeing in action to improve health disparities, including how different interventions might affect different people in different places.

Read about our findings and see our model from our different people, same place project.

Business – making wellbeing the ‘S’ in ESG

Business is an area where rapid progress is being made. We already know that job quality plays a key role in productivity and that both wellbeing and performance are more likely to improve when there is an integrated strategy rather than ad hoc initiatives. 

Companies need to make this a reality. Business leaders across the sector – including CEO of Unilever Alan Jope, MediaCom CEO Josh Krichefski, and Senior Vice President of Indeed LaFawn Davis – engaged in a practical conversation about how to use wellbeing metrics to put the ‘S’ in ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance criteria). This social responsibility considers how a company manages its relationships with employees, suppliers, customers and local communities, contributing to the nation’s health.

To help organisations take practical, effective action, we have developed:

Please get in touch If you’d like to work with us on any of these topics.


Mar 17, 2022 | By Nancy Hey
The Wellbeing State – a long term approach to national resilience and wellbeing
Centre Blog
Apr 26, 2016 | By Centre
Aligning Public Policy with the Way People Want to Live – The New Zealand Treasury’s Living Standards Framework
Centre Blog
Jul 14, 2021 | By Bethan and Meera
#BeeWell – Measuring wellbeing in secondary schools across Manchester
Guest Blog
Feb 17, 2022 | By Centre
2022 Wellbeing conferences and seminars
Centre Blog
Jul 21, 2021 | By Christian Krekel
Book Launch – A Handbook for Wellbeing Policy-Making
Guest Blog
Mar 4, 2021 | By Centre
Budget 2021: How could it go further?
Centre Blog
Jan 21, 2020 | By Mark Williamson
Can a local community course improve mental wellbeing and social connection? New RCT findings
Guest Blog
Jul 21, 2022 | By Nancy Hey
Debating the wealth of wellbeing research
Centre Blog
Apr 29, 2021 | By Centre
A decade of subjective wellbeing data
Centre Blog
Dec 9, 2020 | By Nancy Hey
The Green Book review – what do the changes to government appraisal mean?
Centre Blog
Sep 2, 2021 | By Aleisha Clarke
School-based interventions: what works for young people’s health and wellbeing?
Guest Blog

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