What Works Wellbeing operated from 2014 to 2024. This website is a static repository of all assets captured at closure on 30 April. It will remain publicly accessible but will not be updated.  Read more
Feb 16, 2023 | by Joanne Smithson

The core components of successful wellbeing frameworks

What makes a robust wellbeing framework? A new discussion paper from the Centre for Thriving Places, supported by Carnegie UK, has analysed eight models to identify shared core elements. Our Executive Director, Nancy Hey, was one of the advisers on the project.

Here, our Head of Implementation Joanne Smithson takes us through the key insights, and explores how to find – and tailor – the right framework for your specific context.

We bring together evidence on what works to improve wellbeing and help others to use this shared knowledge in practice. Wellbeing frameworks can help us understand which factors make the greatest impact on how we are doing, and track our progress as we work to improve this. 

Wellbeing is an essential complement to purely economic measures of success, particularly Gross Domestic Product. A number of wellbeing frameworks are now being used at local, national and international levels, including the ONS Measures of National Wellbeing dashboard, which measures how the UK is doing across 10 domains, using 44 indicators.

Key findings from The Shared Ingredients for a Wellbeing Economy paper

This newly published discussion paper explores the wide range of wellbeing frameworks available at the local level in the UK, as well as putting that into context alongside some of the sub-national, national and international models, dashboards and indices. 

To do this, it looks at eight existing frameworks:

By comparing these models, the paper finds that there is now an emerging consensus on what drives improvements in quality of life and how to deliver it. Although there are variations in emphasis and language in the frameworks, and the organisations championing their adoption offer different types and levels of support, tools and guidance, what emerges is a welcome coherence about the ingredients for an equitable and sustainable wellbeing economy. 

The paper identifies three headline goals of wellbeing frameworks:

  • Thriving – delivering the conditions for people to thrive and flourish.
  • Fair – delivering this with equity, so everyone benefits.
  • Green – delivering sustainably so the planet and future generations can also thrive. 

Looking below those headlines, the paper identifies eight themes – or domains, buckets or baskets – that all of the models analysed consider important:

A graphic showing the eight shared domains of wellbeing that emerged from the analysis of wellbeing frameworks, in the Shared Ingredients for a Wellbeing Economy discussion paper. The eight themes are: Personal subjective wellbeing; Health; Community and democracy; Economic security; Place; Education; Environmental sustainability; Equity

Source: The Shared Ingredients for a Wellbeing Economy discussion paper

The paper concludes with a call to action for those leading change in organisations, neighbourhoods, towns and regions to use wellbeing frameworks alongside evidence of ‘what works’ to direct policy and practice. 

The important takeaway here is that there isn’t a single wellbeing framework that is best – it’s more important to choose one that is most likely to work in your context, and where you can evaluate its impact in improving the wellbeing of people and communities and reducing wellbeing inequalities.

What does this mean in practice?

If there isn’t a ‘best in class’ – how do you choose? A wellbeing ‘lens’ helps us make sense of complex policy goals and impacts. Our research and practice into local government policy making to maximise wellbeing suggests that successful frameworks build from the dominant policy aim and are tailored to the spatial area they are operating across.  

If you are approaching wellbeing from public health, Prof. Sir Michael Marmot provides your justification:

“Making wellbeing rather than straightforward economic performance the central goal of policy will create a better society with better health and greater health equity.” – The Marmot Review ten years on, p.150 (Marmot et. al. 2020).

If you are working at a regional, county or unitary level, the new wellbeing domain in OHID’s Fingertips Mental Health and Wellbeing Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) profile provides a solid starting framework of core wellbeing data.

This practice example from Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council describes how they tailored the Local Needs for Wellbeing Data framework – the same framework behind the wellbeing profile in Fingertips – to fit their needs as a coastal authority. They included additional local measures of beach and water quality; measures of leisure and arts activities linked to tourism and heritage assets; and key findings from the Chief Medical Officer’s report on Health in Coastal Communities, including data on local employment opportunities. 

If you are approaching wellbeing from an inclusive economy perspective, the Centre for Thriving Places’ Thriving Places Index provides a compelling communication tool to engage citizens and diverse stakeholders in developing a wellbeing approach to change. Another important distinction here is its ability to be tailored to a wide range of geographies and used in smaller areas. 

The priority for Camden Council in developing their wellbeing framework, was gaining a deeper understanding of how residents were doing and the reality of their lived experience.  Their starting point was a hyper-local project in Euston, to test an approach and implementation on a small scale, before extending out to the whole borough. Their wellbeing framework, built from resident engagement in the Good Life Euston project, identified six domains they describe as ‘states of being’ with systemic equity and positive state of being as headline goals.

There is strong consensus between the six domains Camden developed and the eight themes identified in the new discussion paper as key components of a solid wellbeing framework:

  • Secure livelihoods
  • Community richness, cultures and identities
  • Environmental revitalisation; 
  • Our spaces and services
  • Positive connections
  • Formal and informal learning

At the other end of the spatial geography spectrum, working at a national level, New Zealand’s Living Standards Framework chose to tailor and evolve the OECD’s Better Life Index. The framework was most recently updated in 2021 and  it now incorporates children’s wellbeing and country-specific aspects of culture, including indigenous concepts, at the newly introduced Institutions and Governance level.

Next steps

Local decision-makers can use the resources below to help understand the wellbeing of their constituents and communities and take action to improve wellbeing:

“If decision makers at every level of the UK and beyond choose to use this evidence and these models, and to benefit from the level of resource available to support them, there is real potential for rewiring the economy to crack the many social and environmental crises facing us all.” – Liz Zeidler, Chief Executive of the Centre for Thriving Places


Feb 12, 2020 | By Nancy Hey
Wellbeing evidence at the heart of policy + three new data analysis projects
Centre Blog
Feb 2, 2023 | By Stewart Martin
Places, spaces and social connection: five years of new learning
Centre Blog
Oct 6, 2022 | By What Works Centre for Wellbeing
Social capital: what works to improve belonging, cohesion and support?
Guest Blog
Dec 8, 2021 | By Gemma Marshall
Crafting a wellbeing strategy with Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council
Guest Blog
Dec 15, 2022 | By Nancy Hey
New Zealand Living Standards Framework update and first wellbeing report
Centre Blog

[gravityform id=1 title=true description=true ajax=true tabindex=49]