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
Apr 25, 2024 | by Nancy Hey

What Works Wellbeing: 10 years of impact

Ahead of our planned closure on 30 April 2024, Executive Director Nancy Hey reflects on the achievements and challenges of the last decade, and looks ahead at the work still to be done.

Improving wellbeing and reducing misery is the ultimate goal of effective policy and community action, and the measure of success and progress as a nation. 

Doing this well requires high-quality, relevant and timely feedback on what works, what is safe, and what is cost effective in order to avoid harms and sustain gains.

All What Works Centres, including ours, are based on this principle: that good decision-making must be informed by the best-available evidence. Where it is not available, we use high-quality methods to find out what works and share that collective learning.

This has led us in our mission to find, share and grow wellbeing evidence and convene, guide and mobilise people to use it. 

Through increasing access and visibility, and growing understanding, we have made it possible to use wellbeing evidence robustly, consistently and with confidence.

The ‘what’ and the ‘how’

When the Centre was founded 10 years ago, our purpose as an independent evidence intermediary was to build on the rich and growing data from the UK National Wellbeing Measurement Programme by making collective knowledge accessible to all as a public good. The aim was to grow understanding of what works, enabling confident action to be taken. 

As the UK’s national body on wellbeing research, policy and practice, we have democratised access to wellbeing knowledge, and developed tools and resources to improve the measurement and evaluation of interventions and the implementation of insights in practice across government, business, research and civil society.

Since our launch in 2014, we have:

  • Pioneered wellbeing measurement and evaluation as a way to track national progress and organisational impact, including contributing to the development, visibility and use of frameworks within the UK and globally.
  • Consolidated the global knowledge base in a rigorous, robust and relevant way, translating and sharing findings generously in impact-focused, inclusive language and formats with policy makers and practitioners so that it has meaning where it counts.
  • Used our expertise in wellbeing and evidence methodologies to develop the fields of wellbeing, evidence, knowledge use and practise, and helped refine concepts, and platform discussions to move forward methodology.
  • Cultivated a strong, active cross-sector community of experts and practitioners through conversation and knowledge sharing to identify where evidence can have the greatest impact – including COVID-19, levelling up and reducing inequalities, and thinking beyond GDP – and working out what those in policy and practice need to know to seed evidence-informed action to improve wellbeing.

Throughout our work, we have been guided by our values to be independent, evidence-based, collaborative, practical, iterative and open. We have embodied these in our outputs and through our governance and processes. 

Taking a collaborative approach, we have prioritised the needs and interests of our audiences. Our initial public conversations and stakeholder engagement helped ground the Centre’s work in real people’s lives and understanding, and those of practitioners. We have continued to evolve our offer in conversation with our audiences, using an evidence-informed approach to knowledge use.

With a small team and limited resources, we have always taken a pragmatic approach, choosing to focus on priority areas where we could make the biggest difference:

  1. National measures and methods
  2. Working age
  3. Place and community
  4. Loneliness and connection

You can explore our work across these four focus areas in our series of deepdive blogs.

To widen our reach, we have collaborated widely across the whole of life and across regions and nations of the UK and beyond. This has enabled us to collectively establish an extensive body of wellbeing evidence, insights and assets as a public good that can – and are – being used robustly, consistently and with confidence in the UK and internationally.

Mobilising the evidence

While thinking is the necessary foundation, it is the action we take that matters. As a bridging organisation and evidence intermediary, we have made other people’s actions as effective as possible, and at an incredible pace. It has taken time, effort and – crucially – care.

Since 2014, we have published content at least weekly for 498 consecutive weeks, covering a diversity of wellbeing topics and platforming a range of voices and experiences from research, policy and practice.

Our work has helped shape policy, including:

  • establishing wellbeing as the overall outcome of the UK governments’ Levelling Up framework, to ensure the focus is on people across the UK are living happy and fulfilling lives;
  • informing the UK Treasury’s Green Book guidance so that wellbeing is, for the first time, fully included in official guidance on business cases, spending and evaluations;
  • contributing our expertise to the first ever review of the UK Measures of National Wellbeing Dashboard, help understand the future of wellbeing measurement and ensure information is robust, representative and useful. 
  • supporting the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness in 2017, resulting in the UK’s first dedicated Minister for Loneliness being appointed in 2018 and the publication of the world’s first national strategy for tackling loneliness;
  • helping to achieve an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill (now Health and Care Act 2022) for England requiring every part of England to provide specialist palliative care as a legal requirement.

We have also collaborated with the Campaign to End Loneliness, formally hosting them since 2021, on delivering the Tackling Loneliness Hub. Funded by the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the Hub is a digital learning and exchange space for loneliness professionals across the public, private, academic and charity sectors to connect, support and collaborate.

You can explore more about our impact and achievements in our legacy report, a celebration of 10 years of what works for wellbeing.

A legacy of collective learning

Our aim has been to build a learning system for wellbeing. Central to our operational model has been building capability and capacity, laying the foundations for change into systems. As a convening organisation we have worked collaboratively to enable others and make it easier for wellbeing to be everyone’s responsibility.

We have carried this approach into securing the best possible legacy for the collective learning that we hold, working with our networks to confidently pass the baton.

With over 3,000 resources, our website is a hub of shared knowledge, and it has been an important priority for us to keep this asset publicly available after our closure. The Observatoire Bien-Etre at Centre pour la Recherche Économique et ses Applications has been instrumental in supporting us achieve this goal, assuming guardianship of the site and committing to its continuation as a living archive.

Similarly, our measure your impact guidance and measures bank is now hosted by Nottingham Trent University. Originally built for small and medium-sized charities, the online tool guides the user through planning and carrying out a wellbeing evaluation through eight learning modules. The valuable resource will be stewarded and developed in line with the values of the VCSE Data and Insights Observatory and Nottingham Business School, remaining publicly accessible. 

The Campaign to End Loneliness will pass to Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Loneliness Studies to ensure the digital assets remain available and accessible to the sector. The Centre for Loneliness Studies are also actively engaging other organisations on the issue and working collaboratively to keep focus and momentum. You can read the Campaign’s latest report for a deep-dive into their incredible impact so far.

In addition to transferring resources to partners, we’ve embedded a selection of our most relevant digital resources across our extensive network. This is a testament to the strength of these relationships, and the collective interest in the value of our shared learning.

The end of the chapter, not the book

While the importance of wellbeing is now increasingly recognised in policy, public life, and across businesses, there is still more to be done next.

During these times of rapid change and uncertainty, there continues to be a vital need for good-quality evidence to drive decision making at national policy levels, across civil society, and to ensure wellbeing is at the heart of how we shape working practices and cultures in organisations everywhere. 

We must keep sight of improving wellbeing as a national – and international – outcome, so that people can thrive.

While the Centre will no longer lead the field, the importance of its mission remains: to secure a future where the wellbeing of people and communities in the UK improves year-on-year and wellbeing inequalities are reduced.

In service of this, we have shared our recommendations and challenges for the sector through our Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) and highlighted Practice in Need of Evidence (PINE). Part of our legacy, this document collates and prioritises the most important questions for wellbeing over the coming years and aims to continue our vision of connecting evidence with policy and practice. 

To continue to build a future where the wellbeing of people and communities in the UK improves year-on-year and wellbeing inequalities are reduced, there needs to be sustained commitment from all sectors to invest in learning as a public good. This includes rethinking public, research and philanthropic spending to support long-term infrastructure of independent knowledge-broker organisations such as What Works Centres, and justifying, robustly, organisational investment and activity based on how it contributes to wellbeing. 


Mar 21, 2024 | By What Works Centre for Wellbeing
What we know about national wellbeing, and the methods and measures to assess it 2014 – 2024
Guest Blog
Feb 22, 2024 | By What Works Centre for Wellbeing
What we know about loneliness and connection 2014 – 2024
Guest Blog
Mar 28, 2024 | By What Works Centre for Wellbeing
What we know about working age and workplace wellbeing 2014 – 2024
Guest Blog
Feb 1, 2024 | By What Works Centre for Wellbeing
What we know about wellbeing in place and community 2014 – 2024
Guest Blog

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