What wellbeing data do local authorities need to make better decisions?



Download Understanding local needs for wellbeing data (July 2017)

Download only the appendices (with indicator sets and guidance)



  • Local Wellbeing Indicators use existing data and the best research to show true picture of local residents’ lives and community wellbeing.
  • Indicators look at personal relationships, economics, education, childhood, equality, health, place and social relationships- currently no local authority uses all of this data in one place to meet local needs.

For the first time, local authorities can use data on things like job quality, anxiety levels, social isolation, green space and how physically active people are to get better insights into what really matters to their communities.

Currently, local authorities have to rely solely on traditional metrics, such as unemployment and material deprivation, to build an idea of where people are struggling and thriving. The new indicators now offer, in addition to these, a real-world set of measures for data that follows people’s quality of life from cradle to grave. This gives a more sophisticated picture of where communities may be at risk of health, financial and social problems.

Their origins and next steps

To develop the indicators, What Works Centre for Wellbeing partnered with Happy City and consulted with individuals in 26 different organisations, including nine city councils, seven county or district councils, the three devolved governments (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), and nine other organisations including the Local Government Association, Defra, The Health Foundation and the New Economics Foundation.

We are now working with Happy City to visualise the indicator data for different regions of the UK. We are also using pilots of the indicators in some representative local authority and public health settings to see if they are flexible enough to be useful, whatever the profile of an area, for example urban versus rural.

Will they work for you?

To refine and develop the indicators, we encourage you to try out the set and share
your learning with us, so we can continue to refine and develop it for use by practitioners who are not data specialists. Our aim is to continually improve them to provide an accessible snapshot of local wellbeing, and make sure the indicators fit with other established initiatives and data sets, such as JSNAs, quality of life surveys and so on.

If you are planning to test the indicators, or have any questions, please get in touch and let us know: info@whatworkswellbeing.org.

What can we learn about wellbeing and social capital from South Australia?

We partnered with Wellbeing and Resilience Centre  at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and the University of Adelaide in the state of South Australia to look at their population level wellbeing data. It includes the same personal wellbeing questions as the UK data.

The research, published last month, is based on the South Australian Monitoring and Surveillance System, a monthly chronic disease and risk factor surveillance system of randomly selected people. It’s a very large survey that is representative of the population and looks at a large range of possible related factors. It shows only links – correlations – not causation, but is still useful as an indicator of where policy and community action could focus.

We found similar patterns to the UK, with higher wellbeing more likely for:

  • women
  • those living in rural areas
  • married
  • those able to save.

Lower levels of wellbeing were found in:

  • younger respondents
  • those living in the metropolitan area
  • the never married
  • those unable to save.

Control over decisions that affect our lives

The interesting thing about this dataset is that it also allows us to look at social capital. This was measured by how:

  • safe people feel
  • much people trust each other in their neighbourhood
  • how much control they have over decisions that affect their lives.  

We found that worse measures of social capital indicated lower levels of wellbeing, even when controlling for age and gender. The strongest relationship between social capital and wellbeing was when it came to how much people felt they had control over decisions that affect life. Those who do not have control were over 10 times more likely to have poor wellbeing.

The research points out that social capital, trust and relationships within a community, is at its strongest when disasters, problems or change affect a community. Investment in strengthening social capital along with resilience infrastructure- things like flood defences – in times of non-emergency could improve community resilience.

Health conditions and associated risk factors

The data also looks at a wide range of health indicators at the same time as wellbeing and social capital. Somewhat surprising in the analysis was the lack of meaningful associations between the chronic diseases and wellbeing, except for asthma. Previous findings have possible explanation: that two people can have the same health condition yet have very different levels of wellbeing, because it is ‘self-perceived health’, and especially experience of pain, that is the bigger contributor to overall wellbeing.  

The study did find that all risk factors for chronic diseases – alcohol harm, physical activity and fruit & veg consumption – were related to a person’s wellbeing. Only Body Mass Index (BMI) had no bearing on it.

A state of wellbeing in South Australia: the PERMA PLUS public health model

The current government of South Australia aims to become the first government in the world to systematically measure and build wellbeing across different cohorts and lifespans of the society to reduce the number of people experiencing catastrophic mental illness and to improve the resilience of the population. They aim to ‘foster factors that allow individuals, communities and societies to flourish.’

They use an evidence based model called PERMA Plus as the basis for the projects they do to improve wellbeing and resilience.  

Positive emotion






  • Sleep
  • Nutrition (5 veg 2 fruits a day)
  • Physical activity  
  • Optimism

Sport, dance and young people’s wellbeing: what works?

Today we publish new international evidence on the impact sport, dance and physical activity have on the wellbeing of 15-24 year olds.



Download the sport, dance and wellbeing briefing
Download the full evidence review

Read the case studies from Ireland, Scotland and England.



Key findings:

  • Yoga, and the Tai-chi like movements of Baduanjin-qigong, provided strong evidence of their effectiveness at reducing feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger, while improving attention spans and how the young people reported their overall wellbeing.
  • Empowering young girls through peer-supported exercise has a positive effect on their self-belief.
  • Aerobic and hip-hop dance can lead to greater increases in happiness compared to other activities like ice-skating or body conditioning.
  • Taking part in ‘exer-gaming’ programmes, like Wii Fit, in groups can help encourage overweight young people to participate in physical activity and make friends.

The research was carried out by our culture and sport research team in Brunel University London, The London School of Economics and the Universities of Winchester and Brighton.

What works to boost social relations?

As part of our Community Wellbeing Evidence Programme we are exploring the evidence on how the way organisations design community infrastructure can support, or hinder, social relations. We are publishing our scoping review today, and you can download it here.

The Jo Cox Foundation’s Great Get Together took place last week. It was a national street party, a chance to meet your neighbours and to make a statement:  there is more that unites us than divides us. With the launch of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission earlier this year, there’s a welcome focus on the social relations that form the foundation of our society.

When we talk about social relations, we mean the exchanges between us and the physical and social environment around us. There is good evidence that the strength of our social relations is an important determinant of individual health and wellbeing. And it’s also a central component of community wellbeing.

Before starting our programme of work, our Centre talked to different people and organisations around the country about what community wellbeing meant to them.

People continually told us that the relationships within their community, and the spaces they lived, relaxed and worked in, mattered a great deal to them. Improving social relations for community wellbeing means promoting those conditions in society that bring people together. It enables us to participate in community life and allows us to feel part of a network of shared meanings. That’s why social relations are an important component of our Theory of Change.

So, what do we know about how to boost social relations? This was the question we tackled in our new scoping review.

What did we find?

We searched widely and found 34 existing reviews that examined community-based interventions or changes in policy, organisation or environment that were designed to boost social relations within a community, and measured community-level outcomes. A number of recommendations were made about what works, including:

  • Create good neighbourhood design and maintenance of physical spaces such as good meeting places, public parks, safe and pleasant public spaces, public seating, accessible and walkable spaces, and local shops.
  • Support mixed populations – in terms of income, ethnicity and so on – in new neighbourhood developments.
  • Increase the number of local events such as car boot sales, markets, and street parties.
  • Create ways for local people to share information such as notice boards or email groups.
  • Provide greater opportunities for residents to influence decisions affecting their neighbourhoods and encouraging engagement

We also found evidence suggesting that it’s not easy to improve neighbourliness through large-scale policies. Instead, it is better to encourage local understanding and action.

What next?

Based on this scoping review we are now carrying out a systematic review of interventions to boost social relations through improvements in community infrastructure (places and spaces).

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation identified “neighbouring and spaces for interaction” as a research priority, and the Legatum report on wellbeing and policy highlights evidence of links between the physical environment and social relationships, and refers to a ‘magic formula‘ of having easy opportunities for social interaction but retaining the ability to choose when, who, and where we meet.

‘Bumping spaces’ – places designed for people to meet up in informal settings – were identified as a priority theme in our collaborative development phase. Despite the recognised importance of the topic, we did not find any existing systematic reviews of how community places or spaces affect social relations. Our task is to fill that gap.

We’ll be asking for your help

While we’ll be searching books and academic publications, we know that lots of evidence is not written up formally. Instead, it sits with community organisations who have evaluated their own interventions, but perhaps haven’t published them publicly. Please look out for our call for evidence, when we’ll be asking for your help to circulate to your networks to uncover the crucial clues about what works best to boost social relations.

You can sign up to receive an alert when the call goes live by emailing info@whatworkswellbeing.org.

What’s the wellbeing problem with problem gamblers?

Ian Walker, is an economics professor at Lancaster University and recently co-authored new research on problem gambling. Here, he shares why we need to reconsider what we know, or don’t, about problem gambling and its impacts on wellbeing.

The received wisdom – if that’s the right expression for near ignorance – is that problem gambling is relatively uncommon and the damage to wellbeing is limited to the individual and perhaps their immediate family.

Around 300,000 problem gamblers in UK
What we know is that psychologists have devised a way of spotting problem gamblers by asking 10 questions and counting if they get three or more ‘wrong’.

In large and (more or less) random sample surveys it turns out that 0.7% of UK adults get classified as problem gamblers – so a tiny problem? Well 0.7% is a third of a million adults;  about the same number as the city of Sheffield has.  

So, not so small scale, but still not a worry if it’s limited in effect. But if the impact is bigger than we suspected for each individual problem gambler, it would be a really big problem for all of us.

Aggregate cost of £30bn each year for all problem gambers
What can psychologists tell us about how big a problem this is, per problem gambler. Well, it seems that nobody bothered to quantify this! The first to ask, and answer, this question is new research: How much of a problem is problem gambling.

The question is hard to answer, as are so many unanswered questions, but our estimate of the answer is that the cost aggregated across all problem gamblers is probably around £30 billion each year. Suddenly what we thought of as a small problem, is actually a huge one in economic terms.

A different approach: asking problem gamblers how they feel
So how did we go about estimating this? We adopted the methodology pioneered by Richard Layard and his colleagues in the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. Despite economists preferring to infer how people feel from how they behave, Layard and colleagues have been busy promoting the idea that it’s worth asking people how they feel, on a numerical wellbeing scale.

The idea has gained a lot of traction in the policy arena. So much so that even hard-nosed economists, who are naturally inclined to be wellbeing sceptics, are beginning to take notice. Such wellbeing questions now find their way into many social surveys. Thanks to the Gambling Commission and David Forrest, a specialist in the economics of gambling at Liverpool University, the question was tacked onto the end of the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. This survey also asked the 10 magic problem gambling questions to about 10,000 randomly selected households, as well as asking them about their spending on gambling products.

Problem gamblers in lowest 10% for self-reported wellbeing scores
The methodology first asks what happens to self-reported wellbeing for players who get no questions ‘wrong’ for those 10 problem gambler identification questions.

The graph below shows what we found. People who give more and more incorrect answers (the so-called DSM score), correspondingly report their wellbeing to be lower and lower.

On average, those with no wrong answers said that their wellbeing was about a reasonably contented eight. About 30% score eight, and about 50% score more than eight.

But the average wellbeing for those diagnosed with a gambling problem, by the DSM score, was just over six. Less than 10% of the general population sampled were this unhappy. So this establishes how much lower is the wellbeing of problem gamblers relative to non-problem gamblers.

The relationship between wellbeing and DSM score


Problem gambling has similar social costs to alcohol misuse
Next, we ask what the relationship between wellbeing and income looks like. It turns out that problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers are different in other ways that affect wellbeing. The difference in wellbeing between problem and non-problem gambers is 1.5 on a log scale. What does this mean? Instead of explaining log scales, let me put it in money terms: a wellbeing difference of 1.5 is about equivalent to a difference of around £90k each year. A huge difference.

So this finding shows the difference in wellbeing terms between problem and non-problem gamblers is close to three times as large as the effect of doubling income.

If we take that £90k average and apply it to the 750,000 adults identified as problem gamblers, the aggregate loss in wellbeing is equivalent to around  £30 billion. This is much bigger than we expected it to be. In effect, it’s the same order of magnitude as the social costs of alcohol abuse, and it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

When we discovered this, we had many reservations about this huge number. We worried that the rather crude way in which the survey measures problem gambling would imply that our estimate was too small. We worried that the crude way in which income is measured would mean that it was too large. We examined the robustness of this number to the reservations that we had as best we could with the data. But we could not convince ourselves that it was unrealistic estimate of the costs of being a problem gambler.

The data doesn’t match what we know from the gambling industry
So, the research tells us that problem gambling is a huge problem. But it doesn’t tell us what it is that makes problem gamblers so miserable. Nor does it tell us about how to deal with it? We would like to know what problem gamblers spend on gambling, by type of gambling and how much they lose. But, guess what? People lie about their gambling spending. The data, in most cases, doesn’t match what we know about gambling spending and losses from the industry. Only in the case of National Lottery products do we get information from the survey that matches what we know from the operator.

Our survey provides self-reported data on spending. We expect that problem gamblers underestimate their play (and losses) by (probably much) more than do recreational gamblers.

But the differences in our data are already really scary – even though they are probably underestimated to a large degree. Problem gamblers report average monthly gambling spending of £300 – fifteen times greater than non-problem gamblers.  

Problem gamblers spend around 10 times as much on scratchcards as do non-problem gamblers, and around 30 times as much on casino (online and offline) games, and around 50 times more on machines found in bookmakers that electronically mimic fruit machines and casino tables: so-called FOBTs (fixed odds betting terminals) where lots of money can be lost very quickly. In contrast, problem gamblers spend only 10 times as much on scratchcards and less than twice as much on lottery draw games as do non-problem gambers.

In one or two Scandinavian countries in the world, there is automatic collection of gambling spending by individuals in real time and better research will need such data. For the moment, in the UK all we can say is that we are confident that lotto is not the crack cocaine of this industry; and scratchcards probably play only a small role in the misery.

Researchers and regulators haven’t been aware
Such is the size of the problem gambling problem, and the size of our ignorance about how this occurs, we are left wondering how we have got into this state of affairs. It seems that researchers and regulators have not been aware of the size of the problem.

This is not surprising since the resources spent on problem gambling treatment and research is just a tiny fraction of that spent on alcohol abuse and tobacco use. And right now, we don’t have great quantitative evidence on what works for problem gambling – and some treatments, like Cognitive behavior therapy, has limited geographical availability.

Profiling people who are developing a problem will probably help a little – but apart from the problem being worse in young males the defining characteristic is excessive levels of expenditure. Self-control strategies are available but can be worked around too easily.

Schools might play a role since young people are vulnerable to risky products. Most importantly, it seems like a bad idea to have the resources available for training, treatment and research to be driven by contributions from the industry –  this is not something that we adopt for smoking and drinking, it makes no sense to adopt it for gambling.

A theory of change for community wellbeing

As well as this week’s blog, check out our latest call for evidence on joint-decision making in communities.

Professor Jane South

Jane South is a member of the Centre’s community wellbeing team and professor of healthy communities working in the field of volunteering, active citizenship and community health. In this blog she shares the thinking behind the new theory of change model the team has created after carrying out research, workshops and public dialogues.

Download the PDF slides explaining the theory of change model

Personal experience tells us that the communities we’d like to  live in are positive, safe and sociable. And, of course, research shows how much community life and good social connections matter for our health and wellbeing.

As part of the Centre, our communities evidence programme is reviewing and summarising existing evidence for what works to make communities more positive places for people to live in. To help us do this, we’ve developed a ‘theory of change’. This describes the ways change can happen to improve community wellbeing.

There has been increasing interest in the UK in using a theory of change approach to help unpack how programmes work, which in turn makes it easier for evaluations to ‘test’ the pathways to outcomes. Our theory of change describes a cyclical process of six stages with the ultimate aim of improving community and individual wellbeing. It’s our first attempt and draws heavily on what we heard from people and community organisations across the country during the engagement phase at the start of the project. You can see the results of that engagement in our Voice of the User work.


How the process for change works

The starting point for change is community conditions (box one in the diagram). The places where we live, how we relate to others and whether we have a say in how our local area run all influence our wellbeing. But while some people are part of communities that help them flourish, others are not.

There are things that government, organisations and individuals can all do to improve community wellbeing. For the purposes of this theory of change we’ve called these interventions (box two), but this doesn’t mean they have to be initiatives ‘done to’ communities – they could be things that people organise themselves in their neighbourhood.

Mechanisms of Change (box three) are then created, such as improving living environments, strengthening social connections and making it easier for people to take part. Things begin to change at a local level and these improved community conditions then give us the best chances to live, work and play well (box four) . Eventually changes can lead to long-term wellbeing outcomes (box five) for communities and individuals, and the ultimate reason for making change happen.

Where this community wellbeing cycle works well, there are feedback loops and things keep improving as people are more connected and involved  in community life and feel the benefits. Potentially there could be net savings from improvements in community wellbeing, although this is not a necessary part of the change process. And obviously, improving community wellbeing requires investment over time.

How can you use the theory of change?

We hope that this theory of change provides a framework for understanding and improving community wellbeing. It will also be used to help us interpret evidence. Communities are of course diverse and what works in one community may work differently- or not at all – elsewhere.  This theory of change could be used and adapted in local projects as a planning and evaluation aid.  Key questions include: What is the relationship between wellbeing benefits for the individual and for the whole community? How do we measure more of what matters, such as changes in social relationships, safety, trust and belonging?

What happens next?

Over the course of this project, we will be reviewing the community wellbeing evidence for interventions related to housing, social relations and co-production. As we find answers about what works we will refine and update our theory of change, backing it up with the evidence.

But a lot of the evidence doesn’t exist in academic journals, it lies with people working on the ground. We welcome comments on this initial theory of change – does it fit into the way you already think about improving wellbeing in your area? Do you have ideas of how it could be used? Are there things that are missing, or don’t make sense for you? We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below, on our forum, on Twitter, or via email at info@whatworkswellbeing.org.

Call for evidence: visual arts, mental health and wellbeing

Deadline: 26 June 2017

How does participating in visual arts impact the subjective wellbeing of adults (18-65 year olds) who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition? We are carrying out a review of all available evidence to find out.

If you work in an organisation that runs, funds, or works in any way with visual arts for adults experiencing mental health issues, we need your evaluation reports* – whether printed, digital or visual evidence – to help us tell the whole story.

Criteria for submission and review

We will accept sources for review and possible inclusion in our systematic review using the following criteria.

  • submissions must be evaluation reports only.
  • reports submitted must have been completed in the past three years (2014-present) and include author details (individuals, groups or organisations).
  • evaluation methods may be qualitative methods, quantitative methods or mixed methods.
  • the central report objective must be the measurement of wellbeing outcomes and/or evaluation of the processes by which wellbeing outcomes are achieved in visual arts interventions or initiatives related to adults with mental health conditions.

We can only consider your evaluations if they are submitted through this call for evidence. Evidence submitted to individual researchers in the programme cannot be considered. If you have previously sent documents to the culture and sport team please re-submit through this call.

Please send your evaluations to evidence@whatworkswellbeing.org with the subject header: visual arts evidence review.

Link to PROSPERO record

*These evaluations form part of what is known as grey literature: “literature that is not formally published in sources such as books or journal articles” (Lefebvre, Manheimer, & Glanville, 2008, p. 106). This may be produced by charities, government departments, businesses, community groups and others; and may include reports, theses or dissertations, trials, and more. To find out more about why we include work not published academically and qualitative evidence, and the rigorous standards of our evidence collection, you can read our Methods Guide.