Jun 1, 2022

Understanding wellbeing in a local area

Our role is to share wellbeing evidence and knowledge. We do this as a public good, helping people and organisations understand and use the evidence that’s been gathered to improve wellbeing levels.

We do this through understanding what governments, business, communities and people can do to improve wellbeing, working to understand what we know and getting it to the people who can put it into action.

Knowing ‘what works’ to maximise local wellbeing is important; but it is only part of the journey. It is also important to know how it works and, most importantly, how to use and implement it. 

In this practice example, two of the project leads for the Camden Council Wellbeing Framework talk about their experience of implementing the model and improving the lives of the residents there.


A wellbeing index for Camden

In 2019, Camden Council set out to develop a wellbeing index for the borough, in order to gain a deeper understanding of how residents are doing and what the reality of their lived experience is. We wanted to bring together data in a structured way to help understand the realities that their residents experience. We also wanted this information to help in the decision making processes, understanding impact, and to help partners in the borough with doing the same.

We started on this mission with a hyper-local project in Euston, so that we could test the approach and implementation on a small scale, before extending out to the whole borough. 

The Euston area is undergoing extensive regeneration and development with the HS2 project underway. It is an area  affected by multiple deprivation, and this massive infrastructure project will be disruptive to the lives and wellbeing of many residents. In order to support the residents in this transition, it is really crucial to understand what matters to them when it comes to living a ‘Good Life’. 

In a project led jointly by the Institute for Global Prosperity, Camden Council, Lendlease and Camden Giving, we started working together with residents to define what is important for their lives and wellbeing, and what prosperity means to them, titled Good Life Euston

A group of local residents were trained as citizen social scientists, including a group of young local residents. They learned about research methods, and about using different methods, such as photo-elicitation interviews, resident interviews and walking ethnography, to identify the drivers and barriers to a good life for the neighbourhood. Based on this research, they developed, with the support of a team of researchers from IGP, a conceptual model to represent their perspective of ‘what makes for a good life’, titled Good Life Euston. The model is visualised in the Hexagon below, which shows the domains which are essential for a good life: 

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

All six of these are required to achieve what is called ‘a positive state of being’. The model also demonstrates how equal access to the six elements of the hexagon, referred to as ‘systemic equity’, is an overriding driver for achieving a good life.

This conceptual model has now been translated into a set of metrics, and a household survey will take place in 2022 to provide data for these metrics. Based on these data, an index will be computed by the IGP, based on their methodology.

The next step for us at Camden Council is to develop a borough-wide framework based on the learnings from the Euston project. There are three important elements which we are focusing on for the development of a borough-wide index: 

  1. Participation – this work is intended to reflect the things which are important for the wellbeing of our residents. Therefore, talking with residents and partners about what that means to them, developing the conceptual ideas with them and testing the data and how it can be interpreted is of central importance to us in the process. We want to work together in order to ensure that these measures are reflective of people’s experiences. We also want the measures to be easily accessible and relatable, so that our conversations across the borough on what we want to achieve will be enriched by data and the realities of lived experiences.
  2. Data – we want to develop a data framework which allows us to build a picture of wellbeing in the borough, as well as comparing it to other places and across time. We are also looking at different wellbeing frameworks to see what has been used in different settings and are relying on past experience to guide us in our work. We want the framework to help us bring together different sources of information, both within and outside of the council, in a coherent way. We will start with mapping existing data sources from both within and outside Council, as well as benchmarking data. 
  3. Policy use – we aim to use these data and indicators in our decision making in Camden, and to support our partners in using the framework. In order to achieve that, we want to identify some of the tools with which we might mainstream the use of these indicators into our work. Some early thinking around this has been done, for example to convene residents and partners in the borough for an annual State of the Borough event, in which the wellbeing data will be central to the conversations about how we are doing and whether we are on track to achieving our vision. Other ideas are to support measuring Social Value in procurement, identify areas for investment for the investment strategy, and to help evaluate the outcomes of our strategic vision.

We’ve still got quite a way to go, but are eager to get started on this, and our experience in Euston has shown us that our residents are too. One of the things we are very interested in learning from others’ experience is how to ensure that a measurement framework is used in the business processes of local government in a meaningful way. Do reach out to share if you are in this space!

Michal Shinwell is Strategic Research and Evidence Lead in Camden Council, and is working on the Camden Wellbeing Framework. She has extensive experience in developing measurement frameworks on wellbeing and sustainability, at national and international levels. She can be reached at Michal.Shinwell@camden.gov.uk

Dominic Murphy is a Principal Participation Officer at Camden Council working on the Good Life Euston project as well as the Wellbeing Framework and several other citizen-led initiatives in the borough which contribute to the We Make Camden strategy. He can be reached at Dominic.Murphy@camden.gov.uk


Projects of interest

Different People Same Place

Maximising Local Area Wellbeing

Case study written by Michal Shinwell (Strategic Research and Evidence Lead) and Dominic Murphy (Principal Participation Officer) at Camden Council

Practice example map view

What Works Centre for Wellbeing is a registered
Community Interest Company 9461422 What Works Centre for Wellbeing, The Evidence Quarter, Albany House, Westminster, London, SW1H 9EA

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