Measuring wellbeing: tools and resources

July 2021

Cross-post from DataWise London which helps small charities and voluntary organisations tackle the tough issues that Londoners face by learning how to make best use of data. We are a DataWise London partner. 

Many charities, community organisations and social enterprises aim to improve the wellbeing of the individuals or communities they support.

Yet many struggle to measure whether their work has made a difference to people’s lives.

Guest blogger Angela Schlenkhoff-Hus from Coalition for Efficiency, introduces the concept of wellbeing, some of the more commonly used wellbeing measurement tools and suggests further resources available to organisations working in this space.

The first thing to ask is, what do we mean by wellbeing?

In 2006, the UK Government’s Whitehall Wellbeing Working Group defined wellbeing as:

“a positive physical, social and mental state; it is not just the absence of pain, discomfort and incapacity. It arises not only from the action of individuals but from a host of collective goods and relationships with other people.

It requires that basic needs are met, that individuals have a sense of purpose, and that they feel able to achieve important personal goals and participate in society. It is enhanced by conditions that include supportive personal relationships, involvement in empowered communities, good health, financial security, rewarding employment, and a healthy and attractive environment.”

The dynamic model of wellbeing developed by the New Economics Foundation illustrates the interplay between these different factors in order to help people ‘flourish’:

Diagram of external and personal resources leading to good functioning and satisfaction of needs finally leading to good feelings day-to-day and overall

Measuring wellbeing

To measure wellbeing, we can consider objective and subjective measures.

Objective measures relate to the visible factors: how someone’s life looks from the outside, e.g., whether they have found employment after a long period of unemployment.

However, this measure will not tell us anything about how this person actually feels about the employment: is it a secure job or precarious? Is it fulfilling and meaningful? Is it safe?

To gain a better understanding of whether there has been a positive change we need to look at subjective measures, i.e., asking people directly how they are doing and letting people decide what makes the difference to them and how they are progressing, rather than making assumptions.

Therefore, when planning the monitoring and evaluation of projects or services that aim to improve people’s wellbeing it’s good practice to involve them in the development in the framework. Ensuring they feel their voice is going to be heard and that they are comfortable with what is being measured.

Other considerations you might want to take into account during the planning phase:

What do you want to know?

Being clear on what it is that you want to know, the ‘why?’ A theory of change is a useful tool to help you articulate this.

Decide data collection techniques

Look at different types of data collection techniques, some of which might be more suitable for your purposes than others. Standard techniques are surveys, interviews, and focus groups, but you might also want to consider more flexible and creative methods.

For information on creative data collection tools, have a look at our Learning Lab with the case study of SELFA, a Yorkshire-based children’s charity.

What will you compare your data to?

Most wellbeing data will involve some baselining, i.e., the collecting of data on individuals’ perceived wellbeing at the beginning of a project to measure against at the end.

In addition, you might want to consider benchmarking, i.e., comparing your data and the project’s performance against other interventions or on a regional or national basis.

Standard wellbeing measurement tools

There are several standard tools to measure different aspects of wellbeing.

The website of What Works Wellbeing is a useful resource. It contains a wellbeing measures bank, which lists different, and mostly free, tools broken down into General MeasuresHow We FeelWhat We Do and Personal Circumstances. Here is a brief overview of some commonly used tools from each category:

General Measures:

The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales (WEMWBS) were developed to enable the measuring of mental wellbeing in the general population and the evaluation of projects, programmes and policies which aim to improve mental wellbeing.

The longer version has 14 positively worded statements and five response categories, summed to provide a single score.

The shorter version has seven statements selected from the longer list and otherwise works in the same way. The scales are widely used, nationally and internationally, and allow for comparison.

How We Feel:

The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale is a widely used self-report instrument for evaluating individual self-esteem.

It uses a 10-item scale that measures self-worth using both positive and negative statements. All items are answered using a 4-point Likert scale format ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

What We Do:

The General Self-Efficacy Scale is a 10-item psychometric scale that is designed to assess self-beliefs that help individuals cope with a variety of challenging demands in life.

The strength of this scale is that it refers to personal agency, i.e., the belief that individuals themselves are responsible for successful outcomes.

Personal Circumstances:

The Community Life Survey is a useful resource for questions on people’s circumstances and well worth exploring.

One of the questions it contains is around satisfaction with the local area that people live in, particularly relevant to track over time for organisations that focus on community/neighbourhood development.

A word of caution…

Some of these existing and standardised tools might not be useful for you in their existing form, e.g., because the questions are too complex or some of them are not relevant.

The temptation might therefore be to alter the wording of the questions or answer options or to delete or replace some questions with others that feel more relevant.

However, in some cases, e.g., with the Warwick and Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales and other validated tools, these changes, subtle as they may be, invalidate the tool itself and you can then no longer claim that you are using it.

In some circumstances, it might serve you better to develop your own set of questions or tools that feel more relevant for your organisation and that respondents might also feel more comfortable with.

Coalition for Efficiency has run Learning Labs on asking good survey questions and interview techniques, which might be a good place to get you started.

Further useful information

For further information on measuring wellbeing, watch our Learning Lab on Measuring Wellbeing with the case study of Noise Solution.

And check out this NCVO guide to writing short and to the point questionnaires to assess outcomes.

Need help?

You can book an hour’s Impact Chat with Coalition for Efficiency to think through measuring your wellbeing outcomes.

Or send Datawise London a request for support with some brief details if you already have some wellbeing data you’d like help analysing.