Wellbeing needs a more joined up approach


Wellbeing: what does it mean, case how can it be measured and what would the impact of embedding it in policy and practice be? A What Works Centre for Wellbeing could help answer these questions by supporting the use of wellbeing evidence in policy and practice as well as linking organisations, salve previously unaware of each other’s work, treatment argues Lauren Pennycook.

Too much information, not enough knowledge

‘Drowning in information but thirsty for knowledge’ is the conclusion of our UK-wide survey of almost 500 policymakers and practitioners on how researchers currently use evidence in their working lives. Combined with its widening use ‘wellbeing’ could become an increasingly empty term, filled with whatever meaning the speaker chooses.

There are a number of barriers to accessing and using evidence. Including the absence of a shared definition for ‘wellbeing’ across policy areas and jurisdictions, confusion over how it can be measured, and the impact of embedding it in policy and practice. Respondents told us that they struggled to identify and use evidence effectively.

A What Works Centre for Wellbeing: supporting and coordinating the use of evidence

Across the board, workloads are increasing and services and practitioners are being squeezed for time, however, we believe that evidence-based policy and practice is essential. A What Works Centre could help support the use of wellbeing evidence as well as build bridges between those who use it and those who produce it. Our survey found that university research was seen as the most trustworthy source of evidence by 68% of our respondents, but just a third said that they were able to access it frequently.

By linking its work with other What Works Centres, a What Works Centre on Wellbeing could avoid duplication and help policymakers and practitioners to identify the most relevant information. There may also be a role for the Centre in making the case for organisations to train their staff on how to use evidence effectively.

Wellbeing evidence can, and does, change policy

When wellbeing evidence is available, a number of different approaches have been taken to using it in policy and practice, from assessing the national performance of the Scottish Government to forming the basis of local community action. By developing tools which use wellbeing evidence, similar to the Oxfam Policy Assessment Tool, the Centre could support policymakers and practitioners to take a broader view of the impact on people’s ability to live well in their communities.

So, in a time of budget and time pressures, we should take the opportunity to share evidence across the jurisdictions of the UK through a What Works Centre on Wellbeing. If we are open to learning and are constantly reflective about how evidence can be applied in our own geographical or subject areas, the opportunity to exchange evidence across borders might just improve our own wellbeing.


Lauren Pennycook is a Policy Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust. The Trust works to improve the lives of people throughout the UK and Ireland by influencing policy and by changing lives through innovative practice and partnership work.



Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence. To learn more about the Alliance and join us (it’s free and open to all) click here