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Policy blog: what works for wellbeing?

20 May 2016

City Gateway 3Big Lottery Fund’s Wellbeing and Wellbeing 2 funding programmes aimed to support the development of healthier lifestyles and improve wellbeing.

Following the recent publication of the Wellbeing 2 final evaluation, Ewan Davison from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing reflects on the funding, the evaluation and what it might tell those who work in this area.

Wellbeing 2 followed the £160m Wellbeing funding, continuing to support communities to create healthier lifestyles and improve their wellbeing. It funded interventions to improve levels of healthy eating, activity and mental health, but wellbeing is much wider than one particular aspect or determinant.

Wellbeing means a lot of different things to different people, at What Works Wellbeing we’ve been talking to people across the UK about what matters to them. At a high level it’s their quality of life. So improving quality of our lives and our wellbeing should be the ultimate aim of policy.


For those of us interested in policy making, the wellbeing 2 evaluation report is important. I want to take a look beyond the numbers and start to identify what works, and what doesn’t in delivery and measurement.

What can it teach policy-makers?

The report shares a real wealth of qualitative data, insights from projects on what worked across delivery, promoting behavior change, achieving systems change and sustainability.

The key points to take away from it are:

  • The importance of ensuring engagement in design and delivery (such as using peer educators).
  • Taking asset-based approaches which work with local settings.
  • Developing the skills of staff and partners along with volunteers.
  • For some portfolios, working with local systems to enable sustainability and change to those systems, such as basing staff in local authorities and working with authorities (and communities) to meet outcomes identified in their Joint Strategic Needs Assessments.

Gauging success from how people feel

A really encouraging part of this study was the use of personal wellbeing as a measure; simply put it was asking individuals how they feel using the ONS 4 wellbeing questions. Across the Wellbeing 2 portfolios adults reported an increase in their levels of life satisfaction from 6.2 (on a scale of 0-10) at the start of the interventions to 6.5 at the end to 7.0 at three months post intervention. Life satisfaction is a key measure for us. There were also positive change reported in feelings of being worthwhile, happiness and anxiety levels. For example: 54% of young people reported a positive change in their mental wellbeing.

The importance of time when evaluating

For me, another key finding from this report and the follow up round table was that time is a very important factor (perhaps a luxury which this funding has allowed). It enables a test, learn, and adapt approach in delivery and in terms of measuring impact. Policy makers need to make time to engage people in the design of delivery and evaluation to keep activities relevant and effective.

There is some great work going on out there (as shown by this report) and as a nation we’re spending a lot of money and effort on activity so we need to learn from it collectively and in a systematic way. We need to measure with enough consistency to enable a meaningful comparison across interventions which looks at impact and cost, and reflects the strength of evidence. We can also use existing activities and management data to make running trials easier and cheaper, which in turn make the research findings more useful to practice and decision making.

We’ve also been examining what works for policy makers when using research, the science of using science knowledge, and how decision makers use evidence.

We all need to get better at capturing learning on wellbeing impacts and growing the evidence base. This is the start.

What Works Wellbeing is currently running calls for evidence on aspects of wellbeing. It will start to publish findings later in the year. It has just launched a forum to connect practitioners, academics and policy makers.

You can read the full final evaluation on Wellbeing 2 here. We have a series of blogs following the evaluation, and they are available through our Big Blog.

If you have any questions about the programme, the evaluation or the policy implications of this work, please get in touch by email

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