Section 3: how to measure it

Wellbeing involves looking at lots of different aspects of life. And we can measure it in different ways by using objective or subjective measures – preferably both. This section explains the different approaches and why they are used.

More from Julie

Julie knows all three activities at the centre are improving people’s wellbeing in various different ways. She identifies the measures she already uses at the centre (like the number of people who attend or finish the courses) as objective measures. But she knows these other positive changes are to do with how people feel. They’re about subjective wellbeing. She also knows these things are often the first steps to achieving even better overall wellbeing.

Measuring subjective wellbeing

With this in mind, Julie explores subjective wellbeing and how she can measure it for each of the centre’s three projects. From what people have told her, she thinks:


the adult computer classes increase people’s confidence and self-esteem

 


the youth club helps teenagers build relationships and think more positively

 

the exercise classes for over-60s help people increase their social circles and feel more confident in their abilities.

So Julie decides to explore some of the ways she can measure these things – and any other potential differences – and what questions she can ask. 

SEE ALL OF JULIE’S STORY ON ONE PAGE

1. What are objective measures?

One way to measure wellbeing is using objective measures. These look at visible factors – how someone’s life looks from the outside. This can include things like the level of education someone has, or whether they have a job or stable housing.

Using objective measures

You can’t predict wellbeing from just one objective factor – you need to consider several to get the right balance.

Your organisation is probably already collecting data on objective measures. What you collect depends on what you want to achieve. For example, if you:

  • work with adults in vulnerable housing situations, you might measure the number of people in stable housing
  • want to improve people’s skills to help them get a job, you might measure how many people find work through your services
  • run an English for Speakers of Other Languages class you might measure how many people get a language qualification.

Getting a fuller picture

Objective measures are useful, but they only tell you part of the story. If you want to measure overall wellbeing, you need to think outside the statistics to get a more rounded picture of people’s lives.

For example:

  • for someone in an employment programme, what effect do health, housing or relationships have on their ability to find and keep a job?
  • someone who gets a dangerous, unstable or unsatisfying job won’t be counted in unemployment statistics, but might still feel anxious about their future or unfulfilled about their work – the same or worse than they felt before they got the job
  • another person may still be unemployed, but have plenty of support and resources, and feel confident about their chances of getting a job.

This is where subjective measures come in.

 

2. What are subjective measures?

One of the best ways to measure wellbeing is by using subjective measures. Measuring subjective wellbeing is about asking people to give their own perception of their life, like:

  • how they feel day-to-day and overall
  • how they function
  • whether they feel their needs are being met.

Subjective measures ask people directly how they’re doing. This means people decide what makes the difference to them, rather than others making assumptions. They can judge their life and the progress they’re making however they want.

Try and use subjective measures alongside objective measures. Analysing the results together will help you find out what’s really important to how people feel and function.

 

3. Using subjective measures

There are different ways you can measure subjective wellbeing:

Overall assessments

These give a general impression of how someone is feeling. You can ask someone:

  • for an overall assessment of their life (sometimes called evaluative measures), usually to find out whether they feel generally satisfied or not
  • about their overall sense of purpose in life
  • about the positive or negative feelings they’ve had recently – for example how happy or anxious they’ve been (this can be called the positive affect and negative affect).

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) measures subjective wellbeing across the UK, to assess these aspects of overall wellbeing. We’ll look at this in the next section.

Looking at specifics

These can give you more detail about particular things that affect people’s wellbeing. For example, you can:

  • ask about specific aspects to do with feelings or how people function: feeling confident, recognised and appreciated, feeling a sense of belonging, and whether they have opportunities and self-esteem
  • look at how people feel about specific aspects of their life, rather than life overall: how they feel about friends, family or their work.

We’ll look at some existing questions about these specific elements in the next section.

Other tools

There are also tools which combine together questions on a number of different aspects. For example (S)WEMWBS. These are referred to as ‘inventories’.


Find out more about the difference between measuring objective and subjective wellbeing, in this ONS guide.

4. What matters to us?

Wellbeing domains from a national consultation

In the UK, the ONS collects information on the domains of wellbeing. These are the aspects of our lives that are important for our current and future wellbeing – according to UK adults involved in a national ONS consultation.

These domains include:

  • Where we live (our housing, neighbourhood, green spaces, access to services)
  • What we do (our job, job satisfaction, how we spend our leisure time)
  • Our physical and mental health
  • Our relationships and social networks
  • Our personal finance
  • Our education and skills
  • Our trust in governance and ability to take part in democracy
  • The state of the wider economy
  • The environment
  • Our personal – subjective – sense of wellbeing (this is influenced by all the other domains in this list).

All these domains are important, and worth measuring at national, local and project level. We can assess them using subjective or objective measures.

What matters to children?

A survey by The Children’s Society found that these domains are the most important to children:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Appearance
  • School
  • School work

They now use the topics in all their surveys for children, asking how satisfied they are with them on a scale from 0 to 10.

Scientists have researched the best questions to ask for measuring wellbeing. They’re widely accepted by researchers, governments and other experts, so you can feel confident about using them for your own survey.

5. How can you measure your impact on communities or social relationships?

You may already know that your project has positive effects, not just on individuals, but on the ability of a group or a community to ‘be well together’. But how can you measure this? Here are a few suggestions:

Social capital

Social capital is the network of relationships between people in a community that help it function effectively. By measuring it, we can find out how people feel about their place in society and their social relationships.

We’ve suggested some questions to measure social capital in the next section.

Community wellbeing

Community wellbeing is the combination of social, economic, environmental, cultural and political conditions that people and their communities say they need to fulfil their potential.

It often includes health, economy, social relationships and security. We can measure it by assessing (using subjective or objective measures) different aspects that the community itself sees as important, including:

  • inequalities in the community
  • intangible cultural heritage (the practices, rituals, knowledge and skills of a community)
  • sustainability
  • the social and family relationship between people of different generations.

Our Systematic scoping review of indicators of community wellbeing in the UK explores existing community wellbeing measures that organisations and groups around the country are using.

For more information, read our blog ‘What is Community Wellbeing? Conceptual review’ and take a look at our ‘Theory of change for community wellbeing’.

More from Julie

 Julie knows all three activities at the centre are improving people’s wellbeing in various different ways. She identifies the measures she already uses at the centre (like the number of people who attend or finish the courses) as objective measures. But she knows these other positive changes are to do with how people feel. They’re about subjective wellbeing. She also knows these things are often the first steps to achieving even better overall wellbeing.

Measuring subjective wellbeing

With this in mind, Julie explores subjective wellbeing and how she can measure it for each of the centre’s three projects. From what people have told her, she thinks:


the adult computer classes increase people’s confidence and self-esteem

 


the youth club helps teenagers build relationships and think more positively

 

the exercise classes for over-60s help people increase their social circles and feel more confident in their abilities.

So Julie decides to explore some of the ways she can measure these things – and any other potential differences – and what questions she can ask. 

See all of Julie’s experience on the case study page

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