If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked about the best way to measure wellbeing – I would be on my yacht in the Med now, instead of sitting at my desk! Sadly there is no simple answer – it depends on what your definition of wellbeing is in the first place, what you are trying to achieve with your measurement and what other people in your field are doing.

Here is my list of places to start your well-being journey – hopefully the information on these sites and papers will help answer your questions about well-being and how to measure it

1. First steps – measurement of high level well-being and change over time

This excellent presentation by the What Works Wellbeing organisation summarises why wellbeing is such an important tool for social purpose organisations and commercial organisations alike. The presentation starts big and shows how GDP as a measure for progress is a blunt tool – it reminds us that GDP actually increases when natural disasters occur and also increases with levels of divorce/ crime/ drugs/ prostitution but doesn’t change with increases in measures of volunteering/ leisure time/ democracy and freedom. The conclusion is that we need something to measure social progress to complement GDP. It goes on to show how subjective well-being (SWB) predicts staff engagement, performance, productivity and absenteeism. It is also associated with improvements in longevity and general health and many other positive outcomes.

The presentation introduces the ONS well-being wheel which has now been updated to the well-being dashboard as it is easier to track changes over time.

The measures they recommend are those used in the ONS dashboard – and in particular, the 4 overall subjective measures summarised in this diagram taken from the presentation….

Source: Office for National Statistics, 2018

Think of these questions as a Net Promoter tool (aka Friends and Family tool) for well-being measurement – great for your dashboard and for tracking change. Importantly, because their use is so widespread across government surveys you will probably be able to make comparisons between the level of well-being of your service users/customers and the level in the equivalent wider target group. Very useful for benchmarking and impact evaluation.

But while these measures are simple to use and are great at measuring high level change over time, like the Net Promoter score they do not give any detailed information behind the headline levels of well-being, and so are not that good for learning and improving as an organisation.

So if we want to understand more about change is taking place, alongside the high level measure we have to go deeper….

2. Digging deeper – more detailed measures of subjective well-being 

There are many, many existing tools out there – each developed to fit with a different definition of well-being and as a result each includes different questions to measure subjective well-being.  I would recommend reading the “Review of 99 self-report measures for assessing well-being in adults” as a starting place – this excellent BMJ Open paper assesses 99 different self-reporting measures.

It assesses each of the 99 tools and categorises them by theme including global well-being, mental well-being, social well-being, physical well-being, spiritual well-being, activities and functioning and personal circumstances.

This table helps you quickly define which existing tool might work for you. All of the tools included in the review have been user-tested and validated so you know you are choosing something that has been shown to work. Also, by listing all the existing tools it can help prompt a discussion in your sector – if it turns out that most of your partners/people in your sector are using, for example, the Warwick/Edinburgh mental well-being scale (no 95 on the list), why not look at using it too? Then you could discuss benchmarking your findings to see how you compare.

So much better than re-inventing the wheel and developing a new tool from scratch.