Can we measure the wellbeing of a ‘community’?

annemarie_bagnallThis week we hear from Anne-Marie Bagnall, Reader at the School of Health & Community Studies and part of our Community Wellbeing evidence team. Anne-Marie explains the thinking behind our new scoping review of community wellbeing indicators.

Jump to the scoping review and table of indicators

Last month we shared our local authority indicators to help understand local needs for wellbeing data. Today, we’re sharing a range of indicators, frameworks and measures of community wellbeing that have been used by government agencies and NGOs in the UK over the last five years. You might be asking yourself: aren’t these the same thing? What’s the difference between measuring community wellbeing and overall wellbeing in a local area?

Although the UK government has been assessing wellbeing at the national level –  including economic performance, quality of life, the state of the environment, sustainability, and equality – these measures don’t necessarily capture ‘community wellbeing’.

Our local authority indicators capture individual wellbeing in a given area, but this is not enough to measure the wellbeing of a community as a whole. Community wellbeing takes into account all of the individual wellbeing factors, plus things like intra-community relations, inter-generational connections and social capital.

Community wellbeing is less well defined and understood as a concept, in part because it can be complex and contested. But it’s also due to the fact that indicators measuring a community’s wellbeing may be described using other terms, such as “social capital” or “liveability”.

The scoping review we’re publishing today highlights the theories and concepts that underpin them, as well as useful list of terms used to describe community wellbeing.

Our goal is that this report and indicators help make it easier to understand and start measuring community wellbeing, as has been the case with individual and national wellbeing.

And despite the lack of clarity about what exactly community wellbeing is, we have managed to unearth 43 indicator sets, comprising 273 raw indicators of community wellbeing. The graph below groups these indicators into 25 domains of community wellbeing, showing how often the different domains were mentioned. Most indicators are focussed on health and wellbeing (11%), while economy, inclusion and relationships were also popular fields.


To delve deeper into the definitions of, and important questions about, community wellbeing, you can read our conceptual review coming out later this summer. Or, have a look at our theory of change slide set that suggests a way for organisations and community groups to approach improving local wellbeing.

This list of indicators isn’t exhaustive, and we’d love to hear from you if you know of any that should be included. You can email us at

New one-day course on wellbeing and cost effectiveness in policy – 4 October, London

Secure your place on our free one-day course.

Wed, Oct 4, 10 am – 5pm
Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE

How does your policy or programme impact people’s wellbeing? Is it good value for money?

Our free, one-day course in partnership with LSE will offer you a useful new way to measure the direct relationship between any policy or programme and its impact on people’s wellbeing. It draws on fresh, practical thinking from Lord Gus O’Donnell, Professor Richard Layard and other leading policy and wellbeing experts to give you the tools to calculate whether your policies or interventions are cost effective.

If you create or influence national or local policy, or run public programmes, you probably already know that improving people’s wellbeing is the ultimate goal of any policy or public service. This is true whether it’s within employment, health, planning, economics or any other sector.

Yet, until now, there’s been no way to understand what’s the best value for money when it comes to designing policies and programmes that improve people’s lives.

That’s why we are excited to announce this course, designed by the LSE and the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. It lays out what factors determine wellbeing, then dives straight into the big ideas behind this transformative way of making and shaping policy.
Because this is a practical course, we have an optional bespoke ‘surgery’ session for those facing specific questions about a policy or project they are designing or influencing. Numbers for the surgery will be capped at 25, on a first come, first served basis.

What will be covered?

  • What causes wellbeing, and what scope is there for improving it? Andrew Clark
  • Putting it into practice: what does this mean for national policy? For local authorities? Interactve session covering findings from the what works evidence. What Works Centre for Wellbeing
  • Lunch: Stalls with what works material, outputs from academic teams on hand to answer questions.
  • Putting it into practice: Understanding what works – and the challenges. What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Secure your place on our free one-day course.