Wellbeing evidence around the globe – Nils Fietje WHO Regional Office for Europe

Nils-photoCulture and Health: how the study of cultural dynamics is finding its way into well-being discussions at WHO.

Culture is making a comeback. After years of having remained at the margins of national and international policy discussions, the term is re-emerging as a powerful, affirmative concept. Particularly in relation to health, the importance of cultural values, behaviours, or assumptions is getting some much needed attention. Like, for inst ance, in this concept note, published by the United Nations Development Group as part of its report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which highlights the significant contribution cultural dynamics can make in improving people’s health. Or in this UCL/Lancet Commission Report which claims that the neglect of culture is the single biggest obstacle to developing equitable healthcare.

The comeback of culture hasn’t gone unnoticed by WHO, leading to the launch of a project at the WHO Regional Office for Europe that is trying to investigate the impact of culture on health in a more systematic way. Anchored in Health 2020, WHO’s European policy for health and well-being, the project’s first initiative is to tackle the issue of measuring and reporting on well-being. In 2012, the European Member States mandated the Regional Office to keep an eye on the well-being of its populations. As a result, five core objective well-being indicators and one core subjective indicator were selected for inclusion in the Health 2020 monitoring framework.

Of these, the subjective well-being indicator (life-satisfaction), is the most interesting, but also the most challenging. It’s at the heart of what WHO can say about well-being. And yet it doesn’t capture the soul of what well-being really means across a region that’s as culturally diverse as WHO’s Europe. From Iceland, across the central Asian republics, to the furthest reaches of the Russian Federation, the WHO European Region combines within one administrative entity an enormous variety of beliefs, values, and traditions

To help WHO think through the cultural determinants of well-being, the Regional Office convened an expert group meeting in January of this year. The group comprised 21 experts from a variety of disciplinary and professional backgrounds, including epidemiologists, statisticians, and public health experts, but also academics from cultural studies, history, philosophy, anthropology, geography, and cultural psychology.

From a measurement perspective, the well-known caveats about (for instance) cultural bias, language barriers, or contextual effects were mentioned in relation to subjective well-being. Although a lot of work has been done comparing collectivists versus individualist cultures, our experts agreed that more research was needed before the cross-cultural comparability of subjective well-being measures is firmly established. Particularly within the European Region, they pointed out, comparative research was almost totally lacking.

How then can WHO actually say something meaningful about “being well” in Europe?

One of the interesting recommendations the experL0058624 Wooden geomantic compass and perpetual calendar, Chinese. Plt group made, was to encourage WHO to consider using other forms of evidence from a wider array of disciplinary perspectives in order to supplement its regional report on well-being. A lot of rich health information can be gathered about the well-being of groups, communities and even nations, by (for example) systematically analysing historical records, anthropological observations, or other forms of cultural outputs. However, one must first overcome the preconception that his kind of information is too “soft” for the public health sphere. Instead, the focus needs to be on validity – as it would be with more conventional forms of data.

Taking advantage of a more multidisciplinary approach when WHO communicates about well-being – one that benefits from the methodologies employed by historians, anthropologists and other cultural commentators – might have several advantages.

First, such an approach could allow for more compelling, and more textured well-being narratives, especially where developing and implementing costly, country specific well-being surveys is not an option. This is crucially important to the Regional Office, because European Member States have already expressed a concern about the current burden of reporting. It’s a burden that should not be unnecessarily increased by international agencies.

Second, the use of more culturally specific sources of evidence (gathered from, for instance, traditions and rituals) can help give a voice to marginalised communities (such as Roma), whose health experiences are often fundamentally underpinned by cultural attitudes and beliefs and whose well-being isn’t captured by national or global polls.

And finally, an integrated, multidisciplinary approach, one which is open to insights from the human and wider social sciences, can help to encourage a more balanced discussion about well-being. Working between disciplines exposes the system of values in which academics operate and encourages reflexivity. The kind of reflexivity that allows us to understand, for instance, how all our attention on well-being (and happiness) is producing its own cultural dynamics. Dynamics that might themselves have negative side-effects.

As a small post script, a culture centred approach to thinking and communicating about well-being isn’t exactly new. But the kind of work that exists tends to make very specific arguments about the well-being of very specific groups of people (like cancer patients in the NHS). And it isn’t really speaking to policy makers yet, either. What’s missing from these studies is scale and scope. The scale to construct larger narratives about well-being that transcend local or community boundaries; and the scope to make this research relevant within the public health policy arena. We believe that WHO and its Health 2020 policy can help to change this.

Nils Fietje

Research Officer

Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation

WHO Regional Office for Europe

Nils Fietje is a staff member of the WHO Regional Office for Europe. The author alone is responsible for the content and writing of this piece, which does not necessarily represent the decisions, policy or views of WHO.

Volunteering and wellbeing in culture & sport – this week’s pioneers

Give and connect are two of the five ways to wellbeing developed from the Foresight report into mental captial and wellbeing back in 2008.  These are two elements of volunteering.  Our interim Chair Lord Gus O’Donnell regularly points out the importance of broad measures of wellbeing and their superiority to activity measures like GDP as indicators of the success of governments and countries. One example he often gives is that UK GDP is now enhanced by increased illegal drug trade and prostitution, while the value of volunteering is not!

Our pioneers this week are all about volunteering in sport and cultural activities:Join-In-HiddenDiamonds-Handout-Wellbeing

1. Join In – looks at wellbeing and sports volunteers following the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

2. If: Vounteering for wellbeing in the heritage sector established by the Imperial War Museum North and Manchester Museum

Our pioneers are short case studies of real projects, real places, real people and their evaluations.

→ be one of our pioneers

Evidence Programme: Culture & Sport

We will be looking in more detail at the evidence base around cultural and sporting activities and how they influence wellbeing.  Our evidence programme includes a theme specifically on culture and sport.  This is supported so far by the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Arts Council England, Sport England, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Do get in touch if you want to partner with us to support our work in this area.

The deadline for applications for our evidence programme is 21 January 2015.

Have a great week,

Nancy

 

 

Online Twitter Q&A for What Works Wellbeing proposals 3rd December

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing’s commissioning partners, the Economic and Social Research Council, are hosting an online twitter chat on 3rd December between 12 and 2pm about the Centre focusing specifically on the evidence programme call for proposals.

Please see the call page for the full specifications, application guidance and FAQs. A short presentation on the application process will also be available beforehand, and an updated FAQs document will be available after the online Q&A event.

Join the forum to meet others working on wellbeing

→ Send questions

→ Join the discussion on 3 December by logging on to Twitter and following #wwwqa.

  • A Twitter account is required to post questions, though the discussion can be viewed without an account
  • Sign up to the virtual networking forum before the event if you want to post a question.  You will be able to view the forum discussion pages without an account.
  • The Q&A will be run via Twitter.  W will also provide fuller answers and a summary of all questions after the event.

Nancy & Karen

Evidence programme – applicants workshop presentations and extended deadline

The evidence programme for the What Works Centre for Wellbeing is being commissioned by the our partners the Economic and Social Research Council.  The specifications for the evidence programme were published on 29th October.

On behalf of all funding partners, the ESRC is commissioning four wellbeing themed evidence programmes to look at what works for wellbeing:

  • cross-cutting capability
  • work, learning and wellbeing
  • community wellbeing
  • culture, sport and wellbeing

There was an applicants workshop on 5th November and the presentations from that workshop are now available.

Based on the level of interest, the deadline for the What Works Wellbeing Call has been extended to 21 January 2015.

You can contribute to the development of the centre in other ways here.

Evidence Programme for What Works Centre for Wellbeing – Applicants Workshop 5th November

The Centre’s evidence programme is being commissioned in partnership with the Economic & Social Research Council.8-2754esrc-logo

A synthesis of the evidence about what works to improve wellbeing is being comissioned in the following areas:

1. Cross cutting capabilities

2. Work and Learning

3. Commnuities – social networks, govenance, built environment

4. Culture and Sport

Register today for the applicants workshop in Birmingham on 5th November.

apply