Measuring local wellbeing – what data matters?

A new set of indicators aims to give local authorities a more sophisticated picture of the wellbeing – or otherwise – of their communities than has previously been possible using more traditional data sets. Patricia Curmi explains.

Most local authorities know they need to approach decision-making differently in an increasingly complex and changing world. They know we need to go beyond measures that are useful but flawed or limited, like GDP, income or life expectancy. Thinking about what really makes a difference to people’s lives, rather than using idealised metrics, gives a greater range of options for action and a shared focal point for an area.

Now, for the first time, local authorities can use data on things like job quality, anxiety levels, social isolation, green space and how physically active people are to get better insights into what really matters to their communities.

The Local Wellbeing Indicators, published in Understanding Local Needs for Wellbeing Data were developed by researchers at What Works Centre for Wellbeing and Happy City, and commissioned by Public Health England and Office for National Statistics.

Currently, local authorities have to rely solely on traditional metrics, such as unemployment and material deprivation, to build an idea of where people are struggling and thriving. The new indicators now offer, in addition to these, a real-world set of measures for data that follows people’s quality of life from cradle to grave. This gives a more sophisticated picture of where communities may be at risk of health, financial and social problems.

To develop the indicators, What Works Wellbeing and Happy City consulted with individuals in 26 different organisations, including nine city councils, seven county or district councils, the three devolved governments (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), and nine other organisations including the Local Government Association, Defra, The Health Foundation and the New Economics Foundation.

These indicators are evidence-based, and are a response to local authorities calling out for more support to meet local needs in an increasingly complex and changing society. The indicators look at people’s real experiences of what makes a difference to their lives. And, importantly, they show us a more nuanced picture of where problems may be growing, not picked up when you use only traditional measures, like unemployment.

The Local Wellbeing Indicator set isn’t perfect, yet. It’s part of an initial scoping and we’re keen to develop them, which means local authorities need to help us by telling us if they work; if there are gaps and if there is other information they are collecting that could be useful to understand and compare wellbeing. You can read the full report and get in touch with us on our website.

Patricia Curmi is Head of Communications at What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

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