It was a full house for the London Catalyst AGM at the Art Worker’s Guild. Maggie Elliott, our Chair of Trustees, welcomed all and shared the achievements of the charity over the past year. The ‘Partners for Health’ collaboration with the Hospital Saturday Fund and Sir Halley Stewart Trust was a highlight and an excellent example of partnership funding by grant makers.
‘How do you know what really works?’
The formal business was followed by fascinating presentation by Ingrid Abreu Scherer of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, an independent organisation which helps communities and decision-makers share evidence about people’s wellbeing.
Ingrid’s presentation is available here to download as a PowerPoint and a PDF. You can also download the worksheet from the group exercise here.
Ingrid defined wellbeing as how we feel in ourselves; this is shaped by our health, relationships and place in our communities. And yet, there are external conditions affecting our lives and how we function in society.
You can’t always tell what someone is feeling from the outside. To understand wellbeing better, we need to measure it both objectively and subjectively.
A ‘mean life satisfaction score’ for different occupations reveals that income does not always relate to life satisfaction. Clergy, for example, score high on satisfaction, significantly more than telephone sales staff, although both are on comparative, low, income:
Ingrid explained that the motivating factors of ‘pleasure and purpose’ are significant, especially at different stages of life. Teenagers are particularly motivated by pleasure – which did not come as a shock!
Those who report the lowest wellbeing
The 1% of the population who report the lowest personal wellbeing tend to experience at least one of the following:
• Self-report very bad or bad health
• Be economically inactive with long-term illness or disability
• Be middle-aged
• Be single, separated, widowed or divorced
• Be renters
• Have no or basic education
Be systematic – one research study alone doesn’t have all the answers
Ingrid emphasised the importance of looking at a few different sources of evidence, and not just relying on one study which is then used to popularise a finding as an entertaining news story.
Ingrid then led a workshop session for the audience of (mostly) London Catalyst grant recipients, representing a rich mixture of charities and grassroots community organisations. In small groups, we considered whose wellbeing we care about and which aspect of wellbeing our organisation impacts. We were advised:
• Wellbeing is a good outcome to aim for – but it will look different for different contexts, projects and people. Having positive experiences and feelings is important for wellbeing – you can do this in events and light-touch engagement activities. Pleasurable activities are most valuable to those who don’t have them often.
• Making a meaningful change to someone’s life is also possible – especially through sustained, targeted engagement and volunteering.
• Think about your target population. What is their wellbeing currently, and what’s your role in improving it? What motivates them (pleasure, purpose, learning, social connections)? How can you use this knowledge to design activities? What resources and assets do you have that can be used to improve wellbeing? (e.g. spaces, networks, trust) Rather than starting something new, what can you tweak in your current programme to add wellbeing value?
Ingrid reminded us that there is plenty of research that already shows what works – for instance, that volunteering is good for people’s wellbeing – so organisations don’t need to spend time trying to prove this. This can free groups to look creatively at what they monitor and the evidence they can gather.
Ingrid said it would be reasonable to look at promoting positive experiences and then to consider an appropriate way to show long-term effects. She also suggested that partnerships, such as with NHS, can help community organisations to improve their evaluation and impact.
So we want to measure our impact. Now what?
What Works Wellbeing offer a free online toolkit which organisations can use for wellbeing evaluation (and an events measurement tool is being put together).
Ingrid noted that more information on measuring the impact of the arts is available from Creative and Credible.
Advice on other issues, including the ethics of gathering data and consent, can be found on the Inspiring Impact website.
Understanding of health messages by young people with learning difficulties – research findings
This was followed by a presentation from Skye Curtis, a social researcher and Masters student in Social Policy Research at the LSE. Skye shared details of the research she had conducted with young people with learning difficulties, exploring their views about health and their perceptions of health messages.
Skye was interested in how experiences of inequality and life experience affect our understanding and behaviours. People with a learning disability have poorer health outcomes than the general population, tend to take longer to learn and may need support to develop new skills, understand complicated information and interact with other people.
Participants in the study referred to knowledge gained from lessons and classes in the institution they were in, and this shows the positive influence of education. However, it didn’t always result in healthy behaviours and suggested that understanding health doesn’t necessarily result in healthy practices.
Skye concluded that having clear, simple messages that are easily understood and remembered promotes awareness, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to action. Thought must be given to the images of ‘healthiness’ aligned with public health messages. These coalesce with images of health branded by popular culture – such as Love Island – creating a sense of healthiness as ‘unattainable’.
Interestingly, Skye noted that often changes in behaviour result not from a focus on health but by exploring those issues and concerns that young people react to or have internalised. A change in health behaviour can coincide with a change in life. When we feel good about ourselves the world can be a healthier place.
View Skye’s presentation here as a PowerPoint or PDF