A new focus on well-being can help the voluntary sector prove its worth

The following article appeared on the Knowledge Sharing website, a site dedicated to funders to share knowledge and learning, on 11 April 2012. The website is run by the Association of Charitable Foundations in the UK (a login is required).

John Copps, Head of NPC’s Well-being Measure, New Philanthropy Capital

The concept of well-being and, by extension, measuring well-being, has struck a chord right across the UK social sector. It is emerging as important concept in children’s services, driven in part by momentum from the grant-making community.

At a conference at the back-end of 2011 BBC Children in Need’s Head of Policy Shelia-Jane Malley described measuring well-being as a ‘game-changer’ for children’s services. At the heart of government, Sir Gus O’Donnell, Head of the UK Civil Service, has challenged all public officials to take into account measures of well-being in policy decisions.

For me this isn’t the least bit surprising. Improving the quality of life – the well-being – of people is at the heart of what charities and foundations are all about. How people feel and what they think of the world around them matters. For understanding changes in people’s lives, it’s often a far more meaningful measure than exam results or certificates.

A focus on well-being also offers a practical advantage to charities and grant-makers looking to demonstrate their value. How often do you meet grantees that despair at how difficult it is to prove the impact of their work on ‘soft outcomes’, such as self-esteem or quality of relationships? Well-being offers a new approach to this problem.

But for all its apparent new-ness, there is nothing novel about measuring well-being. Academics and psychologists have been doing it for decades. Most of this work has been impenetrable. Like so much else, there’s a job to do to translate this into something meaningful and practical.

With the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Private Equity Foundation, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing at NPC. We have produced the Well-being Measure, an online tool for organisations working with young people age 11 to 16, to measure their impact on areas including self-esteem, emotional well-being and friendships. If successful, we’ll branch out to other groups such as older people or NEETs.

So well-being offers a new language to describe our impact, and measuring the right things is essential. As Sir Gus O’Donnell remarked in relation to well-being ‘if you treasure it, measure it’.

To read more about NPC’s Well-being Measure for 11 to 16 year olds, see www.well-beingmeasure.com or visit the blog.

John Copps is speaking at ACF’s Children and Young People’s Issue-based network Monday 21 May from 12.30pm (available to ACF members only).

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About John Copps

John is part of NPC's research and consulting team and is the founder of NPC's Well-being Measure, a social business that provides an online tool to measure young people’s well-being. He has eight years experience of research and consulting, and is passionate about how data can be used to improve the performance of organisations. John is a regular contributor to NPC's blog and has also contributed to pieces for BBC Radio, the Guardian, and the Financial Times. John is a governor of a secondary school.
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