Why government measuring well-being is good for charities

By Eibhlin Ni Ogain 25 November 2010

Money is important. But unlike the popular lyric, money does not, in fact, ‘make the world go round’. Research since the seventies has shown that despite rising levels of GDP in most developed countries, happiness or a measure of it has remained mostly the same. How could this be?

Most of us know that there are things other than money that make us happy. That is just common sense. Government policy, however, has long been measured by how successful it is at increasing GDP. But, as we now know, that is not necessarily a  good measure of success.

That is why government plans to measure well-being across the population from next year should be welcomed.

The cynic in me thinks that at a time when everyone is very aware of the financial climate, it is not surprising for government to acknowledge that there is more to life than money. But it is still a very significant step. Almost 30 MPs have signed a House of Commons motion arguing that ‘promoting happiness and well-being is a legitimate and important goal of government’.

More intriguingly, well-being seems set to become a buzzword for evaluating public policy, and how individual organisations – including charities – prove their impact.

For charities, it is no leap to say that well-being is important. Well-being has always been an important outcome of charities’ work. We just haven’t been very good at measuring it. This is part of the reason why NPC has spent the last two years developing a tool for charities working with 11 to 16 year olds. This tool quantifies the impact these charities are having on children’s well-being.

Charities should welcome the government’s announcement and seize the opportunity to prove that what they do has a significant impact on well-being.

It has long been that the ‘standard’ measures of success don’t work very well when working with the most vulnerable people. Cost benefit analysis, studies of exam grades and measures of health outcomes can be good indicators but often miss the point or are not sensitive enough to capture impact. For example, the help School-Home Support gives to vulnerable families often provides the ‘first step’ to a more successful educational career and positive family life, but it would be unreasonable to expect to see an immediate impact on a pupil’s academic attainment.

Many people will now be questioning how exactly you can go about measuring something as subjective as well-being and will be wondering whether it is, in fact, possible. Our experience with the well-being tool has told us that  not only is it possible, but crucial to do so.