What drives local wellbeing?

Soraya Safazadeh

Can we shift society’s compass from growth-at-any-cost to a new model of prosperity centred on wellbeing?

Our current economic system often fails to recognise and value things that support wellbeing. The Thriving Places Index assesses a holistic range of social goods, helping decision makers to prioritise them when designing policy or programmes.

While it’s easy to see what’s wrong with our existing economy, it’s harder to see what might be a route ahead to a better future and how we could begin to plan for fairer, more equitable, more sustainable economic systems, based in places and serving the people who live in that area. At Centre for Thriving Places, we believe it’s both urgent and possible to shift society’s compass from growth-at-any-cost to a new model of prosperity centred on wellbeing. But to get there we need new ways of thinking and new measures to build a credible base on which to deliver change. The Thriving Places Index provides just that.

What is the Thriving Places Index?

The Thriving Places Index is a wellbeing economics framework that identifies the local conditions for wellbeing and measures whether those conditions are being delivered fairly and sustainably. It’s designed to give a balanced and easily read ‘dashboard’ of information on the different elements that help places to thrive. By taking a broader look at what supports the wellbeing of communities, the TPI’s asset-based approach highlights the strengths and challenges experienced by different areas. 

The TPI framework is arranged into three headline elements: Local Conditions, Equality and Sustainability. Within each headline element, there are domains and subdomains which show the headline elements broken down into greater detail. Each Local Authority area has a scorecard which shows the colour-coded scores for headline elements, domains and subdomains.

TPI framework

The TPI dataset consists of a broad set of indicators selected from existing datasets produced by established data agencies such as the Office for National Statistics, Public Health England and the Index of Multiple Deprivation. The indicators measure, or provide a proxy for, the key factors known to have an influence on wellbeing. Where possible, we use publicly available datasets. But not all of the key drivers of wellbeing can be measured using data in the public domain. We fill these gaps by applying for special access to datasets such as Understanding Society to help us measure wellbeing in each Local Authority area. 

People and community

The People and Community domain, which measures elements of community cohesion and social capital, includes data from Understanding Society. Indicators in this domain include levels of turnout in general elections and participation in clubs or groups connected to heritage from the RSA Heritage Index among other indicators. Using Understanding Society, we were able to add two new indicators to this domain in 2020: neighbourhood trust and levels of organisation memberships.

Measuring levels of neighbourhood trust

Trust is seen as a key element of social capital. The local neighbourhood module in Wave 6 of Understanding Society was used to produce an indicator of neighbourhood trust. In this module, participants are asked to rate their agreement with statements related to neighbourhood. One statement is “People in this neighbourhood can be trusted”. By calculating the percentage of participants in each local authority area who responded with ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’, we were able to measure neighbourhood trust per local authority.

Measuring levels of organisation membership

Being part of an organisation is another element of social capital. In the main Understanding Society questionnaire, participants are asked whether they are a member of any organisations such as community groups or political parties. To measure levels of organisation membership at local authority level, we calculated the percentage of participants per local authority that are a member of at least one of the organisations.

The importance of social capital in an age of crisis

Social capital represents the social links between people and the benefits that they can generate. It’s often associated with a sense of connection with other members of your community and can be increased through activities such as taking part in groups or clubs. These sorts of networks form a key part of strong communities – helping people to feel part of where they live and increasing their wellbeing. 

These networks have never been more important. While all of us are experiencing rapid and unprecedented changes to our way of life, it’s heartening that so many people are taking a lead in their communities to make these connections stronger – whether digitally or in person, through COVID-19 Mutual Aid groups, online clubs, friendly calls to people in isolation or planning new ways to deliver essential goods to those in need.

At this time of crisis, ‘thriving’ might seem a distant prospect. Surviving is rightly at the top of everyone’s priority lists. But as we move from immediate crisis mode to longer term rebuilding and renewing mode, we have the chance to shape our economy and our places in ways that reflect what we can increasingly see matters most to people, place and planet – things like social capital, community cohesion and sense of being safe and welcome where you live. The TPI helps us to make this shift, by measuring what matters for current and future generations to thrive and helping to put this at the forefront of decision making.

This is a deeply challenging time, but an economic system focused purely on growth is also one that overlooks resilience as well as wellbeing. The Thriving Places Index is a holistic way to understand decision making through the lens of wellbeing, sustainability and equality. In times of crisis, understanding places in the round (and how best to support wellbeing) remains a key priority.

See your Local Authority’s scores

See the full methodology

About Centre for Thriving Places

Centre for Thriving Places was founded in 2010 to change the economic compass from pointing to consumption and growth toward wellbeing for people, place and planet. We bring this vision to life through place-based strategic consulting, training and our evidence-based measurement tools the Thriving Places Index and Happiness Pulse. We work with local authorities, organisations and individuals to provide practical pathways to measure, understand and improve wellbeing. 


Soraya Safazadeh

Soraya Safazadeh is Senior Data Analyst at Centre for Thriving Places