Happy City Measurement & Policy

Does Happiness really matter and can it really be measured?

Ask anyone what they want for their children, the chances are they’ll say they want them to be happy.  So whilst the concept of ‘happiness’ has been hijacked by advertisers and brands, focussing merely on the ‘instant pleasure’ end of the happiness spectrum, we seem to know deep down that it is much more fundamental than that.

A lack of wellbeing (how we feel and function in our lives), has severe consequences.  Low wellbeing can lead to lack of self care, poor health, low productivity or absenteeism at work, poor eductional outcomes, relationship and family breakdown, addiction, crime and more.  Wellbeing matters – for the individual and society.

For a long time it was argued it might matter, but it can’t be measured.  That has changed.  We now know much more about what influences wellbeing and much of it can be measured.

Happy City’s two main tools – the Pulse and the Index – combine to measure the whole of NEF’s ‘dynamic model of wellbeing’.  This includes the external conditions that most influence wellbeing, the experienced lives of citizens (including feeling and functioning), the personal resources people have, and whether these elements are being delivered within environmental limits and in a fair and just system

How are the Happiness Pulse and the Thriving Places Index connected?

The Happiness Pulse is our innovative online survey tool, which measures personal wellbeing across a wide variety of domains and indicators. It can be used at an individual, organisational, street, community or regional scale to understand how people are feeling and functioning in their lives.  When the additional ‘community module’ is added, more can be learned about how the local conditions are impacting on personal wellbeing.

Happy City’s Thriving Places Index is a basket of local indicators from pre-existing data sources which help outline how well places are creating the conditions for equitable, sustainable wellbeing.  It paints a detailed picture of the many interconnected elements that influence our wellbeing, helping to focus policy, resources and action on the things that matter most to improving lives now and in the future.

When used together, these two tools provide a uniquely comprehensive picture of how well a place is doing at creating the right conditions for lasting and equitable wellbeing and then whether that is the reality for people on the ground in local communities.

Is this national/international?

The Happiness Pulse has been used by individuals to measure their own wellbeing around the world.  To date, only organisations around the UK have used it to measure the wellbeing of their staff, community or project participants.  We have translated the tool into Welsh and have aspirations to provide multi-language access soon.

The Thriving Places Index uses existing local data, so requires adaptation for different national contexts.  The framework is  universal but the specifics of individual indicator availability vary country by country.  To date we have two versions, for England and Wales.  We are very interested in talking with local partners who would like to adapt it for use around the world

Is this a government thing disguised as a community thing?

Happy City is an entirely independent charity with a history of working with both grassroots community organisations and policymakers within local authorities. Our independent and non-party-political status enables us to work at both of these levels, always focusing on how to improve wellbeing of individuals, communities and places.

The Thriving Places Index

How did you decide which indicators to use?

We selected indicators that we know measure, or provide a proxy for something that is known to influence subjective wellbeing.  It also needed to be something that it is within the remit of a local authority to influence through policy and action.  In addition the indicators had to be available at upper tier English local authority level, with a reputable source (usually a national data agency) and good sample size and representativeness. Indicators should be regularly, preferably every one or two years.

How easy is it for anyone to download the data relevant to his/her council?

Anyone can download the data related to the Index, which reflects the latest data available in Autumn 2017. We provide a link to each indicator data source, and our User Guide provides instructions for finding your data.  In a few instances a calculation is needed, whether a simple averaging or something more complex, and we provide instructions on how to do this.  In two instances there are ‘secure’ access’ calculations required, meaning you have to apply to the ONS for permission to access the data, including stating why you want to access it.

What do you mean by ‘conditions for wellbeing’?

Drivers of wellbeing are the things that we know have an influence on an individual’s subjective wellbeing – for example good physical and mental health, a good job, access to green space, affordable and good quality housing.

Why have you only got data for upper tier LAs?

There is a good consistent data set available for upper tier local authority level. Below that level (ie district council level) data availability is more patchy and would lead to gaps in the indicator sets. Many data agencies do not report data below county council level.

Reporting at an upper tier geographical level allows us to report on indicators which are not included in the IMD, particularly from large scale surveys such as the Labour Force Survey and the Annual Population Survey.

What are upper tier LAs?

Upper tier local authorities comprise county councils, metropolitan boroughs, London boroughs, and unitary authorities.

Does it matter that the indicators don’t all bear the same date?

We prefer to use very recent data sets, but not all agencies update their data annually or even bi-annually, so we include a handful of indicators where the most up-to-date version is 2013/4, for example. We label the date of the data set very clearly on our spreadsheet.

Is 48 indicators enough to fully cover all wellbeing aspects of a place?

We think so.  We have taken great care to include all relevant sub-domains and to have a good representative set of indicators for any one sub-domain.  We would increase the number of indicators up to a maximum of 60, should relevant indicators become available in future. If we exceed 60 indicators then it becomes harder for users to find the meaning and narrative in the data. We are actively looking to increase the number of indicators in the Equality and Sustainability elements.

Does each sub-domain have the same number of indicators?

No – we are governed by availability of relevant indicators, although we aim to minimise the number of single indicator sub domains as it has potential to skew the scoring. The breakdown within the Local Conditions element of the Index is as follows:


Domain Sub-domain Number of indicators
Place and Environment Local Environment








Total: 13

Mental and Physical Health Healthy and risky behaviour

Overall health status

Mortality and life expectancy

Mental health





Total: 13

Education and Learning Adult education

Children’s education



Total: 4

Work and Local Economy Unemployment



Local business







Total: 8

People and Community Participation

Community cohesion





Total: 4


It is worth noting where a sub-domain contains only one indicator.  The Work and Local Economy domain has three sub-domains with single indicators but overall it is a well balanced domain.  The same can be said of People and Community in terms of the national indicators currently available around this theme.

Can you explain your scoring formula?

We collected data for each indicator (sometimes this involves a calculation).  We then found the average for England for each variable, and the standard deviation between local authorities within England.  In most cases, the England average was available from the same source as the data for individual local authorities.  Where this wasn’t the case we calculated the average by taking a weighted (by population) average of all local authorities. This was the case for 16 indicators, including those sourced from the IMD.

We then calculated the z-scores for each indicator by each LA, subtracting the mean for England and dividing by the standard deviation between the LAs

where rawij indicates the original indicator value for indicator i for LA j, etc. Where necessary indicators were reversed so that positive numbers are better than average.

Calculating z-scores allow us to compare a LA’s performance on two indicators even if they are measured on different scales. So if an LA scores -1.0 on one indicator, and -2.0 on another, then it means that it is 1 standard deviation below the English mean for the former, but 2 standard deviations below the mean for the latter – indicating that the second indicator may be more of a priority for the LA.

Note that, in future years, to allow comparison over time, it will be possible to calculate ‘pseudo z-scores’ where the data for new years is benchmarked against the mean and standard deviation from this first Index. That means that while for this year, the average z-score for any indicator is by definition 0, in future years, the average could rise or fall.


We averaged all indicators within each subdomain first. In almost all cases, all indicators were given the same weighting. We then averaged all subdomains within each domain. Note that we had two measures of wellbeing inequality, so these were averaged together, before combining them with the other two measures of inequality. We then averaged for all the domains for the Local Conditions to create a Local Conditions score.


z-scores are hard to interpret for most people. We converted them to a scale that runs between 0 and 10, with 5 indicating the average for England (for this year). A 10 on such a scale indicates an exceptionally good performance, and a 0 indicates an exceptionally bad performance. To do so, each z-score was multiplied by 5/3 and then 5 was added, as shown below:

Scores above 10 were capped at 10, and those below 0 were capped at 0.

This may seem, and indeed is, somewhat arbitrary, and the formula was designed purely to ensure a reasonable spread of scores between 0 and 10. With this formula, any variation beyond 3 standard deviations away from the mean is ignored. So, for example a LA which has a z-score of 3.1 on a particular domain would get 10/10, as would a local authority which had a z-score of 7.1. The implication is that any variation beyond a certain range is fairly irrelevant. As it happens, out of the 2700 subdomain scores for the 150 local authorities, only 8 z-scores fell beyond the ±3 range, and were therefore capped.


As well as calculating 0-10 scores, we also devised a colour scheme for presenting scores.
These are shown below.

The thresholds were chosen to ensure a reasonable spread across the colours. So for example, 18% of subdomain scores are in the bottom category, 21% in the second category, 27% in the third category,
and so on

What happens if you score 0/10 or 10/10? Can you get a minus or plus 10 score?

A 10 on our scale indicates an exceptionally good performance, and a 0 indicates an exceptionally bad performance. Scores above 10 were capped at 10 and those below 0 were capped at 0. This is somewhat arbitrary, and the formula was designed purely to ensure a reasonable spread of scores between 0 and 10. Any variation beyond three standard deviations away from the mean is ignored.  The implication is that any variation beyond a certain range is fairly irrelevant. Out of the 2700 sub domains for the 150 local authorities, only 8 z scores fell beyond the ±3 range, and were therefore capped.

Why haven’t you produced indicators for Scotland, Wales and NI?

The devolved nations are all at different stages of developing wellbeing indicators, and being devolved while there is similarity in some indicator areas and differences in others.  We are currently working with partners in Wales to develop a Welsh version of the Thriving Places Index, which will be launched in April.  We have good networks in both Scotland and NI and continue to share learning and ideas.

Will it be possible to compare Indexes year-on-year?

We are hoping that this 2018 launch will act as a benchmark against which future years can be compared. We review and update the indicator sets annually with new data sets and new indicators where we find them.  We don’t expect to be able to make a perfect 100% comparison but expect an 80-90% comparison to be possible.

Why have you not included subjective wellbeing in the Index?

The framework for the Thriving Places Index builds heavily on research on subjective wellbeing.  One of our key criteria in selecting indicators, and indeed defining domains, was that there should be evidence of a relationship between each indicator and subjective wellbeing, and indeed all five domains correlate strongly and positively with subjective wellbeing.  Subjective wellbeing data is included in our downloadable data sheets separately to allow users to see how the Thriving Places Index relates to subjective wellbeing.  Furthermore, Equality includes a measure of inequality in subjective wellbeing.

How will this help Local authorities and other organisations to improve local conditions?

Until now there has been no consistent and accessible LOCAL framework that uses local level indicators to measure and inform progress towards supporting the wellbeing of all citizens, now and in the future. The TPI is designed to fill this gap. To provide a robust reporting framework for local areas to support decision makers in their work to improve lives on the ground AND to help shift the focus, place by place, towards measuring what matters.

The TPI is also is a practical tool for implementing local policy and action that delivers on wellbeing. When embedded in local processes, it can be a powerful influence on the shape of local development. By assessing the conditions for thriving communities at a ‘whole-place’ level, different local actors – from civil society, local government, academia and business, to citizens and small community groups – can collaboratively tackle even very entrenched problems. It provides a consistent and comparable way of agreeing, measuring and tracking progress towards shared goals, a ‘common currency’ across and between sectors and geographies.

How do I get involved?

Happy City’s measurement tools are designed to be used. If you are interested in getting involved – either as organisation, leader or local region wanting to implement this new approach at scale, or as an individual volunteering or campaigning for change, get in touch – all the details are below.

Here are just a few of the following ways we can help you to help others:

  • Thriving Places Index support. We can share with you and your teams the detailed data findings behind your scorecard, and support you to better understand, analyse and use that data to improve performance and impact.
  • Happiness Pulse: Hyper-local community wellbeing measurement. Our ground-breaking Happiness Pulse is an online subjective wellbeing measurement tool. It can be used to map the strengths and needs of any place – from a street, to a team, to an organisation, community or local area – giving insights into the mental, emotional, behavioural and social wellbeing of all who take it. It is designed to support individuals to understand and improve their own wellbeing, as well as providing data that can help decision makers tailor support to their needs and evaluate the wellbeing impact of their work. .
  • Training. We offer training in the use of our tools, in improving practice to grow wellbeing and in supporting the wellbeing of individuals, teams and communities
  • Projects and Campaigns. For more ways to get involved with Happy City’s wider work see our website.

The Happiness Pulse

What questions do you ask and why did you choose these?

The Happiness Pulse questions were selected from two processes: a) a review of the academic and policy literature on wellbeing measurement; and b) focus groups with individuals and community organisations. We chose questions that provided us with a comprehensive picture of people’s wellbeing that was both intuitive and informative to individuals and academically rigorous.

Who will use the data and for what purpose? Why do you want this data and what will it make a difference to if I give it?

All user data is anonymous and will only be used for the purpose of analysis. By taking your Happiness Pulse, not only will you gain a better understanding of your wellbeing and how to improve it, you will also be helping us to gain a better understand of how people’s lives in different places are going and the kinds of conditions that really make a difference to people’s lives.

Taking the Happiness Pulse

How can taking a survey possibly help me be happier?

The survey can help you better understand and improve your wellbeing. It can help you see how well you are doing in three key life domains: Be, Do and Connect. Based on your scores for each domain, you can then Explore More about how you can improve things in the areas that need it most.

How long does it take to complete the survey?

The survey takes around 5 minutes to complete. It’s then up to you how much time you want to spend exploring some of the resources designed  to help you improve your happiness

What if I don’t answer all of the questions?

If you don’t answer all the wellbeing questions then you won’t be able to get your results.  This is important becuase each question is important and only together can they paint a rounded picture of your wellbeing. Your postcode is also required so in order that we can (anonymously) assess local wellbeing and help decision makers improve services to improve it.

Is all user information confidential? What do you do with the data?

Yes, completely. We will analyse the data in an anonymised format and only report on how well different groups and wards across an area are doing.

Will people be able to work out who I am through my postcode?

No. We use postcode information to identify the city wards people are located in. We then analyse the data using ward information, not postcodes.

What do you do with the user email addresses?

Leaving you email is completely optional and is only offered if you want us keep you up to date with the project.  We never share your email with anyone, and you can ‘unsubscribe’ to our regular newsletter at any time.

What advice is there for users with very low levels of wellbeing?

We recommend that users with very low levels of wellbeing seek support, if needed, from established support groups and services. You can find a list of these on your local Mind website.

What if we have feedback on the survey or the project?

You can leave your feedback at index@happycity.org.uk

If people are interested in finding out more, do you do any happiness training?

Yes! Please see the training page of the Happy City website: www.happycity.org.uk/training

Do you have the survey in other languages?

So far we only have the survey in English and Welsh.  We hope to offer translations in many languages in the future.  Watch this space!

Using the Happiness Pulse in Your Organisation

Can I use it to measure the wellbeing of a particular project or group within my organisation?

Yes.  The pulse is designed to be used at any level from a small group (<10 people), up to whole geographical regions.  We are currently adapting the digital tool to allow each users to have their own dashboard where they can see their own results and download simple data reports for groups and projects.  Get in touch at info@happycity.org.uk if you’d like to know more

Can we carry out the survey twice to evaluate the impact of our projects?

Yes.  It is an ideal tool for evaluating before and after data on wellbeing impacts, as well as track wellbeing over time.

Who else is using the survey? What is the comparability of the results?

In the life course of the pulse 16,000 people have taken it.  With the newly adapted digital version on the way, with far more benefits to communties and groups, we anticipate this number to grow exponentially in the coming years

Can we continue using the survey for free?

Individuals can always and will always be able to use the pulse for free.

We are currently adapting the digital tool so that organisations can also use the core Happiness Pulse tool for free.  They will get a simple dashboard with their headline results across the core Be, Do, Connect domains.

If organisations what more complext functions, including in-depth reports, additional modules, multi-project or team breakdowns or any of our training or bespoke support, these will be available for an additional fee.

Who will do the data analysis?

The basic analysis happens within the online app.  So the new tool release in Spring 2018 will allow all organisations to access this basic level of result reporting for free.

We can offer organisations much more in depth analysis of their results as a bespoke consultancy service, using our world leading wellbeing data analysts.  If you are interested in this service please email info@happycity.org.uk

Can we add questions into the survey?

The core Pulse modules (Be Do Connect) have been designed to provide an exceptionall strong picture of wellbeing for all groups.  We have also developed a range of additional modules to support particular sectors better understand the impact of their work on individual lives.

If you are interested in creating an additional bespoke module of questions to go alongside the Happiness Pulse then please get in touch with us at info@happycity.org.uk