Towards a process of (well)being

What does wellbeing mean when you feel far from flourishing?

Wellbeing has become a pretty standard measure of how we’re doing, as individuals, communities and countries. But what does it mean to people who are struggling to get their basic needs met? Is it a concept that can be useful no matter where we are in the process of being-well?

We’re Colour-in City, one of a number of experiment teams currently exploring how to make a good future city using digital technology, data and co-creation with citizens.

Our focus is on understanding what wellbeing means to parents living in overcrowded social housing in one London neighbourhood. Together with parents, we’ll be creating and testing ways they can generate and use data about their everyday experiences to improve their wellbeing and shape support from local services.

We’re keen to include people’s stories and perceptions of wellbeing as part of creating that good future city. But there are challenges in doing this. For example:

  • How do we collect and present data that can catalyse change in both services and individuals when their data needs are different?
  • How do we connect existing wellbeing data (eg from the Office of National Statistics) with our participants’ in-depth, subjective, localised data?
  • How do we talk about wellbeing with people who feel far from flourishing, without it appearing simplistic or unachievable?

This last question has come out of early conversations with parents and local services and has been key to our thinking about wellbeing.

An essential part of our experiment is that citizens are both producers and consumers of their own data. For this to happen, we need to use measures that are meaningful and motivating to our participants, and that generate clear data which they, as well as service providers, can use.


Notes from our team discussions 1:
Data needs to work for individuals and service stakeholders


In response to feedback from parents and local services, and to shape our work around their needs, the experiment is initially focusing on reducing stress and anxiety at home.

The idea of reducing anxiety at home as a building block to wellbeing fits with Maslow’s much cited hierarchy of needs. According to his theory of motivation, when we struggle to get our basic needs met (related to safety and security through health, housing, employment etc) we’re likely to experience anxiety. It tends to be once these needs are satisfied that we can fully focus on ‘growth’ and reaching our potential.


Notes from our team discussions 2:
Could a process of (well)being use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?


While Maslow’s theory is critiqued for its lack of a scientific evidence base, it’s also widely used and researched in relation to wellbeing and growth. The idea of stages of wellbeing feels relevant at this early point in the design process, but it will be the parents and services we work with who shape both the framework and language around wellbeing we end up using.

Based on this, the starting assumptions we hope to test through co-design and experimentation are that:


Notes from our team discussions 3:
Wellbeing is influenced by individuals and their environment


Notes from our team discussions 4:
Steps to improve wellbeing can come from individuals and services


Wellbeing is a broad concept that can feel tricky to unravel and pin down when discussing the existing research and the implications of what we measure. This post has been a brief insight into some of the challenges we’re exploring.

Over the next few months we’ll be developing our wellbeing framework and approach with our co-design partners. We’ll share insights on our blog and website and welcome your feedback, thoughts and suggestions if you’re interested in or working in this area.

For more about the experiment visit our about page, read about the team or get in touch here. We’d love to hear from you.

Blog post authors: Emma Field and Eunji Kang, Colour-in City

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