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Data on a Touch Pad

Using administrative data to understand community wellbeing

About the project

Knowledge about place-based wellbeing is currently derived from a combination of self-reported data from surveys and qualitative studies, economic, and space/service provision data. Local governments hold substantial behavioural data on their servers – council tax records, closed-circuit television feeds, noise complaints, library membership, etc – but this information is not currently used to analyse and develop new policies focused on wellbeing. This information is more objective than self-reported data, and it also carries a variety of ethical concerns.  

This project explores whether government agencies can use behavioural data – administrative and other data that records the activities and acts of community members – to gain additional insight into place-based community wellbeing.


The project is led by Professor Lasana Harris, Senior Lecturer at the UCL Department of Experimental Psychology, and is funded by the Nuffield Foundation and part of the Understanding Communities Fund.

Dr Saffron Woodcraft, Executive Lead at PROCOL UK at the Institute for Global Prosperity, co-leads on the first stage of the research. 

Work packages


Review of landscape


Ethical approach to using behavioural data


Behavioural data demonstrators with local authority partners


Impact assessment of demonstrators


Behavioural Data for Community Insight Network

What is community

The first stage of the project consisted of conducting a review of the current landscape community wellbeing measurement through a behavioural lens. We identified different definitions of community wellbeing, indices and frameworks that are currently used in the UK.


We also identified common conceptual domains, (e.g. community connections and belonging; healthy environments; employment and opportunities) that can be measured using the type of behavioural data sources that are routinely collected by local authorities and governmental agencies.


We also aimed to find out where there is no need to collect behavioural data as it already exists, as well as identify new data sources and ways of measurement that complement existing frameworks and contribute to creating new knowledge about community wellbeing.

Image by Hillary Ungson


According to the findings, a widely accepted definition of ‘community well-being’ does not exist yet. But we could use the following as a good starting point:

Community wellbeing is the combination of social, economic, environmental, cultural and political conditions identified by individuals and their communities as essential for them to flourish and fulfil their potential'. 
Wiseman and Brasher, 2008

We found that wellbeing indicators can be objective or subjective, and focus on individuals or on the community. But this understanding can also be somewhat flexible, and it is useful to think in terms of a spectrum from subjective to objective; and from individual to community, as shown in the diagram below:

wellbeing spectrum.png

As per our review, the wellbeing and the UK community wellbeing measurement landscape can be very succinctly summarised in a timeline:

temporum wellbeing.png

We are currently working on a project report that summarises the first stages of the research, exploring the community wellbeing research landscape and understanding the feasibility of using a behavioural data approach to understanding community well-being. We are also working on two journal articles; the outputs will be posted here soon.

For more information contact the team at 


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