News story

New What Works Centre for Wellbeing

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

An independent centre is being set up dedicated to making policy and services work for wellbeing.

The new What Works Centre for Wellbeing will commission universities to research the impact that different interventions and services have on wellbeing.

The initial focus of research will be on what works for wellbeing in relation to work and learning, communities, cultural and sporting activities. Results will help government, councils, health and wellbeing boards, charities and businesses make decisions on really matters for the wellbeing of people, communities and the nation as a whole.

Find out more about the What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

The centre is the latest addition to the What Works Network, which was launched by the government last year to improve public services through evidence-based policy.

It builds on the work of the Office for National Statistics to measure national wellbeing, and of the Commission on Wellbeing and Policy, chaired by Lord Gus O’Donnell. He is also chairing a development group to get the What Works Centre for Wellbeing up and running.

The centre is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Public Health England and other partners, including government departments.

To mark the launch of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is publishing complementary research on employee wellbeing, what workplace factors influence it and how wellbeing affects performance.

The centre’s London launch is being hosted by BT, which is taking a comprehensive approach to employee wellbeing.

Bristol City Council is also hosting a launch event, where it’ll highlight how community wellbeing is measured in the city, and how this is leading to action such as the Happy City Community Interest Company. At this event, the Office for National Statistics will release a new 3-year wellbeing dataset – one of the most advanced population wellbeing datasets in the world – to support the new centre. The dataset will be open to researchers to encourage further analysis.

Minister for Government Policy, Oliver Letwin said:

The What Works Network is designed to support commissioners and decision-makers at every level of government – from head teachers and local police chiefs, to ministers and civil servants. It’s great to see a wellbeing centre added to this growing network, to support public health directors, businesses and charities in improving wellbeing across the UK.

Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, Sir Jeremy Heywood said:

It is vital that the civil service has the skills and capacity to ensure that government decision making is supported by high-quality evidence. We are using evidence and behavioural insights to drive real change across government. I welcome the creation of a What Works Centre for Wellbeing as the latest step in embedding evidence-based policy making across government and the wider public sector.

Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson said:

The work of the Wellbeing Centre will allow us to take a fresh approach to policy making. Relying solely on GDP to track the nation’s progress excludes many of the things that we all know to be important, but can’t be measured by money.

The research published today shows that promoting workplace wellbeing can have a positive impact on business performance. Policies such as flexible working and shared parental leave help people improve their work-life balance, while reducing absenteeism, boosting productivity and increasing staff morale.

Dr Paul Litchfield, Chief Medical Officer, BT Group, said:

The work we do within BT group on employee wellbeing gives me professional and personal satisfaction. Not only are we doing the right thing by our people but we’re contributing to the success of the business.

Wellbeing can sometimes be viewed as discretionary, ‘a nice to have’ that you put in place when times are good. We have shown that efforts in this area are perhaps even more important when business conditions are tough – people then particularly need a bit of help to succeed for themselves and the company. I welcome the creation of the What Works Centre and in particular the focus on the practical things that both employers and employees can do to improve wellbeing. I look forward to seeing and implementing the outputs.

Launched in March 2013, the What Works initiative is a world first – the first time any government, anywhere, has prioritised the use of evidence to inform policy and how it’s delivered on a national scale. It forms a key action of the 2012 Civil Service Reform Plan to create a civil service fit for the 21st century. Centres already cover evidence-based policy making in the fields of health and social care, educational attainment, ageing better, local growth, crime reduction and effective early intervention.

The government is leading on embedding the What Works initiative. The What Works National Adviser, Dr David Halpern, leads the cross-government effort to improve the generation and application of evidence in policy and practice.

The early findings and achievements of the What Works Network will be highlighted in a special event on 25 November 2014.


The What Works Centre for Wellbeing has initial funding of more than £3.5 million over 3 years, with in-kind resourcing and the support of the following founding partners:

  • Economic and Social Research Council
  • Public Health England
  • Department for Business Innovation and Skills
  • Department for Communities and Local Government
  • Department for Work and Pensions
  • Department for Health
  • Cabinet Office
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • Food Standards Agency
  • Local Government Association
  • Office for National Statistics
  • Big Lottery Fund
  • Department for Culture, Media and Sport
  • Arts Council England
  • Sports England
  • English Heritage
  • Heritage Lottery Fund

Today’s announcement is in partnership with BT, Happy City and Bristol Council.

Research grants will be awarded to successful bid teams in spring 2015, with a view to their starting work on 1 June 2015. The centre will become completely operational once research teams are fully resourced, at the earliest by the end of 2015.