In pursuit of statistical happiness (and David Cameron's UK Happiness Index)

Author: Jack Miles

David Cameron recently announced that he wished to measure the nation's well being. Whilst some have dismissed this as a comical “survey on happiness”, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have been commissioned to conduct the study and, as such, provide a statistical solution to the Prime Minister’s questions. With this in mind, let us look at some approaches the ONS could potentially utilise when conducting the study.

Are you as happy as he is? Image by Land of Hope and Glory via Wiki Commons

Are you as happy as he is? Image by 'Land

of Hope and Glory' via Wiki Commons

Research the Research

As this study is going to be repeated as a continuous measure it is vital that the content of the survey is comprehensive so as to ensure it is applicable in years to come. With this in mind, it may well be worth taking one of two approaches:

• A survey prior to the main study on wellbeing to ascertain “what” wellbeing means to the nation

• Qualitative work prior to the survey to explore different avenues of the meaning of wellbeing

Both of these measures will ensure that the key attributes behind the concept of wellbeing are covered by the survey and will mean that it is valid beyond its maiden year of administration.

 

 

Everything Matters

One element of the proposed survey will be looking at what matters to people’s wellbeing. The problem with asking people about if things matter/are important is that they always respond that everything is vital. This would be amplified if such questions were asked in regards to an individual’s wellbeing. To work around this, here are three (of many) alternative options to asking “how important” things are to people:

• Rank order questioning – this will force people to rank what is important to them and resultantly differentiate their answers and prioritise what is important and what is not.

• Pairwise scale questioning – this will ask people which statement is the most important and what statement is the least important out of a short list, again forcing prioritisation and differentiation.

Shapley Value Regression – by setting up a dependent variable (for example, wellbeing in the previous year) a series of predictors/independent variables can be created around drivers of wellbeing in the last 12 months. Through regressing these independent variables onto wellbeing in the previous year, we will be able to deduce the greatest influence on our nation’s wellbeing and highlight areas to improve upon and areas to maintain.

Sustainability is Key

David Cameron has stated that he wishes this study to be repeated in years to come and that it must be sustainable. To this end, the ONS must ensure that they put a benchmarking system in place to monitor the findings from this study in a year on year manner so we can track the nation’s wellbeing. Furthermore, the creation of a “wellbeing index” would help a study such as this add value to those who action its findings. I am fully aware that the slogan used to support this study is “GWB is more important than GDP” - GWB being General Wellbeing -  but the indexed manner of GDP may well help the measurement of GWB.

Whether or not the ONS utilises any of these approaches remains to be seen. However, no matter what approach they use this study will help put statistics in the limelight as an objective, rational measuring tool. Regardless of whether the study helps the wellbeing of our nation or not, the excellent exposure will certainly help the wellbeing of statistics as a discipline.

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