A report for the Department of Health and Sciencewise-ERC
14 September 2011
This report provides details of research that was conducted for the Department of Health and Sciencewise-ERC, involving a public dialogue exercise designed to explore the barriers that people experience to increasing their engagement with activities thought to enhance subjective wellbeing.
The Department of Health, in collaboration with Sciencewise-ERC, commissioned nef to undertake a public dialogue exercise, with the aim of exploring three questions:
A series of structured dialogue events was held in six locations around the country, covering a range of age, ethnic and socio-economic groups. The Five Ways to Wellbeing were used as a way to frame the discussion.
Barriers: For some people there was no evidence of significant barriers to engaging in Five Ways-type activities; these people typically felt confident in their ability to change their behaviours as they wished, in control of their lives, or manifestly engaged in a high level of Five Ways-type activity already. For others, however, there was evidence of experienced barriers. These can usefully be divided into three categories:
Underpinning many of these barriers is the lack of a felt sense of agency. This emerges as a key issue preventing people from making lifestyle changes to improve their wellbeing. In addition, some of the most significant barriers relate to social norms and expectations rather than to ‘hard’ barriers of time and money.
Messaging: The public’s responses to the term wellbeing are extremely mixed. Some feel that it is impenetrable and too abstract; some equate it with ‘feel-good’ products and services (skincare, aromatherapy); some link it to mental health problems. The Five Ways to Wellbeing themselves can be interpreted and experienced negatively as well as positively.
Rather than being motivating, framing wellbeing as a scientific issue seems to be unnecessary and even unwelcome for many people. Common sense or personal experience is more convincing than the science.
Analysis of the findings suggests a number of areas for future research and policy development. In terms of communication, the research suggests that attempts to reach the public through social marketing should:
The objective of communication should go beyond merely providing information about wellbeing and the Five Ways and should instead:
Findings from the research are relevant for ongoing work in a number of areas of policy, including the public health and health improvement agendas, mental health, substance misuse and older people. A process of stakeholder policy engagement is currently underway in order to explore the implications of the findings for ongoing policy and strategy development.
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