A New Method for Measuring Thriving, Struggling, or Suffering

Updated: Feb 11

Community change-makers and the field of public health have long recognized the interconnectedness of mental and physical health, and the past year has only made more apparent the importance of equitable health and well-being. Emerging evidence suggests that a positive state of well-being is a protective factor against disease and is tied to extending life expectancy. By closely monitoring self-reported well-being, we can get a pulse of our communities, implement early interventions when needed, and tailor interventions accordingly. Many have expressed concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has and will continue to lead to increased deaths of despair.

Perhaps now more than ever, change-makers are looking for new, creative ways to measure and track community health and well-being—methods that take into consideration more than individual health outcomes and that provide a holistic approach that diverse groups can rally around together.


How many times have you wondered to yourself, or perhaps heard others reflect: How can we measure community resilience and degree to which a community is thriving?


Much progress has been made to validate a method for measuring community well-being. We’re excited to share that the science of thriving has informed an easy-to-use, real time survey called the Well-Being Survey that measures well-being and has the ability to catalyze change and assess progress on what matters most in communities—all people and places thriving, no exceptions. Through either a 12- or 24-question survey, communities can get a better understanding of the degree to which a community is thriving, struggling or suffering, and in what ways. The assessment draws on questions that are independently validated and has been administered and tested in multiple settings and applications.

Our partners at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement have advanced this work through their 100 Million Healthier Lives Metrics Team and recently released Health and Well-Being Measurement Approach and Assessment Guide: a resource for understanding the current state of the field of health and well-being as it relates to measurement. The well-being survey includes Cantril’s Ladder and additional questions that provide a more nuanced understanding of well-being. The additional questions shed light on sense of purpose, social connectedness, mental health, and areas to target interventions. By regularly measuring thriving with this instrument, we can spot trends and respond in real time—quickly intervening when well-being trends downward, and building on what works to bend trends upward.


Use of the well-being survey provides an invaluable and highly-responsive compliment to regular community needs assessments, population health indicators, and other social determinants of health that can take years to see measurable change.


In order to ensure all people are thriving, the assessment can be administered with a set of socio-demographic questions that allow for stratifying the results by age, race, ethnicity, gender, income, and education. These data can illuminate critical well-being gaps among populations. Below is a national view of life-evaluation scores for US adults, broken down for white, black, and hispanic Americans. The graph shows that black Americans’ life evaluation and self-reported well-being has precipitously declined over the past 10 years.


How can you get started with this assessment?

The survey can be administered either in print, online, or verbally. It can be used in a variety of settings including schools (using the adapted youth assessment), health care settings, or community events. The survey takes just moments to complete and should be administered on a regular basis to track progress over time. The results can be analyzed using common applications, such as Excel and Tableau.


Taking action to improve well-being

Once you know whether and to what extent people are thriving, struggling or suffering in your community, you can identify where and how to best take action to improve well-being. The Vital Conditions for Well-Being offer a framework for understanding current community conditions and identifying the policies, practices, and investments necessary to advance equitable well-being. Examining your community through the Vital Conditions framework in conjunction with the Well-Being Survey can shed light on specific community conditions that are contributing to people thriving and/or suffering—that are likely contributing to a community’s well-being score. Essentially, the Vital Conditions can help tell the story behind the well-being score, and therefore inform a path towards improvement. The Springboard for Thriving Together (2020), organized by Vital Conditions, offers a series of actionable pivotal moves and trend bending ideas for transforming knowledge into action and achieving widespread equitable well-being.


IP3 is working with and learning alongside a number of communities who are leveraging the Well-Being Survey. We’ll continue to keep you updated on this work and share findings with you all as we learn more.

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