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Research Questions

  1. How has quality of life been conceptualised by different areas, cities and statistical authorities?
  2. What type of quality of life measurement has been used by different areas, cities and statistical authorities?
  3. How has quality of life measurement been operationalised by different areas, cities and statistical authorities?
  4. How has quality of life measurement shaped local decision making (if at all)?

This report is part of a wider ongoing project led by Cambridge Ahead to improve quality of life for all residents living in the Cambridge area. The main aim of this exercise is to ensure that QoL is a key priority for local public policy in the coming years. This study is based on a review of the literature on quality of life using targeted searches in Google and Google Scholar. Academic research, policy papers and other grey literature were included in review, with over 90 documents ultimately being reviewed. The study found that quality of life is a complex, multidimensional concept that has not been shaped by one particular definition. As a concept and measure, quality of life is often underpinned by a framework of dimensions (e.g. personal well-being, health, education and learning) which capture the essence of what quality of life is within a particular demographic, social, economic, cultural, political and/or geographical context.

While many measures of quality of life were identified in the review, there was little evidence to suggest that they are being operationalised by local authorities. However, examples of measuring quality of life influencing local decision making were identified. In these examples, QoL measures influenced local decision making by: (1) establishing a baseline for QoL in the locality; (2) using this baseline to prioritise the allocation of pots of funding to maximise QoL; and (3) engaging communities in the creation of the measure, and encouraging public use of the findings.

Key Findings

Quality of life is a complex concept that has no single dominant definition

  • Quality of life is a complex, multidimensional concept that has not been shaped by one particular definition. As a concept and measure, quality of life is often underpinned by a framework of dimensions (e.g. personal well-being, health, education and learning) which capture the essence of what quality of life is within a particular demographic, social, economic, cultural, political and/or geographical context.

There is little evidence to suggest that local quality of life measures are being used by policymakers

  • While many measures of quality of life were identified in the review, there was little evidence to suggest that they are being operationalised by local authorities. This difference can sometimes be a result of a tension between local and national governance; if regional policymaking is not so autonomous, it can be more challenging for local authorities to set their own QoL or well-being agenda.

How quality of life measures have shaped local decision making

  • Three examples of measuring quality of life influencing local decision making were identified: the Bristol Quality of Life Survey; the RAND Local Well-Being Index; and the Seattle Happiness Survey. Three key mechanisms by which QoL measures influenced local decision making were identified: (1) by establishing a baseline for QoL in the locality; (2) using this baseline to prioritise the allocation of available pots of funding to maximise QoL; and (3) engaging communities in the creation of the measure, and encouraging public use of the findings.

Recommendations

  • Quality of life measures should have a clear set of dimensions that are relevant, measurable and capture the essence of quality of life within the specific geographical, demographic, socio-economic, cultural and political context that it is being applied.
  • Policymakers should look to incorporate objective and subjective approaches to measuring quality of life where possible and relevant.
  • When adopting or creating a quality of life measure, it is important for local decision makers to plan the integration of the measure into local policy and decision making processes as early as possible.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Conceptualising quality of life

  • Chapter Three

    Mapping existing measures of quality of life

  • Chapter Four

    The operationalisation of local quality of life measures in policy and decision making

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusions and areas for further examination

  • Annex A

    Frequency count for all dimensions identified in the review

  • Annex B

    Data on quality of life collected for Cambridge

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was commissioned by Cambridge Ahead and conducted by RAND Europe.

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