Understanding Well-being Data

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Before Understanding Well-being Data was published, academics and senior practitioners from culture, data and media policy read the book, and offered these endorsements. I am so grateful for their time and generosity in supporting the book and its aims!

Wellbeing data have become integral to the evaluation of public policies and to the tracking of behaviour in the age of surveillance capital. Susan Oman breaks open the methods, assumptions and contexts that shape how wellbeing is constructed as an object, bringing clarity and sharp critical insight to an increasingly important field of expertise.


Prof. Will Davies Professor in Political Economy Goldsmiths, University of London,

Susan Oman provides a timely and useful analysis, as a role arises for culture in supporting our mental and physical recovery from Covid. Alongside tackling what is meant by wellbeing, the limits to data, and how they are used, Oman prompts us to think about each other; what we all gain from well-designed policy and about why practitioners and policy makers should offer our citizens transparency and empathy in exchange for the data they share with us.


Mags Patten Executive Director, Public Policy and Communication Arts Council England

Given their power and influence, we might wonder how we feel about data and how data make us feel. In considering the relations between data and well-being, Susan Oman’s vital new book considers what data now mean for our lives, opportunities, judgments and, crucially, for our impressions of our selves. Taking a critical approach, this book makes the crucial step of not just thinking of how data shape well-being but also how well-being itself is redefined by data processes.


Prof. David Beer Professor of Sociology University of York

To understand well-being is to understand current cultural policy; it is also to understand the new language of data and metrics at the heart of how culture is governed. Understanding Well-being Data offers an essential and accessible guide to the future of the cultural sector, showing both the potential, and the critical limits, of well-being as the new language of cultural and social life.


Prof. Dave O’Brien Chancellor’s Fellow, Cultural and Creative Industries University of Edinburgh

As a practitioner, now more than ever, we need to critically reflect on our data practices; understanding the contexts of data and decision-making across policy, practice and research is core to this endeavour. This is a timely and accessible book that facilitates important conversations about well-being data and their role in research, policy, culture and society, brought to life through a collection of practical examples.


Dr Rhianne Jones BBC

Susan Oman has written a much-needed book on how social and cultural policy use, for good or ill, data on well-being. She takes nothing for granted, and looks deeply into the centuries-old history of how we have thought about happiness and well-being, and the various ways it might be measured, before turning to its contemporary use as a metric for the impact of arts institutions and policy. It is engagingly written, lively and accessible for all students of culture.


Professor Michael Rushton O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs Indiana University

Understanding Well-being Data is a very timely and valuable book. In a period when we have continually heard politicians claim to be following ‘the data’ on well-being, this book looks ‘under the bonnet’ of data collection. It examines the various types of data and information that policy-makers select for use, and how they analyse and interpret them. It shows how understanding the contexts of data and decision-making are critical for policy and practice that aims to do good, or at least prevent harm. It is written in an exemplary accessible and engaging style and provides much food for thought on how data shape society, culture, politics and policy. It deserves to be read by all who are interested in the use and misuse of data and how this impacts everyday lives.


Professor Ian Bache Department of Politics and International Relations University of Sheffield