Understanding Well-being Data

chapter 3 Looking at Well-being Data in Context

Ethnographic data

Another way that interview data might be useful for understanding well-being would be in the case of ethnographic research investigating the impact of a social policy. Ethnography involves a researcher spending a long time in their research site. This means they understand as much about the context in which they are collecting data as possible. For example, Kelly Bogue was embedded in her local community investigating the impact of ‘the bedroom tax’ [1]. ‘The bedroom tax’ was a nickname for an aspect of the Welfare Reform Act [2] which meant that people living in social housing saw their benefits reduced by 14% if they have a spare room or 25% if they have two or more. The negative well-being implications of this policy on the community studied were multiple, with carers and those registered disabled being penalised for necessary home adaptations, alongside the anxiety and stress of people forced to leave the homes in the communities in which they had lived for decades [3]. While this research was not seeking data to answer questions on well-being per se, the study produced much data that could inform well-being research for policy.

Some ways of doing ethnography allow you to participate in a context as a contributing member. This means practitioners, whether social workers, artists or people working in an office, might find it a useful way to examine well-being within their own work contexts. Overall, it’s rich, meaning that there is much detail gathered to deepen understanding, but time-intensive and gaining permission can be difficult to negotiate unless the researcher is already embedded in the community. Crucially, this kind of ethnography writes you into the context, so you affect it to an even greater extent than time delimited interviews. This requires thinking through in terms of whether it is ethical, or too intrusive. It also needs to be considered in terms of the claims that can be made: how would the particular context have been different had you not been there?


  1. 2019[]
  2. DWP 2012[]
  3. Bogue 2019[]