By Joel Bates, Data Analyst Intern
Before joining the What Works department as a data analyst intern, I knew a key aspect of my role would be helping to design and launch the upcoming Wellbeing Survey at King’s. As the first of its kind for the institution, I was excited to collaborate with colleagues from the Student Success division and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience to be involved in a project that represented an important step toward understanding the wellbeing of students at King’s to safeguard it. The project required several important considerations to ensure the published survey considered the experience of all students. This blog outlines a number of these considerations and the practical steps taken to ensure King’s Wellbeing Survey* (KWS) was a success with regard to survey design, student engagement and wider institutional strategy.
Wellbeing or mental health?
The first consideration centred around the question; what exactly is ‘wellbeing’? For many, the terms wellbeing and mental health are likely synonymous. However, evidence suggests this understanding may not be suitable[i].
There are subtle yet distinct differences in the presentation, prevalence, and clinical implications of the two concepts. Mental health problems are more clinical; and to be ‘mentally healthy’ requires an absence of mental illness. Different to this, wellbeing represents a much broader remit of personal, psychological, and social domains. Student Minds helpfully define wellbeing as ‘the ability of an individual to fully exercise their cognitive, emotional, physical and social powers, leading to flourishing’[ii]. As such, mental health plays a role in general wellbeing, but is not the only driving force. Important to glean, wellbeing is not solely defined by the absence of negative factors, it also includes the presence of positive ones such as: fulfilment, gratification, and purpose[iii].
The psychological literature outlined the point that there has not been a tangible widely held definition among adults/students in HE as to what wellbeing meant to them[iv]. This prompted an exciting addition to the survey which asked students for their personal definition of wellbeing, representing a unique opportunity for students to self-construct meaning of words that are often used to understand and support them. And, to learn what wellbeing meant to individuals specifically.
An intersectional approach
Incorporating intersectionality into the King’s Wellbeing Survey ethos was another step to understanding the voice of all students. It was affirming to see the literature also supported this approach[v]. The term ‘intersectionality’ refers to the plurality within: gender identity, sexuality, race and ethnicity, disability and all related identities an individual can possess. Linked to this is the unique oppression and stigma these individuals can experience because of the different factors being intertwined in identity[vi]. Wellbeing literature suggested that instances where marginalised and vulnerable identities overlap would lead to poorer outcomes for individuals[vii]. In response to this we concluded that stored race/ethnicity and disability data along with data collected on LGBTQIA+/Queer students would be used to build a narrative of intersectional wellbeing at King’s to better target support and inform policy decisions.
While incredibly useful to gain more granular understanding, this intersectional approach is not without its drawbacks. For instance, as with many social research projects, sample size is a key issue[viii]. Due to its very nature, intersectional approaches require the data to be broken down into incredibly small groups, whittling down the number of participants with each unique intersecting identity. Amazingly over 5,000 King’s students volunteered to take part in KWS making it one of the most well responded to surveys to date within the department. As such we’re hopeful that we can draw out some robust intersectional findings that bring about meaningful change for students at King’s to help support their wellbeing.
Feeding back, looking forward
By consulting with the relevant student societies, we wanted to make sure that this survey was representative and relevant to all King’s students. The release of the survey marked an important step toward improving wellbeing at King’s, however, it was by no means perfect. While the approach intended to make the survey as universal as possible this unfortunately could have been better extended to key members of the King’s community. Consultations with student societies brought to our attention the specific accessibility requirements of students with disabilities and some of the latent presumptions made by the survey. While feedback can be hard to hear it is invaluable in helping to make positive changes. This is something we as a department are keen to learn from and change to improve future surveys.
Meetings with stakeholders led to the development of a best practice tool. This resource brings together all the feedback from our meetings with student stakeholders into one concise checklist, from which all future projects will be assessed against. Some of the issues included are: properly addressing accessibility, representation, language used, transparency and feedback. Perhaps most importantly of all being the commitment to facilitating more stakeholder engagement. That is key stakeholders will be consulted to collaborate much earlier in the process and will constantly be able to provide feedback at each stage to ensure their insights are rightly included and our approach is not only suitable but effective. While this is a new criterion still in its early days it is hoped that this will provide a framework to ensure future projects are suitable for all members of King’s community.
Next steps – implement data guided changes
Going forward it’s clear that the King’s Wellbeing Survey will be invaluable in guiding policy at King’s. However, it’s important to consider what the specific commitment to evidence driven policy is. In my view, a commitment to evidence driven policy means that issues being brought to attention as a result of thorough analysis are taken further forward so that things change positively for students long-term, particularly those most affected. It is very encouraging to see and hear the commitment of senior leadership to take necessary action, this needs to be consulting key stakeholders and be sustained beyond the short-term. It is essential to sensitively and timely mobilise data-guided-changes and implement them. A data informed approach combined with making impact through action and a commitment to people will see King’s further improve wellbeing, access and outcomes for all.
*The data for the King’s Wellbeing Survey is currently being analysed.
[i] Alyson L. Dodd and others, ‘University Student Well-Being in the United Kingdom: A Scoping Review of Its Conceptualisation and Measurement’, Journal of Mental Health, 30.3 (2021), 375–87 <https://doi.org/10.1080/09638237.2021.1875419>; Michael Barkham and others, ‘Towards an Evidence-Base for Student Wellbeing and Mental Health: Definitions, Developmental Transitions and Data Sets’, Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 19.4 (2019), 351–57 <https://doi.org/10.1002/capr.12227>.
[iii] Dodd and others; Don C. Zhang and Tyler L. Renshaw, ‘Personality and College Student Subjective Wellbeing: A Domain-Specific Approach’, Journal of Happiness Studies, 21.3 (2020), 997–1014 <https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-019-00116-8>.
[iv] Jeanine McDermott, ‘Explicating Global Wellbeing In College Students Using Health Risk Behaviors And Adjustment To College’, Theses and Dissertations, 2008 <https://commons.und.edu/theses/717>.
[v] Robyn Lewis Brown and Mairead Eastin Moloney, ‘Intersectionality, Work, and Well-Being: The Effects of Gender and Disability’, Gender & Society, 33.1 (2019), 94–122 <https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243218800636>.
[vi] Bridie Tayler, ‘Intersectionality 101: What Is It and Why Is It Important?’, Womankind Worldwide, 2019 <https://www.womankind.org.uk/intersectionality-101-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-important/> [accessed 31 January 2022].
[vii] Leah Warner, Tuğçe Kurtiş, and Akanksha Adya, ‘Navigating Criticisms of Intersectional Approaches: Reclaiming Intersectionality for Global Social Justice and Well-Being’, Women & Therapy, 43.3–4 (2020), 262–77 <https://doi.org/10.1080/02703149.2020.1729477>.
[viii] Samara Klar and Thomas J. Leeper, ‘Identities and Intersectionality: A Case for Purposive Sampling in Survey-Experimental Research’, in Experimental Methods in Survey Research (John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2019), pp. 419–33 <https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119083771.ch21>.