This week saw the publication of stakeholder research, commissioned by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) and carried out by the Campaign to End Loneliness (CEL), Tackling loneliness interventions and their evaluation. The report is based on findings from interviews, a survey and two round table discussions which we used to collect the  knowledge, experience and views of nearly 100 professionals working on loneliness. 

Stakeholder research

The stakeholder research had two objectives. Firstly, it aimed to examine the kind of tackling loneliness (TL) interventions – services, policies and approaches – that currently exist to tackle loneliness in the UK; and secondly, to improve understanding of current practices for evaluating them and, specifically, barriers and enablers to the use of loneliness measures. 

The second aim relates to a key recommendation from the government’s 2018 loneliness strategy that organisations delivering TL interventions should evaluate their impact by using a common set of quantitative ONS-recommended loneliness measures. These measures include one direct question asking how often someone feels lonely and three indirect questions asking if someone feels isolated, lacking in companionship or left out. This consistent use of measures was intended to enable comparison of the effectiveness of different ways to tackle loneliness and so to build a ‘what works’ evidence base. However, through informal conversations, and then at several 2022 CEL and Tackling Loneliness Hub events on measurement and evaluation, it became apparent that some organisations were unhappy with using loneliness measures or faced challenges in doing so. Carrying out this piece of research, offered an opportunity to formally explore possible ways to address barriers to loneliness measurement. 

In the stakeholder research, some of our interviewees said they did find loneliness measures useful for measuring impact of their projects and for comparing effectiveness of different projects. And a rapid systematic review of TL intervention effectiveness, carried out by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing in tandem with our research, identified a growing number of good quality organisational evaluations which used the loneliness measures.  However, other interviewees had significant concerns about using them including that:  

  • Asking loneliness questions could alienate some individuals from taking part in an intervention or causing them distress.
  • They were not suitable for use with particular participant groups.
  • They could be influenced by factors other than the intervention such as negative life events.
  • The measures were not sensitive to changes in loneliness that could reasonably be achieved by a single intervention.
  • They did not provide useful information about project-level impact when data was collected at scale across different projects. 
  • Project staff – often without evaluation training – were sometimes required to collect data and may not know how to do this in a rigorous and unbiased way.

Recommendations and next steps

Based on these findings, key recommendations from this research concentrate on the need for varied TL stakeholders – delivery organisations, funders, researchers, government, and sector bodies like CEL – to work together to develop and resource accessible evaluation guidance, support and tools which are acceptable and useful for individual delivery organisations. This collaborative process should include conversations about when it is important to use loneliness measures and how best to use them. 

We aim for the discussion of report recommendations at our event to offer a first step in this process.