New indicators and methods are constantly being developed to assess the effectiveness of measures taken to promote well-being and health.
Growing awareness of effectiveness research
For decades already, the goal of Finnish social policy has been to promote health and well-being among citizens, and to reduce the related inequalities across the population.
“Yet, methods of effectiveness research remain underused when assessing the health and well-being outcomes of the measures taken,” Professor Tomi Mäki-Opas says.
Mäki-Opas started as Professor of Social and Public Policy at the University of Eastern Finland this August. He specialises in effectiveness research, focusing especially on effectiveness in the promotion of health and well-being.
“There is growing awareness of outcomes and effectiveness research. However, effectiveness assessment isn’t always easy and, when dealing with societal phenomena, it also involves uncertainties.”
Moreover, in-depth understanding of the effectiveness of various health and well-being promotion measures is thought to be possible only through randomised controlled trials, RCTs. Resources for conducting RCTs, however, are often scarce. Furthermore, in absence of clearly identifiable control groups, RCTs on societal phenomena aren’t always possible.
“Effectiveness can nevertheless be assessed by using other experimental research methods that are also better suited to situations of everyday life – as long as the uncertainties associated with the collected data are recognised.”
Positive outcomes from a mental health promotion programme in North Savo
At the University of Eastern Finland, a great deal of research has been conducted into the promotion of health and well-being among society’s most vulnerable groups, as well as into the effectiveness of various interventions and measures. The Feel Good programme implemented in the North Savo region found that group-based lifestyle guidance and digital well-being applications had a positive effect on promoting mental health among people living in the region.
“From the perspective of promoting mental health and well-being, it is encouraging to see that lifestyle guidance can motivate people to make changes for better mental health. We also noticed that, even in a short period of time, various digital tools can have positive effects.”
According to Mäki-Opas, a similar comprehensive mental health programme has not been implemented elsewhere in Finland. Indeed, he compares it with the North Karelia project carried out between 1972 and 1997, which focused on improving Finns’ lifestyles through lifestyle guidance.
“Now, we are trying to do the same by focusing on positive mental health.”
Effectiveness research pertaining to the Feel Good programme continues, as effectiveness assessment of the measures taken requires a longer follow-up period to capture changes brought about by various minor actions to promote well-being.
Tool for municipalities, well-being services counties and organisations to assess the economy of well-being
Funded by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland in 2016–2019, the Inclusive Promotion of Health and Well-being project, PROMEQ, developed inclusive methods to promote health and well-being among vulnerable groups. The project also created indicators for assessing how society can, and how well it does, support people’s health and well-being.
Findings from PROMEQ are now being taken forward in the Social Quality, Well-being Reinforcement and Costs project, SOLA, which will provide actors operating in the well-being services counties, municipalities, various organisations and other parties working with well-being issues with a tool for assessing the economy of well-being. Researchers working in the SOLA project have been developing the tool in collaboration with the Central Finland Hospital District and the Sosped Centre.
“Municipalities can use the SOLA calculator to support the drafting of well-being accounts, and well-being services counties can use it to support administrative development. Various organisations and actors can make use of it when, for example, they want to assess the savings and costs of a measure to promote well-being, and its effects on well-being.”
Opportunities for well-being and health are not equal
Mäki-Opas points out that not everyone in Finland has equal opportunities to pursue the same kind of well-being and health. This is why society needs to implement cross-administrative social and health policy measures to lower people’s threshold for promoting their well-being and health, and to bridge inequality gaps in well-being.
“Often, however, it seems that especially those who are the most disadvantaged get overburdened with guilt and responsibility.”
Much of Mäki-Opas’s research has examined the promotion of well-being and health, particularly among the most vulnerable groups. For effectiveness research, this poses a challenge of its own, as the focus is on people who are difficult to recruit to studies and to keep motivated to stay on.
“We need to identify the key channels for reaching these people and the key partners working with them. To be able to assess the health and well-being outcomes of the measures taken, we need to motivate and retain people in the study, get them to answer questions about their health and well-being, and also to assess the usefulness of the measures taken.”
Network for effectiveness research keeps growing
Mäki-Opas has a long history of leading the House of Effectiveness at the University of Eastern Finland, a network that brings together the university’s health- and well-being-related effectiveness research, methodological development and education. The network comprises some 80 researchers and 20 professors, and it includes a wide range of different disciplines.
“The role of this network has become increasingly prominent over the years. Originally, the aim was to build a regional network, but we now find ourselves building a national effectiveness centre network in collaboration with the well-being services counties. In the future, the goal is to promote the establishment of an international network addressing effectiveness in well-being and health.”
Professor, Social and Public Policy, especially Effectiveness Research, University of Eastern Finland, 1 August 2023–
Title of Docent in Health Policy, University of Helsinki, 2015
PhD (Public Health), University of Helsinki, 2011
Master of Social Sciences (Social Policy), University of Helsinki, 2006
Research Director, House of Effectiveness, University of Eastern Finland, 9/2019–
Research Director, National Effectiveness Research Network, House of Effectiveness and North Savo Well-being Services County 1/2023–
Research Director, Feeling Good programme, University of Eastern Finland 5/2021–
Director, Effectiveness in Social and Health Services Research Community, University of Eastern Finland 1/2020–
Research Director, Inclusive Promotion of Health and Well-being project, PROMEQ, University of Eastern Finland, 9/2016–8/2019
Senior Researcher, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL 9/2013-8/2016
Print-quality photos of Tomi Mäki-Opas
For further information, please contact:
Professor Tomi Mäki-Opas, tel. +358 50 323 4020, tomi.maki-opas(at)uef.fi,