Image of Jody Aked

Jody Aked

DPhil Student

Jody is a DPhil Student with the Participation Research Cluster at IDS. She also works as an independent consultant.


Jody has a MPhil in Psychology from the University of Sheffield, UK (2004) and ten years of experience leading, managing and applying social science research for organisational and social change. She is currently working in the Philippines as Lead Researcher on the VSO-IDS partnership project called Valuing Volunteering. Using participatory systemic action research, the project is a multi-country and multi-scalar study to understand and enhance the impact of volunteering on poverty and development.

Jody is an Associate to the consulting arm of the new economics foundation, currently supporting organisations like Timberland to adopt systemic and participatory approaches to improve human wellbeing and social value in supply chains. She is also advising the Malaysian government and civil society on the implementation of a wellbeing framework for policy. She is Associate for Happiness Works, supporting organisations to improve employee wellbeing and sustainable performance.

Before May 2012 Jody was Senior Wellbeing Consultant at nef consulting, coordinating the launch of an online participatory tool to facilitate conversations about wellbeing in workplaces. She designed and delivered consultancy for clients such as the National Health Service in the UK. Jody began working at nef in 2008 at the award-winning centre for wellbeing, delivering a range of research projects spanning public health, international development, the built environment and children’s wellbeing for clients such as the Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government (IDeA) in the UK, the British Council, and Action for Children. Jody developed the Five Ways to Wellbeing which went on to form the basis of public health work in the UK and abroad. It is a key component of a $3.2 million investment into the 2020 Decade of Health and Wellbeing in one of the poorest regions of the UK. The Five Ways have been written as books for libraries in parts of the UK and the messaging has been included in the curriculum of every kindergarten in Norway.

Jody’s passion is in the design of socio-economic contexts that support greater human wellbeing, social justice and environmental sustainability. Current interests include:

  • The design of social learning processes informed by wellbeing research, systems thinking, complexity science and human-centred design;
  • Working at the intersection between structure and agency perspectives to understand the wellbeing qualities of relationships for change;
  • Spending time with farmers and fishermen to understand the human experience of natural resource governance;
  • Going beyond minimum wage or fair trade to improve the social value of business and supply chains;
  • The role of volunteering in the development landscape.

Jody has worked in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, UK and the Philippines.

PhD Topic

Understanding wellbeing in social change initiatives.

What does it mean for the design of our interventions that wellbeing is a resource as well as an outcome of change?

The bias in research and policy towards plotting a linear, cause-effect relationship between interventions and any wellbeing benefits that flow has overlooked the dynamic nature of wellbeing. A big knowledge gap remains about how to harness wellbeing to improve the effectiveness with which international development efforts support positive outcomes for communities and societies, as concrete challenges are worked through in practice. In response, this study combines complexity and systems concepts with participatory techniques, to support a social learning process about the wellbeing pathways that interrelate with change outcomes.

The focus of the study is the social networks and relationships of international, national and local volunteers working with communities to manage and conserve natural resources in the Philippines. Participation in voluntary activity is a different kind of development, founded on an exchange of knowledge, skills and resources between people. In the field of collaborative governance, the role of social networks is gaining ground, particularly in relation to natural resource management. We have increasing understanding of the structural qualities of social networks that help self-organisation and adaptive resource governance, but we know less about how people experience the micro interactions that sustain a network and influence the trajectory of social and environmental outcomes.

How do people’s experience of the social networks established through volunteer efforts impact on the effectiveness of volunteering as an intervention? Is it the structure of social connections or how people feel in the interactions that matters for collaborative change efforts? How can social learning processes be designed that support people to work consciously and intentionally with experienced wellbeing?

The research is working with volunteers, organisations that support volunteers and community members to capture personal and community experiences through storytelling and visual tools including systems and social network mapping. Through analysis of wellbeing processes from different perspectives (e.g., community, organisation, volunteer) and across multiple levels of the system (e.g., personal, relational, systemic), the objective is to learn from and strengthen local capacity to translate these insights into decisions about what to do and how to go about it.

The findings will help to inform discussions about what a consideration of dynamic nature of wellbeing can bring to sustainable development policy and practice.