In Santa Monica, You Can Now Put a Number on Wellbeing

Santa Monica, California

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Connecting state and local government leaders

The Southern California city’s new wellbeing index aims to inform program and policy decisions.

The city of Santa Monica, California, believes it’s found the formula for calculating the wellbeing of its residents.

The seaside city best known for its historic pier recently released findings from the first municipal Wellbeing Index compiled from city department data, a survey of more than 2,200 residents and local social media postings.

Baseline results come just in time to inform City Council budget decisions and will be analyzed to develop new programs and policies, reallocate resources and forge partnerships.

“Nothing like this has been done before,” Anita Chandra, a RAND Corp. senior researcher, said in a statement. “Other wellbeing efforts have mostly focused on the subjective experience alone and have not merged in city data with survey and social media information to capture a more holistic view of the wellbeing environment.”

The Wellbeing Project united emerging research and wellbeing scientists from RAND and the U.K.-based New Economics Foundation research institute with outside experts to create the index with implications on the environment, health, economic opportunity, learning and community connectedness.

Findings can also be sliced demographically by geography, gender, age and ethnicity.

"Many residents have told us there remains a sense of disconnection and lack of trust," Julie Rusk, the city's assistant director of community and cultural services, told the Los Angeles Times about the findings.

Of citizens who were surveyed, 79 percent reported that they had voted and 38 percent reported volunteer activities. But 41 percent felt their civic influence was limited and 36 percent felt disengaged, according to the index.

On average, 80 percent of U.S. residents say they can count on their neighbors compared to a little more than half of Santa Monicans, according to the index, and one-in-five young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 reported loneliness all or most of the time.

Tweets about economic opportunity and traffic in Santa Monica were analyzed, and any improvements made in those areas can have their progress evaluated through the index.

The wellbeing index came about with $1 million in funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge in 2013, meant to promote government innovation and replicability in other cities.

“By applying the science of wellbeing to local governance, we are looking far beyond the standard economic performance measurements, and creating a more complete and meaningful understanding of our community,” Mayor Kevin McKeown said in a statement.

“In pioneering this innovation, we can more effectively improve the life experiences of our own residents, using an unprecedented level of data-driven knowledge about wellbeing to shape public policy.”

Dave Nyczepir is News Editor for Government Executive's Route Fifty.

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