Governments around the world are starting to recognize that economic growth alone does not determine a community’s success. True measures of progress take into account the wellbeing of people. Do they feel empowered to make change? Are they happy, healthy, and connected to the community? Are they able access lifelong learning? Or clean air? Without these measures, governments are challenged to manage for better results.
Santa Monica is doing something never before done by a city in the United States. It has defined the factors that contribute to wellbeing – personal outlook, environment/place, health, economic opportunity, learning and community connectedness – and is comprehensively measuring how its citizens and communities fare on these indicators. From there, the city is aligning resources, programs and policies to drive improvements.
In 2015, the City released key findings discovered through the Index showing previously unknown areas for improvement. For example, it revealed that Santa Monica’s seniors had the highest wellbeing levels, that one third of all residents are stressed all or most of the time and that fruit and vegetable consumption – among all residents, but especially in a specific low income neighborhood – was less than half the national average. These findings formed the foundation for new initiatives to boost civic engagement, improve transportation, expand access to healthy food, and more.
In 2017, the City developed The Wellbeing Index 2.0. They surveyed 3,800 residents (a 73% increase over the previous study), and found that there were key areas of improvement since the 2015 findings were released. A summary of their findings are available on The Wellbeing Project website. Findings led them to create the Pico Wellbeing Project, a neighborhood-based project situated in an area with the lowest average wellbeing across all dimensions. The project is a multidisciplinary effort and led to partnerships with the planning department, library and economic development department to deliver holistic community development – spurring improvement in each area of wellbeing.
With assistance from Cities of Service, the Wellbeing team recently launched a Wellbeing Microgrants program aimed at empowering residents to take action towards improving wellbeing in the city. Each iteration is oriented around findings from the Wellbeing Index and grant recipients are asked to demonstrate how their project will move the needle towards positive change in the area of focus.