Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Where is Happy City?

This blog, written by Happy City's Sam Wren-Lewis, explains the Happy City Index and how it will help better measure and understand individual's wellbeing. The post is a part of Wikiprogress' current online discussion on "Engaging citizens in well-being and progress statistics". Feel free to join and leave a comment!

We all want to be happy – we care about how well our lives are going for us. For this reason, the evaluation of our wellbeing has the power to engage and enthuse us. The measurement of wellbeing need not merely be the collection of data, but can inspire people to focus on what really matters to them.

Happy City is a social enterprise that aims for happiness to be taken seriously by individuals, communities and local policy makers. We design and deliver a range of training, projects and communications to help make this shift – drawing attention to, and connecting up, the things in a city that enable individuals and communities to flourish.

At the heart of this change is a new measure of prosperity in cities, namely the Happy City Index, which we are currently co-creating with NEF and other local and national partners. There have recently been many “beyond GDP” initiatives, introducing new measures of prosperity on national and international levels. However, nothing has been developed which fits what is required for individuals and their neighbourhoods, communities, towns, or cities across the UK and beyond. The Happy City Index aims to bridge this divide. It is an accessible, practical, meaningful and helpful tool for individual citizens, community organisations and policymakers to assess and influence wellbeing.

We have gathered together an exceptional partnership of world leaders in the field of wellbeing measurement. The Index will combine pre-existing big data on the drivers of wellbeing (such as the economy, health, education) with primary data about how individuals and communities across the city are doing in terms of their sense of belonging, purpose, engagement, and other aspects of their wellbeing.

The important point for this discussion is that the Happy City Index aims not merely to change WHAT we measure, but WHY and HOW. It aims to engage and enthuse individuals and policymakers in the process of understanding and improving their happiness.

For individual users, the process will be educational, engaging and productive. For example, as I answer the simple survey questions online, I start to understand more about what influences my happiness. As I see my results in fun, visual and easy to understand ways, I start to see which aspects of my life could give the greatest boost to my wellbeing. In addition, when those results link up with the ‘Community Happiness Bank’ – a city-wide database of local groups, events and activities, I can discover the things within streets of my house that could enable me to improve my wellbeing. Users can revisit the website and app over time to monitor their progress, compare how they are doing with others, and find continual inspiration for ways in which they can improve their lives.

We have received a great deal of interest from individuals, community organisations and policymakers, who all believe that this process can enable people to better assess and take control of how well their lives are going.

The community engagement phase of the project will consist in a variety of on- and off-line tools, activities and events. On-line, users can assess and improve their wellbeing over time in the ways discussed above. This, in addition to a city-wide representative sample survey, can enable people to take ownership of a city measure of wellbeing. Off-line, community organisations can begin to involve their users in assessing the benefits that they aim to provide. Workshops and events across the city will bring the Index to life, enabling users to fully explore the survey questions using a range of methods, from sharing stories to interacting with (Health Robinson style) wellbeing measurement machines.

We believe the act of engaging communities in the measurement of their wellbeing in this way will provide them with the knowledge and capacity to build their own happiness and resilience. In addition, it puts the promotion of wellbeing on the local policy agenda, thereby providing policymakers with the power to make decisions that more directly improve people’s lives.

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