Ferris Wheel near body of water

In 2012, the City of Santa Monica, California set out to rethink what a community needs to thrive. City leaders recognised that economic growth alone does not determine a community’s success, and they sought measures of progress that take into account the wellbeing of people. Within a year, the city had won a competitive government innovation prize from Bloomberg Philanthropies to create a local Wellbeing Index. In 2014, the city launched the Santa Monica Wellbeing Project.

The Wellbeing Project partnered with the RAND Corporation, the New Economics Foundation, and a panel of international experts to develop the Wellbeing Index. Project leaders studied the factors that make a city thrive and the best ways to measure those factors. They gathered data from across city departments and mined social media. They built a multi-dimensional picture of how people in the city were doing and created an index that could serve as a baseline for progress.

The index focuses on six key areas: community, place and planet, learning, health, economic opportunity, and personal outlook. Measuring progress in these areas became a foundation of Santa Monica city government, which published a new Wellbeing Index in 2015, 2017, and 2019. The data, and the innovative research and development that led to its creation, are available to the public, including discussions of project design and research methodology, a wellbeing literature review, and in-depth analyses of index findings.

In 2017, the city’s Office of Civic Wellbeing was established to embed wellbeing measurement and action across city departments. This office led city efforts on racial equity, created community partnerships, and established the Wellbeing Microgrants program. In November 2019, the Office of Civic Wellbeing joined Santa Monica College’s Center for Media Design to produce the first Wellbeing Summit, a community festival of wellbeing actions and ideas.

The Office of Civic Wellbeing closed in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis. Its efforts continue in the form of the non-governmental organisation, Civic Wellbeing Partners. The Wellbeing Index remains a dynamic tool for the City of Santa Monica and an example for others. In the wake of the destruction wrought by COVID-19, it is more urgent than ever for cities to look beyond economic growth to measure wellbeing and use that information to improve people’s lives.

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