The City of Santa Monica gained numerous new insights about its residents — their needs, their experiences, their feelings — through the much-publicized Wellbeing Index. But the project isn’t over.
Officials are now collecting a second round of data to augment the grant-funded study, hoping to delve deeper into certain trends and target specific issues with better precision.
The new survey, results from which will be released early next year, will allow City staffers to compare trends over time and also gather input on topics that weren’t closely examined the first time.
“Part of what we learned is that we didn’t have all the data we would like to have,” said Julie Rusk, assistant director of the city Community and Cultural Services Department and a Wellbeing Project leader. “We’d like a more refined picture of how people in Santa Monica are doing.”
The launch of the second phase of research comes weeks after the City received recognition from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its holistic efforts to promote local citizens’ health and happiness. Officials plan to use the foundation’s $25,000 prize to bolster residents’ sense of connectedness and stimulate interaction with their neighbors, an area identified through the Wellbeing Project as needing improvement.
Six local representatives are attending a national conference in New Jersey this week to discuss mobility, homelessness, education and other issues that help cities measure wellbeing.
“It’s a great chance for us to share what we’re doing and also learn from other communities,” Rusk said.
Officials view the latest stage of the wellbeing study as part of an interdepartmental initiative to bolster the impact and effectiveness of local government. They want to use the data to influence policy decisions for numerous aspects of daily life, including infrastructure, amenities, health, education, economy and community.
With help from RAND Corp., project leaders will work to ensure that the figures are representative of Santa Monica’s population across several demographic variables. Officials hope to receive input from 5,000 residents, more than double the 2,200 who participated in the initial study.
Crime rates and school statistics will be factored into the new index, which will feature a scoring system to make the findings easier to understand.
The updated index will include analysis of social media, Rusk said, adding that the City is partnering with a USC team that will assess community cohesion.
Officials will also attempt to examine residents’ feelings about technological infrastructure and paint a more detailed portrait of their feelings on economic issues.
“Affordability and maintaining an inclusive community is such an important theme for us in Santa Monica right now,” she said. “So we’re looking for new data to build out our understanding of equity issues.”
Data from the inaugural study has already affected how the City responds to the needs of its residents.
Officials learned from the first Wellbeing Index that consumption of fruits and vegetables was lower than expected in Santa Monica, particularly in the 90404 ZIP code. They also found a high percentage of people who had not applied for food stamps and other income-based benefits despite being eligible.
Organizers launched a pilot program at Virginia Avenue Park, where a farmers market is held on Saturdays, giving food-stamp users double value on their purchases. A county staffer now visits the park weekly, helping residents register for benefits and encouraging them to stretch their dollars at the farmers market.
“It’s an example of taking data from multiple sources, putting it together and bringing a collective approach together to try and improve that finding,” Rusk said. There’s all of these resources, but they may not be pulled together in a way that works for people. …
“With better data that we’re all looking at together as a community, we can work together to be more effective in the solutions we create.”