The City is moving forward with plans to improve data and metrics across departments as part of a cutting-edge initiative to measure wellbeing and improve Santa Monicans’ daily lives.
The project started with a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies and guidance from the RAND Corporation. In 2015, that work culminated with the Wellbeing Index, an analysis that used information from City departments and resident surveys to measure a variety of factors: health, satisfaction, economic stability and overall wellbeing.
The survey picked up some interesting data points. For example: only a third of 5-year-olds in Santa Monica were ready for kindergarten, only 25 percent of Santa Monicans eat enough fruit and vegetables, and nearly 30 percent feel disconnected from their local government.
Now it’s time to put all that information into action.
“There are areas for development in terms of social connection and there are areas for development in terms of affordability and expectations that you will be able to live in Santa Monica over the life course and raise your children,” Anita Chandra told the City Council at a Saturday study session. Chandra is the director of Justice, Infrastructure and Environment at the RAND Corporation.
The data is going into a framework that will be used across multiple City departments. New projects that land in front of the City Council won’t just include an estimated impact on the budget, but on wellbeing as well.
“I’m hoping that what this data collection and analysis and emphasis on wellbeing will do, is lead us to more innovation and boldness,” Councilmember Gleam Davis said adding that data and consistent metrics will help the Council and staff evaluate the effectiveness of programs.
It’s a notion that has other councilmembers like Kevin McKeown also on board.
“For centuries, cities have relied on instinct and good intentions to come up with programs that benefit the residents,” McKeown said, while wearing a button that said ‘talk data to me’ at the weekend meeting. “With this program for the first time, we start to have some real, quantifiable, objective facts to base our decisions on.”
The City’s finance director says her department is already integrating some of the framework into their next budget report, which predicts an $8 million surplus next year. Despite the immediate, sunny outlook, Gigi Decavalles-Hughes worries that surplus could quickly reverse if the economy contracts.
“I think this (framework) is really going to help us make decisions with more information and we’ll have the data to be able to allocate our resources into the future,” Decavalles-Hughes said.
“In the past, we’ve had a lot of measures but they didn’t necessarily mean anything.”
It’s not clear how the data will help the City tackle their biggest budget liability: employee pensions and workers compensation benefits.
City Manager Rick Cole says the effort is bolstering the City’s reputation for progressive innovation.
“As we’ve added services over the years in Santa Monica, it’s important to measure why we’re doing those things that are having a real impact and do more of the things that matter most and do less of the things that don’t actually produce the results that we hope for,” Cole said.