Santa Monica's Assistant Director of Cultural Services, Julie Rusk, was in New York City Wednesday morning with representatives from four other cities, each reeling with excitement for winning a national grant contest and also asking, "what's next?"
"We’re finding everyone here is having the same discussion, 'what’s next now?'" Rusk said in a phone interview.
With the $1 million it won in the idea challenge created by Bloomberg Philanthropies, Santa Monica will create a well-being index that measures how fulfilled, healthy, and socially connected residents feel. It will use the information to drive budget decisions about the types of services it should offer.
"It’s about building a resilient community," Mayor Pam O'Connor said on a call with media Wednesday morning. "How can we deploy our resources, and our resources are limited, so residents have the things they need to have a fulfilled life?"
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Santa Monica set a two-year goal of building the index—which it says will be the first of its kind—with help from nonprofits and researchers already studying the topic. "Our innovation is to integrate that into local government," Rusk said.
The first order of business, she said, is to work with experts and researchers already studying well-being to determine out which metrics to use, then suss out what type of data is and is not already on the books. The city's partners include RAND Corp., the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Positive Psychology, New Economics Foundation and Young Foundation.
"Our goal is to move as quick as possibly," Rusk said. "We want to do it in a smart way."
How the index is compiled will be shared with other local governments to replicate, O'Connor said.
"The tool will exist for us to use," she said, to plug in "the new data that comes out each year so it can be used [again]." It will also exist for "others to borrow and tailor to their own needs."
Rusk said she couldn't put on a time line on when residents might receive the first surveys. "It's still so early," she said. "The story of the moment is it’s great to be here."