Liz Zeidler 20 February 2018

Can local government lead the world?

Around the world, we continue to measure ‘progress’ and ‘prosperity’ based on simplistic financial indicators of GDP growth and consumption. This places a value on pollution, natural disasters, casino banking, and shopping - in other words, things we need, and things we don’t.

GDP seems an even more inadequate measure of prosperity when we consider that it entirely excludes many things that really matter, like decent wages and working conditions, good quality homes and green spaces, the quality of education and the strength of our communities. In short, GDP overlooks measures of a broader definition of human wellbeing.

Work is underway to develop new measures of progress; creating a new economic compass for a society that measures what matters and values what counts. In the last decade or so, researchers and academics have made serious efforts to do this at a national and international scale.

But a global consensus may be a long time coming.

We have been trying to change this at Happy City, a small charity based in Bristol. This week we are launching the Thriving Places Index, using a new system to measure true progress and prosperity. Happy City’s team of analysts have assessed 150 local authorities across England, supported by 48 indicators including health, education and community.

The Thriving Places Index brings together a mass of information about where real progress is being made, and where it’s stalling. It’s designed to help all local decision makers better understand, prioritise and improve local conditions for wellbeing for current and future generations.

Already, pioneering local authorities around the UK are working with Happy City’s tools. Birmingham City Council, for example, has embraced the Index. Such measures can give important insights in a city like Birmingham, where almost half of the city’s population live in the 10% poorest households in the country. This presents huge challenges in terms of inequality, income and life expectancy.

Karen Creavin, chief executive of the Active Wellbeing Society which provides wellbeing services for Birmingham City Council, commented: 'The Thriving Places Index is a huge step forward in being able to measure whether our work is having an impact, and what we need to rethink to really improve the lives of citizens.'

Until now, there has been no consistent and accessible local framework that uses local level indicators to measure and inform progress towards supporting the wellbeing of all citizens, now and in the future.

Happy City’s Thriving Places Index is designed to fill this gap. The robust reporting framework supports decision makers in their work to improve lives on the ground, by helping shift the focus, place by place, towards measuring what matters.

And research show these things matter to citizens. A recent survey carried out by Triodos Bank showed that people’s top concern was the growing elderly population, followed by availability of affordable housing and a sustainable food and farming system.

While global experts debate the merits of GDP, Happy City and its partners are putting new ideas into action. This can reshape the economy for the future we all want.

Liz Zeidler is founding director of Happy City

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