We’ve received much positive feedback on our original Op-ed on the major challenges facing local governments in the early 21st century. Folks have asked us to expand on our stratagems on how to keep these oncoming forces of change at bay. You can make these forces work for you – not against you – if you have a strategy. Our intent is to help you craft that strategy.
So, we’ve decided to drill down on a couple of major issues and help point the way towards a sustainable pathway for civic development. First, we want to explore civic engagement and life satisfaction as an overarching public goal, and then link that to the development of your city’s brand.
As we shift to a post-industrial capitalist society, there is perhaps no better venue to express having ‘well-being’ as the primary motivating public policy goal.
As we shift to a post-industrial capitalist society, there is perhaps no better venue to express having ‘well-being’ as the primary motivating public policy goal. For example, “Gross National Happiness” indices are used in Bhutan and Denmark for planning and evaluation instead of GNP. There are many definitions of well-being. A smart way to look at this complex topic is through the lens of a ‘balanced scorecard’, which has at least five major factors. We believe a place to start is with indexes of health, place, community, learning and economic opportunity. Briefly, they can be seen as multi-faceted factors:
• Community: Amount of local social capital and strength of social networks.
• Place: Physical, social, environmental and economic characteristics of an area which shape our thoughts, emotions and actions.
• Learning: Educational resources and opportunities in an area.
• Health: State of physical, psychological and spiritual health in an area.
• Economic Opportunity: Diversity of structure, upward mobility pathways and a future-oriented economic development plan and practice.
Although many ‘Smart City’ initiatives wrap a measurement of well-being around rich quantitative data, we note that in its essence well-being is a powerful perception people have. And there are ways to document and record these more ‘qualitative’ measures of well-being. That is the point at which your civic brand driven by your core purpose and values, vision and mission, and brand promise of value begins to play a major part in attracting to, retaining and motivating talented people in your city.
Different cities weigh these five defining factors differently, usually playing to an existing strength or historic factor. Going forward, cities need to balance all of these factors – neglecting none. In our current research we find a great emphasis on ‘place’ that appears as a need for ‘safety and security’. This is where people start. It is certainly a necessity, but it is not a sufficient set of fundamental requirements.
There are, as we have found, two other requirements to make ‘well-being as a goal’ a viable method of governance. First, your leadership must be committed to making your civic core purpose – why do we exist? – into your North Star, like a compass, to guide everything you do and don’t. If changes or plans are being weighed, they must be measured against this North Star to see if they are a good fit. We see a valuable opportunity here to develop a reliable process to guide all legislative initiatives and citizen evaluation of government officials’ and agencies’ performance in office.
Secondly, there needs to be an audit process that reliably assesses progress towards these goals. No fudging allowed – the audit process needs to be transparent even to the extent it is managed by an outside party, a citizen’s oversight board for example.
To sum up, we see adopting well-being as a community performance goal as important as not having your community arrive ‘Dead On Arrival’ in 2020 and beyond. It is not simply about the number of things you do. It’s also about the vision and process in which all of your stakeholders work together collaboratively based on a shared positive purpose – a sustainable win-win relationship – with clear plans and goals at all levels.
All that, lofty goals, but exactly how do you get there? That brings us to our next discussion. Branding. How do you fold well-being into your brand strategy? We have some solid ideas for you – again based on our proven experience, not on some vague ideology. Stay tuned.