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opinion

Measure what matters

Happy City is a small UK charity with a big mission: to ‘make what matters count’. It offers a place-based model of change that puts the wellbeing of current and future generations centre stage. It does this by developing new measures of progress and delivering training, projects and campaigns to help embed them into how places work. CEO Liz Zeidler explains more.

Recently, skimming the morning papers and listening to the news, I’ve been asking myself – who is thriving in the UK today? Is it Carillion workers, pensioners and suppliers contemplating unemployment, deficits or unpaid bills? Or their ex-bosses and auditors who made millions from the business?

Is it the owners of 23,000 UK homes based in tax havens? Or the countless people living in the overpriced rental sector? The university chancellors earning eye-watering salaries? Or indebted students struggling with mental health problems? Or is it any of the new billionaires created every two days in 2017? Or the 99% who still await some of that wealth ‘trickling down’?

In the UK we persist in believing that if we reward the highly-paid decision makers enough, they will make better decisions for the masses. According to the current paradigm though, they are often making the ‘right decisions’ already.  A system whose end goal is ever increasing economic growth is designed to reward actions that promote that and little else.  It is a system that rewards selfishness and short termism because both can drive profit.

But as I have read headline after headline in 2018, I keep on thinking, what if we paid salaries based on rewarding those who’s whose work or decisions help us to thrive – who would be on today’s rich list? If we elected those who put people and planet so far ahead of personal PR that we forget what ‘spin’ means, who would be on our front benches?

If our measure of success or prosperity is unfettered growth, or wealth in the hands of a tiny minority, or unparalleled inequality and degradation of the planet – then we are indeed succeeding to prosper.

“We are setting a new set of goals and new ways of measuring success that puts the wellbeing of people, place and planet centre stage.”

Liz Zeidler

As Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz put it, “If we use the wrong measures we will strive for the wrong things”.  So how do we go about finding new and better ways to measure what’s worthwhile, so we can start to make what matters count?

It seemed a huge and impossible question back in 2010 when I co-founded Happy City and it hasn’t diminished in size or importance in the intervening years.

Yet today’s headlines remind me of why we bothered.  We were inspired and disheartened in equal measure, by the sheer number and diversity of projects and initiatives all around the globe, that were coming up with ever more innovative ways to deal with the symptoms of system that is delivering ever more inequality and planetary damage.

So much wisdom, so much enterprise, so many hearts and minds pouring their efforts into positive change. But without a challenge, indeed an alternative, to the current ‘growth at all costs’ narrative and measures of progress, the symptom-solvers will never be out of work and the headlines may never change.

We overcame the sheer size of the challenge by breaking it down geographically.  Creating a radical but practical solution that can be used right now in local places across the UK.  At Happy City we have launched a Thriving Places Index that is designed to help decision makers, not with more money in their pension pots, but with a new set of goals and new ways of measuring success that puts the wellbeing of people, place and planet centre stage.

The Index uses a new system to measure true progress and prosperity. Our team of analysts have assessed data from 150 local authorities across England, supported by 48 indicators including health, education and community. It gives us a clear picture, for the first time, of the places most in need of investment, pointing the way towards a more sustainable and inclusive economy – one that has a true sense of value.

We hope it is a small step in the direction of measuring what matters and making it count.  Let’s hope we can start judging our leaders, and rewarding our decision makers, based on how well they do at making that measure grow, year on year.  Now those are the headlines I’d love to read.

WWW.THRIVINGPLACESINDEX.ORG

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Liz Zeidler

Liz Zeidler is Co-founder and Chief Executive of Happy City – a small team with a big mission, to help make what matters count. They challenge the idea that the world has to be about endless consumption and GDP growth, because they think people want something better than that. The new Thriving Places Index was launched in partnership with Triodos Bank.

 

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Tim Hagyard 5 months ago

This campaign is excellent and I wish you every success. Having worked for 30 years in local government planning and being measured on the speed of decisions and the numbers of houses delivered, I am well aware that what matters isn’t easily measured and that what is measured often distorts priorities. The quality of a place, the ability of a development to meet the greatest needs, the sense of ownership by local people are all very important but not so easily or readily measured. As decent affordable housing is such a basic security that underpins so much else in community life I am undertaking a Hike for the Homeless for Shelter next month. I’ll plug it shamelessly if I may – a good cause https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/hike4homeless.
I think access to housing can be measured and should be up there as a key priority.

One detailed comment, the task of assembling data is huge of course but the places people identify with are more local than the authority boundaries they live in. I think a lot of what you are aiming at here chimes with the objectives of good urban design . The Urban Design Group if you haven’t been in touch seem a natural ally.
http://www.udg.org.uk/about