‘Social prosperity’ as a framework for measuring the wellbeing of neighbourhoods

Cities need to measure more than GDP, travel allowances and traffic congestion to become liveable. Here we discuss why social wellbeing is a superior measure for creating equitable and liveable cities, and why we created the Social Prosperity Standard.

This week the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) launched its global Liveability Index. As a Melbourne-based business (a city which held the ‘Most Liveable’ crown for 7 years, and only recently forfeited it to Vienna) the results of this annual index are always intriguing. 

However, the objectivity of the EIU ranking has been questioned by researchers who note the EIU was developed to help companies estimate allowances for travel to different international cities, and is limited to the city (rather than neighbourhood) scale. We need better metrics.

Neighbourlytics approach to measuring the success of cities is instead through the lens of social wellbeing, and a strengths-based model we call the Social Prosperity Standard.

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Wellbeing as a framework for city planning and investment

As many governments around the world are placing increasing priority on wellbeing - alongside GDP - as a measure of a countries’ success, there is a growing focus on how such measurement can actually be achieved. 

New Zealand is the latest to join the likes of Scotland and Ireland in zeroing in on wellbeing, with its national wellbeing budget announced last May by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

But for most countries attempting to assess their city or national progress through a wellbeing lens, the indicators they must rely on are based more around deficits and vulnerabilities than they are around strengths. Most metrics look at what is “going wrong”, while research increasingly shows that evaluating what is “going right” is often what’s needed to shift the dial on wellbeing outcomes. 

Most metrics look at what is “going wrong”, while research increasingly shows that evaluating what is “going right” is often what’s needed to shift the dial on wellbeing outcomes. 

While we need to critically address vulnerabilities (indicators such as unemployment, suicide rates, homelessness and domestic violence), we can easily miss the equally important factors that make a community thrive; the ‘liveability of a place’ that can be directly linked to positive wellbeing.               

What do we mean by ‘Social Prosperity’?

“Social Prosperity” is a wellbeing approach that measures quality of life at the local level. It refers to the strengths, assets and values of its neighbourhood, with metrics that help you understand how well a neighbourhood is thriving and what’s “going right”. 

Neighbourlytics Social Prosperity Standard (SPS) is based on 100+ of the world’s leading wellbeing frameworks and decades of social research into what makes places and communities thrive. 

The SPS defines a rating system for neighbourhoods to help city-makers navigate the complex and diverse challenges of neighbourhood wellbeing, to better understand local life and de-risk investment decisions. 

The Social Prosperity Standard (SPS) defines a rating system for neighbourhoods to help city-makers navigate the complex and diverse challenges of neighbourhood wellbeing

Three dimensions of wellbeing 

Neighbourlytics  Social Prosperity Standard is based on three dimensions of place-based wellbeing:

  • Economic prosperity: How diverse and resilient is the local economy? How well does the neighbourhood support opportunities for meaningful work, local jobs, active main streets and town centres. 

  • Physical prosperity: In daily life, do locals have access to quality open spaces, and do they engage with them? Is there evidence of active lifestyles and are people emotionally connected to the place? 

  • Community prosperity: How well do events, programs, services and activities enable locals to connect and support cultural life.

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How it works

Neighbourlytics proprietary technology aligns millions of digital data points about the social and cultural life to find new evidence of the SPS dimensions and to offer tangible insight into what makes places thrive at a local level.

When we analyse a neighbourhood, we look at the diversity and density of places from cafes to community libraries, home businesses to events. We analyse how popular they are, the activities and programs that occur, where people spend time, and what they talk about online. It’s this multi-faceted analysis that enables us to go beyond looking at the physical environment (what’s there) as traditional land-use analysis would, to also look at the use of the places (who’s there), and peoples’ qualitative experience (what people feel,  value and engage with).

Previously, data on neighbourhood strengths has only be available through community surveys which are inherently small in scale, require significant human capital to undertake, and don’t allow comparisons to be made unless the same surveys take place in every postcode. What’s more, surveys require conscious participation which in itself can skew results.

We solve the data gap by providing a detailed digital scan of the social life, community behaviour and unique personality of any local neighbourhood around the world. And from this data we can measure the social prosperity of a postcode (or even smaller), providing up-to-date insights on key determinants of health and wellbeing, helping citymakers understand, measure and monitor the quality of urban life and wellbeing in the neighbourhoods they plan, create and manage.

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Why Social Prosperity Matters for Cities?

Your neighbourhood influences what opportunities you have in life, how much you can participate in civic life and how physically active you are - whether you can walk, cycle to local destinations. This is critical information for property developers and governments as these wellbeing factors also correlate with a suburbs’ economic productivity. 

With Neighbourlytics’ benchmarking tool, citymakers are better equipped to build a future for citizens that is both socially and economically prosperous.

To find out how you can start using the Social Prosperity Standard, become a Launch City and be one of the first to benchmark wellbeing in your municipality or across your portfolio.

Lucinda Hartley

I’m an urban designer and social entrepreneur who has spent the past decade pioneering innovative methods to improve the social sustainability of cities, now being implemented around the world. 

As a co-founder at Neighbourlytics, I bring my social innovation and entrepreneurship strengths to harness big data, and deliver community insights that inform evidence-based urban development decisions. Neighbourlytics is backed by BlueChilli Group’s highly competitive She Starts program.