December 24, 2013


Kumamoto's Challenge to Maximize Citizens' Happiness -- "Aggregate Kumamoto Happiness (AKH)"

Keywords: Newsletter Well-Being 

JFS Newsletter No.135 (November 2013)

Kumamoto Prefecture, located almost exactly in the center of Kyushu Island in southern Japan, introduced in December 2008 a "Four-year Strategy to Create a Kumamoto Where People Can Realize Happiness" as a fundamental policy of the prefectural government administration. With this policy, the prefecture hopes to realize what it calls the Kumamoto Dream -- to make Kumamoto a place where citizens feel happy they were born and have lived so far, and want to continue to live now and forever. Kumamoto took on this challenge to maximize citizens' happiness as a fundamental goal in order to realize this dream, and accordingly created an indicator to measure aggregate happiness in Kumamoto.

In April 2013, Japan for Sustainability (JFS) launched a "Local Well-being Project" focusing on local activities, which are the core of sustainability, in order to create a framework to help make local well-being and affluence indicators truly meaningful. Here we introduce Kumamoto's challenge to maximize its citizens' happiness.

Maximizing Overall Happiness in Kumamoto

Governor Ikuo Kabashima of Kumamoto has stated his idea that a change in values is needed to maximize people's happiness. He suggests that, so far, the biggest goal of society has been to seek economic affluence, which ended up in creating the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers and the subsequent economic depression. Therefore, he says, we need to change our sense of values -- we need to put emphasis on not only money but also other values such as "pride," "security and safety," and "dreams."

What kinds of value changes are actually needed? To achieve such a shift, it is important to clearly show citizens what happiness is in the first place, and also what is meant by maximizing of people's happiness. To achieve this, a group of experts was set up in October 2010 to study well-being in Kumamoto. Through discussions carried out at five meetings, a report containing a potential index of aggregate happiness in Kumamoto was released in July 2011.

The report pointed out the necessity for research and analysis on points such as what kinds of factors constitute happiness and how to visualize happiness, as well as the necessity to create criteria to measure happiness levels in Kumamoto. In addition, it identified the importance of using these new criteria to involve citizens in reviewing the way the prefectural government conducts its administration. Based on these points, the report proposed "Aggregate Kumamoto Happiness (AKH)," as a comprehensive indicator to measure people's happiness in the prefecture.

What is AKH?

AKH was created as an index to measure how people's happiness changes in response to social and economic change and the implementation of Kumamoto's local policies. Its fundamental premise is that happiness is subjective and therefore it differs among people, regions, etc.

So far, data on people's well-being has usually been collected through questionnaire surveys that directly ask respondents how happy they feel at the time, and use the responses to gauge well-being. AKH, on the other hand, analyzes factors that go into people's well-being, while taking into consideration subjective data such as how satisfied people are with respect to each factor, to what degree they see each factor as important and how they would value it numerically. All this data is brought together and computed.

This process makes it possible to understand in depth the true meaning and trends in happiness, by touching a deeper level of citizens' psychology. By calculating AKH every year and assessing increases and decreases, the prefecture can visually understand to what extent aggregate happiness in Kumamoto can be maximized.

The measurement of AKH is based on a questionnaire survey of citizens in Kumamoto concerning their well-being and happiness. Relevant factors are categorized into the following groups: Dreams for the future; Pride; Economic stability; and Future security. Each factor is further divided into three items. The survey asks people to record their satisfaction level for each factor and the degree of the importance of these 12 items in four categories.

The three items in each category are as follows:

Dreams for the future
Educational environment

Natural resources
History & culture
Ties with the local community

Economic stability
Household income
Consumption activities

Future security
Physical and mental health
Safety of food and the living environment
Disaster damage prevention & public order

Research Conducted on Underlying Concepts and Choice of Indictors

When drafting AKH, Kumamoto Prefecture conducted research concerning what the practical indicators should be and what factors should be included. In addition, the prefecture also conducted research in fiscal 2011 to collect the data necessary for drawing up prospective indicators. In this process, the following three points emerged through the questionnaire survey and workshops, which revealed unique characteristics for various communities.

  • Non-economic factors are also important for happiness and well-being.
  • Each community seeks their own happiness, which is different for each community.
  • AKH is an effective set of indicators to gauge citizens' happiness and well-being.

The overall aggregate results of the questionnaire survey showed that while "economic stability" scores high as a happiness factor, depending to the attributes of the respondent, "having dreams" may also score high. In the workshops held in five communities, "having dreams" also scored high in four of them. Overall, the survey illustrated economic factors are of higher importance to people's well-being and happiness, while other, non-economic factors are also seen as rather important in some communities.

The results of analyzing this survey by region and of the regional workshops showed that priorities for happiness differ by region. In other words, the form of happiness that people seek is different according to where they live.

The survey for prefectural citizens asked the respondents about their intuitive well-being in the question, "Are you feeling happy now?" Significant correlation was found between intuitive well-being and every other happiness factor. Correlation coefficients were especially high for family, household income, and physical and mental health, which were found in the workshops to have substantial influence on happiness factors. Therefore, it was decided that the happiness factors that had been chosen were reasonable and the AKH was effective as an indicator of citizens' happiness.

Future Outlook

Another survey of Kumamoto prefectural citizens was conducted again in fiscal 2012. An analysis of the contribution ratios of the four categories illustrated the connections between the subjective views of citizens and underlying objective facts. Results of this analysis showed that the citizens' response to the massive natural disaster that occurred in the year before this survey was reflected prominently by a drop in AKH.

AKH can provide information on citizens' satisfaction levels and the process of calculation can reveal the weight of the importance given to each happiness factor. By precisely deriving and sorting the information according to the citizens' attributes and regional characteristics, policymaking can go into further detail. As a result, the diversity and quality of measures are expected to improve as policymakers refer to and examine these different attributes, including those pertaining to different regions and age groups.

Kumamoto Prefecture plans to conduct a comparative analysis of the current and previous fiscal years in accordance with various attributes, including regions and age groups, in addition to an analysis of the entire prefecture, by holding the same survey every fiscal year and calculating AKH. The outcome will be used to evaluate and formulate policy measures.

In this effort, the challenge is apparently how to improve the accuracy of the analysis and get a better understanding of corresponding relations among AKH calculated on the basis of citizens' subjective views, their objective situations, and prefectural measures I hope this effort will gather more attention in the future, because the process of analysis and feedback in addition to the indicator itself can be of help to other municipalities.

Written by Nobuhiro Tanabe