November 20, 2015


Toward a Happier City -- Nagakute Takes on Well-being Indicator Development

Keywords: Civil Society / Local Issues Newsletter Well-Being 

JFS Newsletter No.158 (October 2015)

Nagakute, in Aichi Prefecture, has been actively promoting efforts proposed by the mayor in collaboration with citizens for realizing a happier city. In 2013, the city launched an initiative to develop indicators from a citizens' perspective through various activities, recognizing the need for tools to ascertain the city's progress toward its goals as an ideal city. They are calling it the "Nagakute Well-being Yardstick Initiative," and promoting it in three steps: 1) conducting a survey to measure the living standard and level of happiness in Nagakute, 2) publicizing the survey results, and 3) trying to develop a system of well-being indicators.

This newsletter introduces Nagakute's efforts to develop well-being indicators, quoting from Dr. Takayoshi Kusago's summary in the report on the survey on the people's sense of well-being that was conducted as the first step of the initiative. Serving as advisor to the initiative, Dr. Kusago is also a professor at Kansai University.

City Planning and Citizens' Well-being

Nagakute City is trying to transform itself into the most agreeable and happy place to live in Japan. This is one of the most important goals not only for Nagakute, but the Japanese government is emphasizing similar goals. Why are the national and local governments both interested in citizens' well-being now? The answer is closely related to the kinds of affluence people expect.

What people think of as affluence has greatly changed over the last 40 years. The results of the Public Opinion Survey on the Life of the People conducted annually by the Japanese Cabinet Office detects such trends well. One of the survey questions asks people which they think is more important: materialistic affluence or spiritual richness.

The survey results in June 2014 showed that 63 percent of the respondents chose "I'd like to put more weight on leading a more spiritually rich and relaxed way of life from now on, having attained a certain level of materialistic affluence," whereas 31 percent replied "I'd still like to achieve materialistic affluence in my life." Until the 1970s, the ratio of people preferring materialistic affluence was higher, but in the 1980s the ratio reversed completely. Since then, the number of people putting more weight on spiritual richness has been steadily increasing, reaching more than double the number preferring materialistic affluence in 2014.

To attain materialistic affluence, it is necessary to focus on income and employment, necessitating an emphasis on economic measures. Can we really attain spiritual richness, though, as a natural outcome when economic infrastructure is strengthened? Unfortunately, in view of the experiences of developed countries, it doesn't seem so simple.

Not all people think materialistic affluence is important. Conversely, not all people think spiritual richness is important either. In short, people's values are diverse, so now is not a time when attaining economic affluence would solve everything.

Therefore, by surveying people's sense of happiness, such as well-being and satisfaction in their lives, the government has initiated a movement to develop happiness indicators for considering how to shift the country to a happier status. The government came to consider it necessary to determine how happy people are; to what extent inequality or differences in well-being are occurring among people; what people consider a happy life to be; and what factors influence happiness.

Team for Surveying Well-being

Nagakute is probably the first municipality in Japan to introduce a collaborative civic initiative using a survey team to study the sense of well-being. The team members were recruited openly among citizens, and the city government encouraged young government officials to participate. Since its establishment, the team has held workshops ten times on weekday nights.

The team played a key role in conducting the questionnaire survey on the comfortability of the living environment and the sense of well-being in Nagakute City. The city's initiatives to improve the quality of life have been gradually recognized as innovative for the citizen-led design of the questionnaire and data analysis.

Some people say the team members have no expertise at surveys and question their reliability. Generally, people think government experts, scholars, researchers and professional consultants in their respective fields should conduct surveys. Indeed, surveys on such highly technical issues as the living environment (water quality inspections, checking nitrogen concentrations or measuring amounts of carbon dioxide) would naturally require the involvement of experts instead of amateurs who would not be able to handle the work.

In the case of surveys on life in Nagakute, however, Nagakute's citizens are indeed the concerned parties living the lives in question. In short, no one but the citizens of Nagakute can be experts on the citizens' lives by envisioning an ideal community and identifying points to be enhanced or improved in life in Nagakute from the viewpoint of the concerned parties based on long years of living experience.

For their survey on well-being, the team members creatively designed the questions needed for evaluating and examining various aspects of life in Nagakute. As a result, some of the questions emphasized the uniqueness of Nagakute, making the questionnaire well-suited to the city.

There is concern, however, as to whether a citizen-led survey can provide useful data for confirming the comfortability and happiness of life in the city. With regard to this, it was verified that no problems occurred in the use of survey data based on the data collected by the questionnaire survey.

The verification revealed that the survey data compiled from the questionnaire designed by the citizen survey team properly covered comfortability, sense of well-being in life, and major elements that influence the sense of well-being in the city. It was thus recognized as fully viable for confirming the livability and sense of well-being in Nagakute.

Use of the Survey on Well-being

Traditionally, many surveys conducted by municipalities have not arisen from the concerns of citizens, but from assumptions by municipal workers about issues causing problems in the living conditions on a moment-to-moment basis. Such surveys are designed and conducted by experts. The results have been used as references for improving municipal services and formulating policies.

This survey on well-being is meant to confirm the overall comfortable living and citizens' sense of well-being in Nagakute from the citizens' viewpoint. It is intended to be used for making Nagakute a more comfortable, happier place to live in the medium to long term. Of course, the results can be used to improve individual municipal services, including those of the city hall, schools or hospitals, as with traditional surveys. In addition, the survey can be used for formulating concepts and developing citizens' initiatives to improve life for the entire community.

One way to use the survey would be as something like a medical checkup. Taking a person's body weight for example, when he rapidly gains weight, warns him about the need for health maintenance. On the other hand, if the results show steady numbers, he can live at ease. Similarly, by conducting this survey on well-being, people can evaluate the status of living in Nagakute, and what parts are good or bad. They can recognize the degree of happiness and any inequalities by focusing on each group according to region, generation, gender and such, and thereby evaluate the current "health status" of the city. As a result, citizens can gain a sense of reassurance, or a more concrete awareness of issues as well.

By conducting a survey on their city's livability and sense of well-being from different viewpoints, people can realize the advantages and disadvantages of their city more thoroughly. After grasping their city's strengths and weaknesses, the citizens and government officials of the city can collaborate on what they can do for community development and move forward to implement their ideas.

For this reason, this survey on well-being should be known to more citizens. It is also important to aim for involving the citizens, such as by eliciting their ideas and asking them to work toward developing a livable Nagakute.

The ways of using the results can differ, too. If results are shown in numbers, such as by presenting a numerical degree of livability or a percentage sense of well-being, the figures in themselves may give a sort of cold impression. The survey results will therefore be used in a real context, for promoting dialogues among citizens on what life in Nagakute should be like, where people can live comfortably, or where people feel happy.

For example, local people who scored eight out of ten in terms of happiness could be brought together and invited to talk thoroughly about life in the eightieth percentile in Nagakute. This might enhance their discussion of advantages and challenges in Nagakute. Or through their talks, they might discover existing citizens' activities which are less familiar to the citizens but have the potential to provide Nagakute a happier future. The survey results could be used to promote relationships among the citizens. It will be important to make such efforts.

The "Nagakute Well-being Yardstick Initiative" has now reached its third step. In 2015, another team was established to familiarize people with the happier life in Nagakute. Like the survey team, this team consists of volunteer citizens and city officials. The team attempts to find many activities that may lead to happier community development, and focuses on people engaged in these activities, interviewing them and writing articles to familiarize citizens more widely with their work. By learning about existing valuable activities, the team aims to nurture well-being in Nagakute as well as to achieve a happier Nagakute by encouraging more and more people to get involved in community development and move forward on their own initiative.

What kind of "well-being yardstick" will the citizens' collaborative activities create? We will watch Nagakute's future efforts.

Edited by Nobuhiro Tanabe

Report on Nagakute's Sense of Well-being Survey--Creating Citizen-led Well-being Indicators (Nagakute City, December 2014) (only in Japanese)