Communicating the Wellbeing of a City with Santa Monica



Spring 2017  

Communicating the Wellbeing of a City with Santa Monica challenges ArtCenter students to work alongside Santa Monica civic leaders, residents and other stakeholders to translate the City of Santa Monica’s pioneering Wellbeing Index into innovative transmedia design campaigns that communicate a shared understanding of the community’s strengths and needs, encourage collaboration among city leaders and local organizations, and improve a collective sense of wellbeing for all residents of Santa Monica.

Employing wellbeing data results and field research, student teams designed, constructed and tested conceptual campaigns in real-time with real residents. Teams have had immediate feedback to retool and scaffold ideas into the next levels. Students are drawing upon the knowledge of experts to help guide them to create a captivating, connective and emotionally satisfying campaign for residents of Santa Monica.

About Santa Monica’s Wellbeing Project



Around the world, many cities are examining and analyzing its residents’ wellbeing through various metrics that can help shape and effect future policy and programs.

In an effort to deeper understand and improve the quality of life for its 90,000 residents, the City of Santa Monica entered its Wellbeing Project proposal into Bloomberg Philanthropies first-ever Mayors Challenge, a nationwide competition to encourage innovation in local government. In 2013, Santa Monica received $1 million in seed money to develop the project which would use data to create a multidimensional wellbeing index.

For nearly two years, the City partnered with the RAND Corporation, the New Economic Foundation and a team of international experts in the growing field of wellbeing science to research factors that make a city thrive.

Data was compiled from many sources: quantifiable data about crime and disease rates, parks, education levels and use of transit services and libraries; they also conducted an online survey to collect subjected information from residents about personal experiences and thoughts on housing, mobility and development among other topics. More than 2,000 residents responded to the survey. Researchers also scanned public commentary on social media outlets to determine attitudes and concerns about money, jobs, economic disparity and other relevant issues.

Using the data, the City defined wellbeing in six dimensions:

  • City Demographics (Who lives in Santa Monica?)
  • Outlook (How are residents doing?)
  • Community (How strong in the sense of community and civic engagement?)
  • Health (How healthy are the residents?)
  • Economic Opportunity (Can diverse populations live and thrive here?)
  • Learning (Do people have the opportunity to enrich their knowledge and skill sets, no matter their age?)

Midterm Presentations



The students started the term with a download on the Wellbeing Index from the team behind the project, Julie Rusk, Project Lead, The Wellbeing Project and Assistant Director, Community and Cultural Servics, and Lisa Parson, Project Manager, The Wellbeing Project. Julie and Lisa walked the students through the methodologies and data, as well as other efforts by the City. Laura Becker and Allison Ostrovsky, who oversee the City’s public art program, gave the students insight into the arts and use of public spaces. Students also heard from Evan Meyer, the Executive Director of Beautify Earth, an initiative that began in Santa Monica to bring care, art, color and love to cities. The students also conducted interviews with residents of Santa Monica to bring the human voice to the data collected by the city.

Taking all of the primary and secondary research, the students generated many early concepts, and eventually narrowed down to two top ideas. The students prototyped the ideas in Santa Monica over two weeks, and presented their concepts and prototypes to the Wellbeing Index team and other representatives from the City of Santa Monica on March 9.

Midterm Outcomes

#BeWellSaMo Team
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Community Art Installation/Game

This student team wanted to show the interconnectedness of the data and residents. The team began by designing a board game that uses bite sized tidbits of data to give consequences and rewards to players. The team decided to think bigger and turn their game into an environmental intervention: a sidewalk game board for the city. Curious walkers would discover eye-catching colorful artwork depicting game spaces that combine graphics with a fact/statistic. In the playful context of a board game, walkers become players as they follow the Go Spaces along the game pathway moving from space to space. Players of all ages can interact with one another, share the experience via social media and see how their story fits into the bigger picture of Santa Monica. As they learn about issues facing fellow residents, players are encouraged to discover ways on how they can make Santa Monica a better place to live, work and thrive.

Santa Monica Community Portrait Team
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Photographic Connections/Experience

This student team expanded the idea of the traditional family portrait to encompass the larger extended family of Santa Monica residents. Setting up a temporary photo studio at the Santa Monica Parks Day Festival and a local Farmer’s Market, students encouraged complete strangers to pose with one another as if they were family members. Photo models engaged first with awkwardness that spun into good-natured responses as they introduced themselves to their photo family members. Portraits were uploaded to an Instagram account @SantaMonicaFamily for social media sharing. Line-drawing versions of six portraits were translated into graphic representations of the six Santa Monica data results, furthering the idea that statistics reflect not just numbers but real human beings. The simple act of meeting one another before a camera lens became a gentle reminder that Santa Monicans have a familial bond and can be invested in one another and consider each other strangers no more.

Next Steps



The students will continue to develop and prototype their concepts in Santa Monica based on the feedback from the mid-term presentations. Students will explore how to make their concepts into full campaigns that can be easily implemented by the City, and potentially shared with other cities via toolkits. Students will present their final projects to civic leaders from the City of Santa Monica on April 13. Continue to check this project page for updates!