Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist

How happy are your residents?

West Lafayette is taking part in an international study to better understand the answer to that question.

Through the “Happy West Lafayette” project, community members are tracking their daily satisfaction level. How? There’s an app for that.

Here’s how it works: Participants record factors influencing their well-being and happiness into the app. The app, developed by the German-based Happiness Research Organization, then compares their outcomes with other users. Locally, West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis said the city will use the data when considering quality-of-life initiatives.

“It’s a way to combine what’s called positive psychology, or psychological well-being, with community development and good governance,” said Rhonda Phillips, dean of Purdue University’s Honors College who is involved in the research. “It’s a way to see what your citizens are thinking out there.”

West Lafayette became involved in the project when researchers were looking for a small-to-mid-sized city to take part. The wife of a lead researcher attended Purdue University, which drew him to the Indiana city. A group of students will present findings at an International Society for Quality-Of-Life-Studies conference in September.

The project’s main goal is to explore the day-to-day interactions, both positively and negatively, of West Lafayette residents.

Local governments can provide effective modes of transportation, parks and different amenities – but that doesn’t mean the interaction is going to be positive, Dennis said. Questions asked by the app go beyond a standard poll by delving into relationships and a person’s emotions as they go about their day in the city. The app acts as a diary where users enter information anonymously several times a day about how they feel and their location at the time, such as with family, at work or in the car. Users can then view summary information on how others answered.

“One of the most quality components of this type of research is being able to dial in a little better and deeper on what folks want to use as qualifiers for high quality of life,” Dennis said. “As mayors, a lot of that stuff we can control, and there’s a lot of that stuff we cannot. Having that data and having that understanding and having that tool in your toolbox – knowing quality of life is more than just governmental efficiency – is something really good for us to have.”

When looking at different surveys and rankings of an area’s happiness, the quality of relationships emerges as a key indicator. A community can have strong physical infrastructure, but well-being can suffer if residents don’t feel engaged or a sense of belonging, Phillips said.

As West Lafayette develops its downtown, planners are looking to build neighborhoods and city spaces that foster interaction among people. Designs promoting socialization more often lead to positive environments, Dennis said.

The data will act as a guide in moving West Lafayette forward, including as leaders plan for a new city hall and other projects. It offers a barometer on what people want to do and how they want to interact with each other, he said.

“Being able to find out what they feel about their community and their level of satisfaction and happiness with their community is just way in the bonus category,” Dennis said. “It’s really a helpful tool.”

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