Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Somerville partners with tech group to boost happiness with mobile app

Joining a global movement of hackers and happiness experts, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone’s SomerStat office hopes to revolutionize how local government collects data on wellbeing–and uses that data to connect residents with services and drive policy decisions.

In 2011, the City made headlines when it sent out the firstever municipal happiness survey. Residents were asked questions such as “how happy are you right now?” and “how satisfied are you with your life?” The SomerStat office then crunched the data, looking for statistical relationships between wellbeing and City policy.

Now, the Mayor and his team of statisticians has announced a partnership with The H(app)athon Project, an organization that is using cutting-edge technology to measure and increase happiness. Starting with a pilot in City Hall, they plan to collect data from residents’ smartphones and use it to connect people to services that will help them flourish.

“It’s an ambitious idea,” said Mayor Curtatone, “but I know that the data will help us run the City as much as it will help residents find resources that they might not know about otherwise.” Citing his goal of making Somerville a great place to live, work, play and raise a family, the Mayor added that “it never hurts to measure how our policies impact residents.”

This is a more sophisticated measure than the standard paper-based survey. The H(app)athon Project aims to develop mobile technology that combines answers to survey questions with results from physiological sensors. These combined results will then yield a happiness score, which can help users understand what brings them wellbeing and find critical resources.

“We’re thrilled to be working with the City of Somerville,” said John C. Havens, Founder of the H(app)athon Project. “They’re the first city in the U.S. to implement happiness metrics for policy creation, and our goal is to demonstrate how mobile sensors can better help identify and improve the wellbeing of their citizens.”

SomerStat Director Daniel Hadley is equally excited about the partnership. “We have uncovered important links between residents’ happiness and how we shape City policy. Teaming up with H(app)athon will allow us to push that analysis further, adding geographic and environmental data. The latest national data also indicates that smartphone usage is rising rapidly across income, age and ethnic groups. So as with our paper and phone survey, we’ll work to make sure the app helps us collect data from a broad range of city residents.”

The group plans to launch their application citywide by fall 2013.


  1. You just have to be careful here that the result of this is not the City implementing a whole bunch of ideas that only make the sort of person willing to measure/share their physiologic metrics happy -- it's unlikely that those folks are in all ways representative of the population at large.

  2. This is a very good point and one our SomerStat analysts are well aware of. That's why we will continue our paper and phone random sample survey that uses best practices to ensure a representative sample of all Somerville residents is surveyed. The app will augment that effort, but not dominate or replace it.

  3. Perhaps you own a tablet computer or one of those smart phones with the bigger screen. In that case you know that there are millions of apps out there now. By having more mobile devices in the hands of our citizenry we are changing how our society operates.

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