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Measuring for quality of life – how can we do that?

When today’s civil engineers look for models to make our cities more lasting and sustainable, climate change and digital megatrends serve as the fundamental underpinnings. But established control and monitoring tools have difficulty parsing concepts such as quality of life and social values. So how can we measure these? A major investment is therefore being made to lay the foundations of a new Swedish skills platform.

A new grove of trees along the town square. Expanded playground space at Trasten Preschool. Redirecting excess heat from under the streets to reduce slip and fall accidents in the winter. These much-appreciated projects are relatively simple to appraise in a municipality – they cost money to implement and they cost money to maintain. But what value do they provide? What are the long-term effects?

“We see no calculations at present that highlight the environmental, health, and social value in these types of investments. We want to change this,” says Charlotta Möller, Manager of the Sustainable Society section at RISE.

The big challenge? It is difficult to assay the positive effects. Who benefits from the lower costs? Investment costs, risks and responsibilities need to be shared among the municipality’s different administrations, perhaps between the municipality and the region. Or among the municipality’s social services, social insurance agencies, and county councils, and perhaps schools.

“It’s one of the major challenges of our time; viewing the economy in a different way. How can we jointly manage society’s resources – human capital, natural capital, institutional capital and social capital – in a better way?” asks Möller.

Projects are in progress focusing on value creation and measurable actions for sustainable societal development, and something apparent therein is that researchers, officials, and politicians are calling for better methods and support for analysis – control and monitoring – from a more long-term and holistic perspective. It takes courage and willingness to change, but there is also a clear need for something as basic a common terminology.

At the same time, numerous initiatives are underway across Sweden’s municipalities and around the world. There is a need for both knowledge sharing and ways to operationalise knowledge acquired in various projects.  Charlotta Möller sees collaborative skills development and sharing in partnership with other organisations and beneficiaries as key to success.

“We see a clear need to link research-based knowledge to municipal, regional, and national investments into urban environments so as to avoid investment budgets formulated according to a limited number of welfare factors and sustainability criteria. Otherwise we risk continuing to make short-term investments in which many of our major societal challenges are not addressed.”