Setting the Happiness Agenda

Inside Smart Dubai Office’s plans to make the city the happiest in the world

Tags: Big dataSmart Dubai Office (www.smartdubai.ae)Smart citiesUnited Arab Emirates
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Setting the Happiness Agenda Al-Azzawi: The Happiness Agenda is intended for the smart projects in the Government of Dubai to focus on facilitating happiness. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  March 6, 2017

Dubai's smart city transformation has placed a lot of emphasis on technology, and in Dubai's race to become the ‘smartest' city in the world, technology undoubtedly plays a leading role, though there is a more fundamental aim for Dubai's efforts - happiness. While many of Dubai government's activities and achievements have been around smart systems and services, the message from the very top is that Dubai's efforts are not simply technology-driven.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, speaking in January, emphasised the goal: "Governments exist to serve and empower people. The main job of any government is to make its people happy and fulfil their aspirations and hopes."

The smart city transformation may have a strong technology focus, but it is important that it is not simply technology for its own sake. The technology should serve the higher purpose of government and be an enabler of happiness, a fundamental goal of the UAE government, said Dr Ali Al-Azzawi, City Experience Advisor, Smart Dubai Office.

"There is no doubt that the idea of happiness originated at the inception of the country. The role of the government is seen as central in providing happiness as an essential focus of government; and there is no doubt that the creation of Smart Dubai is following on from that.

"If we focus on creating a smart city without an end point, then we will end up just being technocrats, and that is not the mission. The mission is to get back to the point of government which is to make a happy society."

Orchestrating the happiness element of Dubai government's activities is the responsibility of Smart Dubai Office, as the lead for the city's smart initiatives. In order to align technology efforts behind happiness goals and in order for all of the various technology programs to focus on the main aim of bringing happiness, Smart Dubai has created the Happiness Agenda in accordance with HH Sheikh Mohammed's vision, which he then launched in May 2016.

Developed last year by a team including HE Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, Director General of Smart Dubai Office, and Dr Al-Azzawi, the Happiness Agenda aims to make happiness into a measurable strategic objective, which can be achieved by government and private sector organisations.

While the idea of ‘happiness' as a business goal might sound a bit vague, the happiness concept is rooted in established scientific, academic work around wellbeing - although the goal for Smart Dubai is not so much to debate the meaning of happiness, as it is to identify how the government can make people happy, and how to measure delivery of happiness.

"We don't want to engage in this debate about what happiness might or might not be, what we are trying to do is get into the business of doing - what does the government need to do to facilitate happiness for the residents of Dubai," Dr Al-Azzawi said.

Underlying the Happiness Agenda is SDO's unique model of the ABCD of ‘needs' - Affective Needs, Basic Needs, Cognitive Needs, Deeper Needs - based on concepts taken from psychology and other disciplines, encompassing basic needs like access to services, through to well-being and satisfaction, the ability to learn and achieve personal growth, and other meaningful activities that bring happiness. The government's role is to look equally at all of these needs and see how these needs can be met or enabled by government actions.

The execution of the Agenda is arranged around four portfolios, which define the work to be done in implementation. The portfolios are Discover - to discover the basic and higher needs, formalise definitions of the needs and establish a cultural baseline; Change - to create and influence policies and approaches for city and people to focus on happiness; Educate - to build awareness, teach self-reflection and influence the city to prioritise happiness; and Measure - to research, formulate and implement a predictive happiness impact score and the city-wide happiness index.

The four portfolios are meant to guide activities and create a feedback loop to identify areas and ways for improvement, initiate the change and measure the results.

Part of the initial implementation of the agenda, under the ‘Discover' portfolio, was to conduct a baseline study of happiness and satisfaction, Dr Al-Azzawi said, which looked at different domains such as work, health, leisure and housing and assessed people's levels of satisfaction across different segments of society.

"We started off by running a study to find out where we are. We checked general satisfaction with life domains - work, health, leisure, housing - what are the levels of satisfaction across all different segments of people, what are the values of people and also what is important to them. Rather than making assumptions, we set out to find out - that was the first task we did in terms of discovery," he said.

Another tool which will help agencies embed happiness in their culture is the Happiness Maturity Model. The model and accompanying index are intended to help organisations understand their progress in delivering happiness, identify areas where they are already making progress and areas where they can improve, based on extensive lists of activities, best practices and so on. The index also includes clear guidelines in how to achieve the next level, and is intended to help all organisations move up the maturity scale and make happiness a part of their organisational DNA.

To support organisations in implementing the agenda, Happiness Champions have been appointed at each government entity. These champions focus on guiding happiness initiatives and have direct access to the heads of their organisations. They can give insight into progress at each organisation and will also come together to create a community of champions who can learn from each other and feed into Smart Dubai's efforts. Regular happiness sessions will connect the champions and other stakeholders with experts in the field to share ideas.

The results of all these happiness efforts for the public should be an overall improvement in experience. "What is going to be tangible is that there will be a consistent experience of a higher quality throughout the organisation rather than pockets of good or bad experiences," Dr Al-Azzawi said. "You are trying to make homogenous, coherent experiences, which are not only at the same level but raised up [to a higher level]."

Public involvement in the Happiness Agenda will be vital, and there will be programs to educate the public on the aims of the program. More importantly, the Happiness Meter, which was initially launched in 2014 as a way for the public to rate public and private services as ‘good' ‘bad' or ‘average', will be refined and enhanced.

"The Happiness Meter is measuring touchpoints along the government services, be it a service centre, a website or an app, so as someone who is interacting with the city of Dubai, I can make my voice heard", Dr Al-Azzawi explained.

"What we are doing now with version 2 of the Happiness Meter is to also ask for some qualitative information, and that qualitative data will be undergoing analysis for diagnostic purposes. There will be some higher granularity into particular services, so you might ask about certain aspects of a service, the speed or ease of the service, rather than just general questions."

The improved Happiness Meter will enable much greater depth of analysis of happiness across different fields, understand responses from different groups and enable more in-depth planning through elements such as heat maps of happiness across the city, better drill down into responses, more focused plans for improving happiness or even addressing happiness at an individual level.

Dr Al-Azzawi said that enhanced analysis will help address the varying expectations and perceptions of happiness among the 205 different nationalities that call Dubai home and will also help tailor efforts to meet cultural differences in happiness.

"Happiness is linked to culture in a big way. Multiculturalism is one of the biggest challenges - it is also one of the strengths of Dubai, yet for us it is one of the challenges.  If we are trying to raise the level of happiness across the whole city, we at Smart Dubai have to look across the city in terms of culture, the needs, the values and constantly tweak services and methods of delivery and so on to raise happiness."

"It comes back to how we use technology to help us, and that is what our focus is. We envisage that we might address this by using big data analysis, artificial intelligence, to personalise the service. When I know more about you, your cultural background and values and so on, then I can tailor what I provide to you, that is smart technology, and that is where we expect to make the task more attainable", he explained.

The Happiness Agenda is also being offered to and embraced by the private sector in Dubai, with the aim of making it a truly city-wide effort. With nearly 70 private sector companies joining and adopting it and  appointing Happiness Champions, the Happiness Meter initiative is intended to give them a guide to measure themselves in terms of achievement and guide them to improvement. Smart Dubai is working with public and private sector organisations on specific vertical sectors such as tourism, trade and healthcare, and implementing happiness initiatives for each of these key areas for the UAE.

Although Smart Dubai will use the latest ICT to help deliver the different elements of the happiness project, Dr Al-Azzawi stressed that the overall goal is not technology for its own sake.

"The technology is a means to an end, so the agenda should be there as a way for all the technology that we are doing and the smart city transformation to focus on the happiest city on earth," he said. "We mean to do this, we don't mean this to be a buzzword or marketing, we mean to do what we can, using technology and science to raise the level of happiness in this city. That is what the Happiness Agenda is about."

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