Since one of the fundamental principles of Government 2.0 is responding to data and facts, Reset San Francisco is always tracking how governments are gathering and using information. Here’s what could be a breakthrough practice – Sommerville, Massachusetts is now tracking a “happiness” index on its yearly census to voters. The idea is that government should be taking steps to make residents happier, and the best way to figure out what’s working best is to ask the question directly.

The story is well reported in yesterday’s New York Times.

This is an experiment worth watching – since it gets at one of the chief challenges with using data – the misuse of data by some politicians. We’ve all seen the State of the (Nation, State, City – take your pick) speeches where a stream of data is used to prove that this or that politician is really doing a good job. Ultimately, this data may help the politicians, but is it helping us?

This new approach, designed with the help of Harvard Professor Daniel Gilbert, will help keep elected officials focused on what works best to improve our quality of life.
So if the J-Church came on time, would that make you happier? What about if your Clipper Card actually worked most of the time? Or if you could send your children to a great neighborhood school? Or if there were bike lanes on more streets? Or if, when you called a taxi, it actually came?

This is using data to do something pretty radical – helping our elected officials hear more from us and not just from the few usual suspects who have our politicians on speed dial. We’ve got our own idea on this topic – asking the City to take YouTube Testimony, so more of us will be heard at City Hall. But this also seems like a useful approach.

We’ll be launching a new Reset San Francisco Poll soon – so we’ll add this Happiness Index and let you know what we find.

Meanwhile, what do you think? Should San Francisco start using a Happiness Index?