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Professionals have created a „well-being” indicator for urban development

Mar 27, 2024 | News

With the right metrics, incentives and methodologies, residents of poor neighbourhoods can begin to build trust

In 2021, the leadership of Miskolc initiated a social innovation plan based on the challenges the city was facing under the motto: “Miskolc shall be a place for everyone”. Turned into a project entitled „4IM” and financed by the European Social Fund, the aim of the action has been to identify measures that tackle poverty and to develop a new model for the social and economic advancement of the city. As part of the project, researchers from the University of Miskolc carried out preliminary sociological field research and a survey with the participation of residents from two neighbourhoods, Tetemvár and Bábonyibérc, selected as pilots. We interviwed Zsuzsanna Török, one of the experts involved in the research.

What was the focus of your research among the population of Bábonyibérc and Tetemvár and why was it necessary?

The 4IM project started in November 2021 and is still ongoing. The project aims to develop innovative and integrated social services, to introduce a new, experimental social model, to develop a new institutional structure, and to create innovative partnerships between public, municipal, civil and private sector stakeholders. The University of Miskolc has undertaken the task of carrying out reserch and analysing the results in order to provide the baseline by which concrete measures may be introduced. Surveys were carried out on territorial, community, household and individual levels. The studies focused on three areas: the socio-demographic situation, resources, and incentives.

The consortium felt that it was important to carry out tailored pre-, mid- and post-project surveys to ensure the long-term effectiveness of the model. This provided the rationale for the study. For new types of social action, it is always a priority to develop ‘tailor-made’ solutions based on sound evidence taking into account the particular characteristics of the local community. In this project we managed to do it.

Why were these two neighbourhoods selected? 

Both areas have been identified as deprived neighbourhoods by the Working Group for the Integration of Deprived Neighbourhoods in 2021. The report at the time estimated the number of residents in the Tetemvár neighbourhood at 500, 40% of whom lived in extreme poverty. 67% of children aged 0-3, 25% of children aged 3-6, 50% of children of school-age were considered vulnerable, and only 20% of the population capable of work was employed. The population of the Bábonyiérc neighbourhood was estimated at 450, out of which 80% lived in extreme poverty. 70% of children under 6 years of age and 75% of school-age children were considered vulnerable, while the employment rate for the able-bodied population was 60%. The data made clear the rationale for chosing these neighbourhoods for the study. 

What were the main findings of the study?

The first part of the study, an assessment of the situation, showed that the two areas share many similarities. It was noted that the large majority of the population had moved to their respective neighbourhoods prior to the year 2000. For people identifying themselves as Roma the situation was similar: the percent of the inhabitants that had moved to their respective areas before 2000 stood at around 25%. There were differences in terms of age: the average age of residents in Tetemvár were higher than those in Bábonyibérc. The preliminary survey showed a more favourable labour market situation in Tetemvár than in Bábonyibérc. Overall, Bábonyibérc is a younger community and with households with more children, while Tetemvár is populated by ageing and smaller families.  

Midway through the project, a study was carried out with the help of colleagues from Forrásközpont (Resource Centre) which showed that changes in the neighbourhoods can occur within a short period of time; for example, there was a high turnover of people moving in and out. Of course, the community has not changed fundamentally in a few months, but it is clear that in order to maintain the success of the integrated service packages it is necessary to continuously monitor the communities.

The last phase of the research is ongoing. In this final phase of the project, we are using other methods. We are carrying out focus group interviews related to topics identified in two surveys conducted previously. The aim of the interviews is to identify and strengthen resources and incentives of the population. Of course, measuring the usefulness of the services introduced is also an important aspect of the current phase of the project, and the questions will therefore also cover this topic.

Were there any results that surprised the researches?

There were a number of results that surprised even us social scientists who have seen a lot. The most interesting ones were those that came from the the information that we collected from the set of data called the Confidence Index. The data from the first survey revealed low levels of trust towards those outside the neighbourhood: those surveyed indicated that they trusted mainly their immediate family members and friends only; findings, incidentally, which are similar to those of Hungarian society at large. However, the mid-term survey showed a shift in this trend, especially in Bábonyibérc. Here, we saw an increase in the level of trust of the local residents vis-à-vis social workers and coaches working in the field, which is definitely a positive development.

What is the overall picture, what has the survey revealed? Were there any new findings?

Overall, we can say that neither of the neighbourhoods can be considered as so-called “depression zones”. This is a noteworthy finding. Indeed, this means that with conscious action and continuous monitoring, the zones at risk of falling into “depression” can be put on the right path. This proved easier in Tetemvár, which benefits from a naturally favourable geographical location near the city centre. But good community integration in Bábonyibérc also presented a promising development for the neighbourhood. Indeed, both communities showed themselves to be gradually opening and adaptating to the ‘outside world’. 

Could the findings of the study be used elsewhere?

We have developed a “well-being indicator” that can be used in any city or neighbourhood as a basis for metrics that would help people in the area. Our well-being indicator measures a person’s objective and subjective well-being across six areas: health, economic situation, education, social relations, security and overall well-being. We look at data such as access to health care, employment status, satisfaction in relationships, personal security, motivations and goals. The indicators are weighted and individual well-being is then quantified. From the figures obtained we can then identify the needs of the neighbourhood, and therefore establish priorities as regards the services to provide. We believe that this indicator will be of great help to city administrations, municipalities and social institutions when planning targeted assistance, especially when a rapid reaction is needed.

What sort of challenges or unexpected difficulties did you encounter during your research?

There are difficulties with any project. In this one, for example, the pre-established register showed a total of 428 houses in the two areas. During the fieldwork, however, it became clear that many of the houses from the register, 105 to be precise, did not exist. Also, we found that the residents’ initial willingness to partake in the pilot was lower than expected. But as noted above, this reluctance to participate gradually subsided.

Have there been any similar such studies?

There have been several studies on the issue of deprived neighbourhoods and urban slums. This study and the project itself are unique in that they approach the two neighbhourhoods in a complex manner and seek immediate practical outputs.

How timely are your findings? Is there a risk that the data could become obsolete?

The two neighbourhoods are undergoing constant change. Based on our results no major changes are to expected in terms of trends, but some of the data are of course time-sensitive. Nonetheless, I believe that the theoretical and methodological frameworks that we have developed will remain valid over time.