Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

National League of Cities: Congress of Cities

Yesterday I spoke at the National League of Cities Congress of Cities, a conference in which expected attendance was 7,000 -- my workshop had somewhere upwards of 150, with some standing-room-only in the back, which meant the vast majority of people at the conference missed a great conversation on citizen engagement in performance measurement. With a topic that exciting, it's hard to believe not everyone woke up early on Friday morning to catch the session. ;^} (I suspect Thomas L. Friedman had more people at his session later in the day, but that's probably strictly due to the time of day, right?)

The title of the workshop session was Opening Doors: Engaging Residents in Outcome-Based Governance, and it was in the track of Building Economically and Fiscally Fit Cities. I'm not sure that was the best description of the session -- performance measures are important for efficiency in government, and citizen input can create greater congruence between what-is-done and what-is-expected, but it was still an odd umbrella/framework to operate under. Chris Hoene, of the National League of Cities, introduced the panelists and moderator and got us underway. Mike Kasperzak, former mayor of Mountain View, California, moderated (and did a good job.) Joining me on the panel were Jay Fountain, recently retired from GASB and an expert on Service Efforts and Accomplishments Reporting, and Karl Knapp, Director, Research and Policy Analysis for the North Carolina League of Municipalities. I was wearing three hats: the specific experience in community indicators and working with local government reporting from Jacksonville Community Council Inc., the broader network of the Community Indicators Consortium and their work to bridge performance measurement and community indicators, and the targeted successes of applying indicators to community improvement represented in the members of the National Association of Planning Councils.

Jay began by describing the Legislating for Results series of action guides developed in partnership with the National League of Cities. Including in these action briefs, all available for download, are why measurement tools are necessary, how to get good quality data, how to work with citizens and the media, and how to use the information for more effective governance.

I spoke next, and offered three points for consideration:

  1. Measuring outcomes matters.
  2. Engaging residents enhances community governance.
  3. The process is more important than the data.

Karl then provided an overview of the Citizen-informed performance measurement (CIPM) work that they had been piloting. CIPM is a management tool that incorporates solicited feedback from citizens into the design of performance measures -- you can view a PowerPoint on CIPM here.

With those brief introductory remarks, we then engaged in a conversation among ourselves, with the moderator, and with the audience about the role of citizens/residents in performance measurement. Key topics were how to get started -- inside-out (government initiated, followed by citizen outreach) and outside-in (community-initiated, with government as partner) models were debated. I suggested that the outside-in approach allowed for stability in performance measures that transcend administration turnover, and that an obstacle that government has to deal with is the lack of trust the community has in the government's ability to report truthfully about itself. Another advantage of community-involved reporting is the recognition that problems are not solely the responsibility of government, nor can they be solved with only government intervention -- community partnerships in solutions are essential, and engagin the community in defining what's important and what success looks like at the front end helps build those partnerships for collaborative problem-solving and solutions.

The time flew by, and we didn't cover all of what we had hoped to discuss. I'm going to muse on the subject further and write a longer article on resident involvement in performance measurement, and I'll link to it here when I'm done. In the meantime, Karl urged all governments to take a small step forward, at least, and have cross-department evaluation of performance measures -- people working in a separate area who can look at the performance measures and try to think like citizens and provide feedback that way.

I offer this quote from George Washington:

"Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. In one in which the measures of government receive their impressions so immediately from the sense of the community as in ours it is proportionably essential."

(And to those whom I promised to send a copy of my presentation, that should go out on Monday.)


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