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.

The Jacksonville Community Council (JCCI) understands indicators and community change, with more than 25 years of producing the annual Quality of Life Progress Report for Jacksonville and the Northeast Florida region, and two decades of helping other communities develop their own sustainable indicators projects. JCCI consultants give you the information you need to measure progress, identify priorities for action, and assess results.

I'd like to talk with you personally about how we can help. E-mail me at
ben@jcci.org, call (904) 396-3052, or visit CommunityWorks for more information. From San Antonio to Siberia, we're ready and willing to assist.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Rennes Conference, Day Two: Part Four

See the notes from Day One of the conference: part one, part two, part three, and part four; and Day Two of the conference, part one, part two, and part three.

The final session of the conference was a panel discussion, led by Yves Franchet, president of PEKEA. Overall, this was an excellent conference -- thought-provoking, inspiring, challenging. The global network around community indicators is strengthening substantially -- much had changed since I was in Rennes for the 2006 PEKEA conference. I'll share more of my thoughts as I reflect on what has happened.

Your thoughts and impressions of the conference are also welcome. I will also be posting the link to the conference web page at PEKEA as soon as they get the presentations and papers available online.

Update: Notes on the presentations added. Second update: The audience questions and the panel responses have been added.

Yves Franchet, president of PEKEA, moderated the discussion. Panelists were Ben Warner, JCCI/CIC; Mike Salvaris, professor from Melbourne, Australia; Gilda Farrell, Council of Europe; Michel Renault, Director of the ISBET-PEKEA project; Enrico Giovannini, OECD; and Alain Yvegniaux, Regional Council of Bretagne. We each had the same three questions to address:

  • How can we promote the analysis of societal progress at the local level?
  • What three recommendations can you offer to build together local indicators of societal progress?
  • How can we improve cooperation between the social actors and institutions working on this topic?

We had five minutes each to cover all three questions. Gilda Farrell went first:
I think we need to consider making a place for the development of non-institutional public policy; that is, public policy developed outside of the traditional institutions. We need to work with citizens, in such a way that all who participate take off their stakeholder hats and interact as citizens, thinking about the common good. We need to drop the hat of political partisanship and political specificities in order to reach consensus for action. We need to convince the people it's that important that we do so.

We need to ask open questions about what progress is all about. We don't need to ask closed questions that forbid our citizenry to express themselves clearly and freely. We need to encourage interaction between people from different horizons. We need to encourage exchanges so that we begin to see the issues differently, from multiple perspectives.

Question 3 is more difficult. Let me suggest thinking in terms of basic human rights, including rights to recognition, second opportunities, the right to take risks, right to project one's own life, right to expression, to be creative, to be respected, to live in human and humane cities, right to not be stressed, to manage one's own time, to not feel guilty because poor people live near you. Partnerships take time. We need to dare to co-construct public policies. We also need to make sure that we have the international level in mind; we need progress here that doesn't create problems in other places.

Ben (me) went next. We have heard the sayings, “You treasure what you measure.” “What gets measured, gets done.” There is power in creating indicators, the power of turning values into measures and shaping both the community agenda and creating accountability for action. In my community, we are careful in the words we use. Too often words acquire political meanings, are embraced or attacked for political reasons, and we lose the ability to create a community consensus for action if we are only re-opening the same arguments in which everyone has already chosen a side. Instead we talk about the overall quality of life, of building a better community. No one is against a better community. But as we talk about a better community, embedded in that conversation are notions of sustainability, of social progress. And all this is part of a larger picture, interwoven with questions of economic growth and civic accomplishment.

You build local indicators first by listening. In our community, we serve as the neutral convener, the safe place for open conversation about what's important. We do not convene people to tell people they need to follow our agenda – we don't have an agenda, except that we believe in the power of letting the people decide for themselves what is important to them and how they can achieve that future together. As you listen to the people, ask yourselves, who's not here? What voices are missing? What is not being heard? Then find a way to bring them into the conversation. The dialogue is not about just what college-educated experts think is important for a community; it must be open to everyone.

In a conference in Toronto, a woman from Pakistan challenged us to think differently. Not to have one person try to represent all people of the same gender, the same race or ethnicity, the same national origin. She said too often we draw lines – poverty lines, housing assistance qualification lines, etc. -- and that above that line one is a full citizen, but below that line one is marginalized into being only one's ethnicity. And these people are not the ones who draw the lines. Indicators projects are not about numbers. They're not about statistics. They're about people, and social change. Allow their voice.

How do you improve cooperation? By bringing everyone in at the beginning, by making the indicators project everyone's project. By being a trusted information source, agenda-free, where all the community look on the indicators as a community resource they can use in planning and policy-setting and decision-making across multiple community institutions. It is a shared understanding of the problem, rather than a prescription for a single solution. The policies come later; first we need to reach consensus on what the problems are. Publish the indicators annually so that they become part of the decision-making cycles of your institutions.

Alain Yvegniaux spoke next. The best way to promote societal progress is to use the opportunity to convince civil society we are in a multi-shaped shifting crisis. We are going through an exceptional series in time. We need to seize this opportunity. Think of the future generations.
Any indicator project needs to begin with a vision, at a minimum. We need to know what we want to quantify.

Participatory democracy looks different at different levels. You can't have the same level of participation on a regional level that you have at a neighborhood level. As you design the process of civic involvement, think about the constraints on participation created by the geographic scale of the process.

Indicators are useful for comparisons, but that's not just why we need them. Indicators are useful for evolving and improving the quality of public services and the quality of life. Indicators must be very open and lead to progress. In our experience, it took a longtime to understand that the indicators weren't just about sanctions and rewards, but was about creating change, and to do that the change had to be measured.

Mike Salvaris went next. The questions describe the three levels of creating an indicators project: understanding, construction, and implementation. Analysis should lead to action. We have to start by building in a reason to be involved. The indicators might be constructed around a common project – in Australia, the community planning process is enough of an incentive to get people involved in helping create the indicators. In other places, such as some places in Brazil, citizens are involved in creating the local budget. Or it might just be the belief that they will be taken seriously. In any case, they need to feel a reason to participate. Create the conditions for involvement. Involve the media. It may require education or capacity building. But citizens need a motive and a reason not to feel rejected.

We might take some thought about creating the common ground between actors. We need to develop a common language and common assumptions among all the people we ask to participate. In Australia, we have created a network across the state among our local indicators projects, and have linked to the national statistical systems who provide support for our local efforts.

Enrico Giovannini said hat we're not really interested in statistics per se. We don't develop these projects based on indicators. Indicators are a basic ingredient in a larger system that makes the system more effective. We need to begin with a theory of change, a model for change. Then we need a narrative, a story that captures the attention. We need to show the impacts of the project. We can't preach accountability without ourselves being accountable for the results of out efforts. And if we are about long-term sustainable change, we shouldn't rush into something. Take your time. Think a lot. Engage people. Look at the risks and the challenges. Then act.

This conference shows that we have a large and growing community of practice. There is a process going on. This opens a conversation that will continue through until Korea in 2009. Later next month we will continue the conversation in Strasbourg. Next year we will have a draft guide waiting for your inputs. We will continue the conversation at the CIC conference in the United States. We have 12-15 other events scheduled between now and Korea to engage people in this conversation. This is not enough.

We need to do more to build the community of practice. We are creating a WikiProgress where we can share both data and text. We are running training courses around the word. We are working on ways to visualize statistics and indicators. We will even be creating a FaceBook page to link people together. We need to connect together in this work.


Then we turned the time over to questions from the audience. I'm not sure I mentioned this before, but the structure of these panel discussions has been to hear a presentation from each member of the panel, then ask the audience for any questions or comments that they might have. After getting all the questions in, then each panel member is given a couple of minutes as both wrap-up and an opportunity to respond to any of the questions that had been asked. From a process point of view, the exchange was interesting.

So here were the questions:
Are local indicators enough to replace the GDP? And if not, how can we use local indicators to help move us towards a new global consensus on what we should be measuring?

We need to be pragmatic – it's just not possible to reach consensus on everything. But there's not just one way to understand general interest. We all where costumes of justification, masks if you will. We have a plurality of values. It is impossible not to have a clear opposition that will keep a consensus from being reached. We will have to create compromises instead. The compromise has to be managed politically, but not by politics. But that's why we need politics and a representative democracy, because participative democracy won't really work.

We need both a participative democracy and a representative democracy, but we alos need to reach a consensus. We're full of contradictions.

Consensus is but one way to approach the issue and to name the process. I think what we need can better be described as an inclusive synthesis, where we include all opinions and arrive at something built from the inputs of all the participants.

Civil society is part of the debate already. The dialogue between representative democracy and participative democracy is a healthy one and is underway. We can achieve what we want if we provide the space for conversation – that's what I liked about M. Warner's approach, a place where people can talk together on the same footing.

We need to start from a model of change and have a story to tell. But we need to recognize that we are coming from different countries with different situations, different ways of communicating with each other and different expectations on citizen participation. Now we're trying to work at a global level. I like the idea of talking with neutral words. The environmental crisis helps us think about the discrepancies in ou society.

Maybe we should start working on ethics and how we should live together. We need to trust local citizens – belive in them. They have solutions.

We are used to democracy based on compromise but nw we are moving to synthesis.

Panel members responded. Here are a couple of highlights from their responses:

Yes, we are going through an environmental and a financial crisis. But remember that the crisis of 1929 led to the New Deal in America – and the rise of Nazi Fascism in Europe. People respond differently to crisis.

We have a silent form of violence in society. Giving citizens a voice addresses the real conflicts – we need to quit silencing the people.

Instead of talking about the quality of life, perhaps we should be talking about he quality of living together.

Community indicators are, at their heart, accessible democracy.

Consensus building is the pragmatic approach. It's not theoretical. Jacksonville, Florida has been bringing people together to build consensus around hard topics for over 30 years. Te example of the consensus built in Jacksonville on race relations, where white supremacists and black activists could find a shared understanding of the issues facing the community, was a remarkable moment that suggests anything is possible.

With that, the session (and the conference) was concluded. Special thanks to the translators – sometimes hearing something I said in English that was translated into French and then responded to with a question asked in French and translated back to English was like the old telephone game – did I really say that? And the discussions were highly technical and specific, and a great deal of conversation revolved around the meaning of specific words. I was quite impressed with the ability of the translators, who appeared to be Rennes University students, to keep up.

If you were at the conference, what are your thoughts? It's easy to respond to this message by clicking below. If you did not attend, what are your reactions to the conversation? The transitions between the technical aspects and the philosophy of participative democracy were rapid and often unanticipated, but it kept the conversation rich on two separate levels – what we are doing and why we are doing it; the role of the expert and the role of the citizen; numbers and people. All in all, an exceptional conference, and I applaud PEKEA for putting it on.

Read more ...

Rennes Conference, Day Two: Part Three

See the notes from Day One of the conference: part one, part two, part three, and part four; and Day Two of the conference, part one and part two.

After lunch we had the opportunities to attend different workshops. I had planned to attend the workshop on the preparation of contributions for the Community Indicators handbook, but ended up sidetracked into a different workshop. I'll have to convey my suggestions for the Handbook in other ways.

The workshop title is: territorial specificities, territorialization and indicators. Again, there is no translation service for the workshop, so I'll have to stumble along with my notes. I have an increasingly-well-thumbed French dictionary by my side. I think I was halfway through a session when I realized that “croissance” were not flaky, buttery pastries but instead this referred to growth, as in economic growth. That cleared up quite a bit of confusion!

Elisabeth Hoffman (Research of Gender in Action, University of Bordeaux) spoke on “Empowerment indicators as societal progress in a North/South perspective.” Empowerment: How do you translate the term? (For me, this is an easy one, because it is an English term and I don't need to translate it. But the term is giving them some problems in French. Apparently there's not an easy translation – Elisabeth Hoffman tries the Spanish equivalent to see if it helps convey meaning.)

This is a popular concept in cooperation with development of NGO's and other international actors. Empowerment has a central places in the approaches and developments in the study of gender.

Empowerment is a question of gender. It expresses the importance of taking into consideration:

  • The social relationships between men and women
  • The symbolic structure of society
  • Social institutions

It makes reference to the different approaches to power and the notion of consciousness.
Empowerment is anchored in a global approach. There are four ways to understand/approach a discussion of power (pouvoir):

  • pouvoir sur,
  • puvoir de,
  • pouvoir interieur, and
  • pouvoir avec

Pouvoir sur – power over – power in the context of the relationships of domination, subordination
Pouvoir de -- power of – with this power we have the understanding and the capacity to make decisions
Pouvoir interieur -- inner power -- self-image, self-esteem
Pouvoir avec -- power with -- social and political power, found in the notion of solidarity, organizational capacity, negotiation, and defending a common object.

Power has both an individual dimension – including relationships with individuals, and a political dimension – relationship with the other. Indicators of empowerment measure the empowerment of a vulnerable group in the context of local needs and measure the complex, multidimensional process.

Internal Learning System is a participative impact evaluation system, developed by Helzi Noponen with the support of the Ford Foundation. Used by several groups with the IMF(?) the process includes responding to the apprenticeship needs of program participants, community groups and the operating team in the field. (For more information about the ILS, you can follow this link I found from an address by Helzi Noponen.)

ILS is based on the “journaux de bord” (diary or journal, but I don't understand “bord”) which is illustrated and adapts to all ages, to conditions of poverty and illiteracy and to longitudinal processes of change and development. The journals and manuals are used as an integral part of processes and not just occasionally or uniquely used.

For the bias of images or of representative scenes of impact indicators, poor women and illiterates can note the changes over time. It makes a simple cross to show quantity, it allows for yes/no answers. The system is conducted in a way that has the participating women accomplishing the tasks themselves. The program can compare the results of older members with newer members, or analyze the individual trends of members.

This is a flexible tool in its structure, processes, and manner of administration. In these elements are ways to identify the needs of the apprentices in the program, the human resource capacity. Experiences with ILS show that what is important is creating a self act of empowerment, augmenting the poor women's capacity to understand their own situation. For many of the women, this is their first approach to the written language. Using the journals creates a catalyzing effect, with the participants gaining confidence and the motivation to change their situation.

The system of apprenticeship is another consistent device, not a deviation from the central elements of the project. The system is a tool of empowerment for those in poverty, those who are illiterate. The analysis of the results by NGOs including Activists for Social Alternatives shows that it is difficult to determine which measure the changes come from the ILS program or the microlending program of ASA. PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action) -- the concept of the ILS journals is founded on the two themes central to culture. (I wish I had caught what those two themes were!)

All types of power are reinforced by this grasp of consciousness of the individuals and the groups concerned with the life situations and the life course improvements. ILS is an interesting example of attempts to measure social progress in terms of empowerment of vulnerable groups, which are complex processes. The active implication of the beneficiaries of this measure are an effect of consciousness-raising that is a central element of the process of empowerment.

Sustainable Development in the Mid-Pyrenees: 46 indicators, a presentation by Isabelle Panier, came next. This is a discussion of the French Institute for the Environment indicators and their adaptation the mid-Pyrenees region from a national to a regional approach. (Side note: I'm now understanding about half of the nouns and none of the verbs, which makes the presentation quite interesting as I try to decode what's happening and I realize I could have it exactly backwards. Sorry about that in advance.)

A previous work, 45 indicators of sustainable development: a contribution to Ifen came out in 2003. A conceptual structure in 5 axes and 10 modules founded on the principles of sustainable development.
Axis 1: Aim towards sustainable growth
Axis 2: Preserve the patrimony and critical resources
Axis 3: Watch for the spatial dimension and the global perspectives
Axis 4: Satisfy the needs and present generations
Axis 5: Take into account the long term for future generations

She gave examples of some of the modules under each of these axes, such as measure the sustainable use of resources or the relationship of the region to the rest of the world. Under each module title were specific measurement ideas, such as “the regional contribution to the energy independence of France” or the relationship between CO2 emissions and GDP in order to approach ecologically-efficient growth.

The report included the structural bases, the pertinence/justification of the indicators being reported, and then the regional adaptations (including regional sources, adjustments made because of different essential facets of the region, and redefinition of some of the indicators.)
She showed a series of graphs, ranging from standard trend lines to mapping and heat-map visualizations, and showed the links between residential sprawl, energy use, individual transportation, and the effect on density of residential living patterns. A strong message: the spreading out of residential development patterns and the development of individual transport are influenced by a collection of indicators.

The information system remains to be finished:
the encore balbutiant (stuttering? Stammer?) on the measure of stocks
Qualitative indicators of governance remain to be constructed
relative indicators that measure citizen satisfaction are presently imperfect
The indicators needed an adaptation of methodologies
The grouping together of certain indicators remains extremely complex
The question of well-being and social progress has only been partially explored. Currently, the elements that include social themes are those of health, housing, and education and child development. Complimentary elements include natural and cultural resources, demography, GDP per capita, employment, and unemployment. There may be more of an application with other environmental indicators.

In way of conclusion:
This is a first exercise with more to do to finish. It integrates multi-dimensionality of sustainable development with sense. It does not impose thought of the composites. This is a pragmatic approach to avoid the zones of obscurity. It is also a complimentary approach with that of Agenda 21.

Saamah Abdallah, from the New Economic Foundation, will now speak of the Caerphily Sustainability Index – I hope he's speaking in English! His focus is on measuring sustainable development at the local level.

“There is no truth” has been said, but we say we do have the truth. Our approach comes not from the bottom up but from an academic level, where we developed a global framework which we then adapted to a local level. Our aims may be different, but we both want to change what is being measured at the top level. Our motto is measurement as if people and the planet mattered.

What is sustainable development? What is well-being?
The Happy Planet Index
Caerphiliy is a small town in Wales

Sustainability meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Living within environmental limits and also promoting personal well-being.

Been using a framework that's the same as that Giulia presented yesterday, just turned around. The human well-being also represents the needs of the present, while ecosystem well-being also represents the needs of the future. Water quality is important not because it is an end in itself, but because we need it in the future to survive – anthropocentric model.

We focus on human well-being and resource demand (this is the footprint). We can all agree on human well-being and our ecological footprint. Well-being means, to us, satisfaction of physical and psychological needs – the experience of the quality of life. High education is not well-being, but experiencing high education is well-being. We think of the hierarchy of needs: relatedness, autonomy, competence.

Well-being is fundamentally subjective. We can measure objective things which are important to well-being, but well-being itself is internal, it's a human experience. Experience of life (happiness, satisfaction, interest) is shaped by functioning well and satisfaction of needs, which in turn is shaped by enabling conditions and psychological resources. People in the same housing, etc. may have different reactions due to psychological resources. This is a dynamic interaction – how you function will change your conditions, and positive life experiences enhance psychological resources.

This model was just launched a week ago. Foresight Mental Capital and Well-Being Project.
Happy Planet Index launched in 2006. “Ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered.” Life satisfaction X life expectancy = happy life years + carbon footprint. There are a lot of problems with these indicators but we're trying to make this as simple as possible.
We wanted to combine them in a single number, so we divide happy life years per carbon footprint. This is a media tool – the aim is advocacy. This also captured (unintentionally!) the attention of politicians.

Caerphilly: “Living better, using less.”
3 objectives; promote longer healthier lives, promote fulfilled and satisfied lives, consume less resources. We're only working on the headline indicators – they're working on the other supporting indicators with greater detail.

We unpacked the “life satisfaction” -- in January we're releasing “National Accounts of Subjective Well-Being” to show life satisfaction doesn't capture everything and we need more understanding.

Running out of time, so we're looking at well-being from a different perspective: looking at different levels of indicators (universal level, domain level, targeted level). Still developing this framework.

Aim of centre for well-being: Enhance individual and collective well-being in ways that are environmentally sustainable and socially just. Inspired by three principles: ecological sustainability, social justice, and people's well-being. nef is an independent UK think tan founded in 1986. http://www.neweconomics.org/

Read more ...

Rennes Conference, Day Two: Part Two

See the notes from Day One of the conference: part one, part two, part three, and part four; and Day Two of the conference, part one.

Day Two Session Two
This session was entitled, “The Structure of Local Indicators.” Alain Yvergniaux, of the regional Council of Bretagne and of PEKEA, moderated the discussion.

Pierre Jean Lorens, from the Regional Council of Nord-Pas de Calais, began. Indicators have a threefold dimension: they deal with complex phenomena, they are based in quantification, and to be used they require simplification. Indicators are complex in themselves. The question of which indicators to use is anything but a scientific or technical question – it is a societal and a political choice.

The concept of indicators is useful if we want to challenge the notions of wealth and progress. Pyramid: The sustainable human development synthetic indicator; the bottom is 100 indicators of regional development. In the middle are sustainable regional indicators, then Lisbon-Gotebor indicators.

Why new indicators of development? GDP is being criticized based on what it tries to define and what it represents. But very often we don't talk about the uses of the GDP, especially as regards the comparisons we can do between regions and nations. This GDP comparison determines the distribution of financing by the nation, by the European Union. In this regard the need to work on new indicators to compare and to distribute public financing. This is why the Nord-Pas de Calais region began its work in indicators.

The regional efforts for local land planning works on 10-year timeframes, and the design phase of the program needs indicators and came much faster than we had planned in designing the vision for regional land planning. The indicators came upstream, not at the end. Second main origin: regional Agenda 21. The third point: a study taken to mainstream the work of all observing agencies. We worked to create the pyramid.

Gregory Marlier, also of the regional Council of Nord-Pas de Calais, took over to address the technical questions in developing the indicator set. The first indicator was the ecological footprint, measuring the relationship between resource consumption and land use. We would need 8 territories to meet the consumption use patterns of our region. We worked with the Wallonie region and others in developing other indicators/indexes on well-being. The second indicator was a modification of the Human Development Index. It includes life expectancy at birth, percent of the adult population with diplomas, and something else (I think it was personal income, but the slide flashed too quickly for me to capture it.) A third indicator was the participation of women in political and economic life.

A fourth indicator was named the BIP40 (French pun, as BIP=GDP, but in this case stands for Barometer of Inequalities and Poverty.) This barometer includes 6 dimensions: Education, Justice, Housing, Health, Income, and Employment. The intent is to get a multidimensional vision of poverty and inequities. We reduced the barometer to assess the poverty situation; again Nord-Pas de Calais is lagging behind the national average.

Objectives of the initiative were to interpret the different results and examine the way we measured all the elements. Soon there will be a published report on the BIP40 and it will be enriched by the participation of all the working groups.

Indicator of Social Health is another synthetic indicator that looks at the positive side not negative side. No correlation between GDP per capita and social health. 5 types of information at the top of the pyramid. This allows us to see how much our region is lagging behind and gives us opportunities to influence public policy.

Pierre Jean Lorens finished the presentation. We tried to take these indicators to regionalize them to get scientifically/technically/politically useful indicators, but don't know what the citizens think. Want to launch 2009 citizen conference to assess the work we've done with the citizens. We'll keep you posted because I think these instruments are interesting at a regional level.

Uses: allow us to measure the progress to more humanist sustainable development
awareness and facilitate public debate
fuels the debate – good encouragement

However, at different levels they also can be used to monitor and to pilot public policies. The notion of the ecological footprint is criticized a lot but it helps plan public transportation schemes. They aren't the only information in the debates, but they are useful. The indicators we are talking about have been taken up by the European Union and the Regional Council of the Nord- Pas de Calais region. We don't purport to be a model, but we have reached a certain level of truthfulness and usefulness in our program.

Boutard: Localized synthetic indicators experiments: retrospects and prospects
Indicators need to intervene at the beginning of the process to influence the process, not at the end. Aggregated indicators – I am an environmentalist by training, so why am I interested in social and economic indicators? Because they have strong/robust linkages. Look at GDP v. ecological footprint. No country manages to be both sustainable and economically developed.
Normative standardization and temporal standardization. Means giving a common scale to heterogeneous data. Even red-green code have to give a value to what is green and what is red.
Looked at values and compared territories. Based the values (between 0 and 1) based on observed differences between territories. Temporal standardization looks over time to develop standardization.

Tried to give a territorial dimension to international indicators. So then we looked at adapting international measures to meet the needs of the local realities.

Human development index. Three dimensions: health, education, living standards. Health measured by life expectancy at birth, education by adult literacy rates and rate of schooling, etc.
Once standardized, then it needs to be weighted. Look at upper and lower limits, divide out the differences and get a value. Computing HDI at local levels proves to be difficult. Sometimes the indicator loses its usefulness at a local level.

For local level work, modified the indicators and changed the limits to match local levles. Gives us finer mapping opportunities. Mapped down to neighborhood level. Does not allow annual updates because we depended on data that are not updated annually.

This work in France on comparative standardization leaves us asking, how do we assign technical legitimacy to the aggregated indicators we design? Now we need a wider population debate in a democratic fashion. What we heard this morning from the US is very promising. The way forward is to have a more democratic response to that.

Upper limits and lower limits led to a number of local debates especially among politicians. Now to friends from Belgium. Michel Laffut and Christyne Ruyters. Reducing presentation to spend more time talking about the issues raised yesterday and this morning. Today we want to introduce an effort we've been working on for the last two years in the Wallonie region. Plan for social cohesion tries to bring together all the tools e know about, brought together in a process. Constructing the indicators happened within a political and institutional context. Since the mid-1990s there's been a real effort to create indicators of poverty. We've been trying to move the debate from poverty to improving social cohesion.

Regional level, increasingly we see the implementation of schemes that promote both partnership and tie into the new process and idea of social cohesion.

The decree is to guarantee to all the access to fundamental human rights. Work on social, employment integration, health, access to housing, intergenerational links. For decree, first step was to create a synthetic indicator regarding access to fundamental rights. It was a good starting point and allowed us to create a financing ranking. Purpose of decree to promote networking and working in partnerships.

How should we measure social cohesion and social well-being?
Synthetic indicator for access to fundamental rights
Diagnosis of situation in cities compared to the region
Evaluate the results and assess impacts of these initiatives.

Michel, not much time so I'll be quick. Problems of indicators are three-fold: Defining it, measuring it, using it. Trusted the word of the experts in defining it. 6 fundamental rights in constitution, added 7 concerning the disadvantaged population. Created a certain number of indicators, 24 variables and then standardized the indicators, then created a family indicator, then aggregated to one synthetic indicator. Statistical validation tests to see if data we had was consistent with final indicator. The purpose of the synthetic indicator was not to compare cities, even though it had a ranking element. It was not to compare performances; we just wanted to understand the geographical nature of the problem.

When dealing with public policy, you have to deal with all the issues at hand. You can't ignore 5-10 percent of the population. You see minority populations and issues not dealt with in the general statistics/indicators/population.

Christine again. Tool gives diagnosis and influences policy and the goal is to create a different mode of measurement than we had available. In assessing results, we want to link it to the Council of Europe and apply the Council of Europe methodology on 20 cities and then extend it to the whole Wallonie territory so we can analyze social cohesion and redefine action plans as appropriate, and second axis to share what we have learned through implementation of this framework.

Q&A

Belgium: very much interested in how you do things going from fundamental human rights to access is a unique approach. Legal experts usually aren't used to measuring the access to rights. How did you do it? How did you translate legal categories into indicators? This extends the field, extends the debate.

Localized approach to social progress using the United Nations approach. Did you use gender-specific data? Doesn't measure the element of gender discrimination without measuring gender-specific data.

Yesterday had workshop with not very many attendees. If create a workshop on something very specific. I lament the fact that all the work that has been carried out on gender-specific notions were not really dealt with because when you are building gender-specific indicators, if you blindly trust the indicators without wondering if they have political motivation, and not check the relevance of your indicators on a regular basis, you reach dead ends. For example, the school system lacks the political will to address these issues. Invisible work. Also helps the dominated population understand what their situation really is, they need to be aware that they are being dominated.

The HDI and HDI2 say different things about my region, and I challenge the meaning of the indicators because they don't capture very high or very low income people. The development of alternative indicators creates asymptotic development of social data, and there is a social development which is important which is dependent on growth and how healthy that growth is. This is a debate about the meaning of indicators, we're stuck in theories about growth and social data and we need to shed light on this to move forward.

Eight territories to meet “needs” -- not needs, meet consumption mode. US = 4-5 planets, Nord – Pas du Calais = 8 territories, seems worse – why?

Presentations raised political and technical questions, which was interesting. UNDP defined equality as women just like men with lower income – just giving them more income doesn't include the amount of nonpaid work and roles women play, and this needs to be taken into account. Plus we need to look at freedom and liberty, like in domestic violence which is quite high even in a country like ours, which needs to be considered if we really want to talk about equality and freedom. Freedom also includes access to the pill and access to abortion. This could be measured and mapped and included in our composite indicators.

One comment leading to a question: about how we build things together. Build indicators to fuel public debate which is bottom-up. Started in Belgium like in France – top down before going bottom-up, doesn't this create a framework which is very difficult to escape.

If democratic participation in building of indicators is so important, how can we encourage this culture of participation at a very young age? Is this something that we encourage? How do we teach young children to take an active role in a democracy? Shouldn't we define an indicator for that?

Question on social segregation indicators. Territorial segregation, take the 20 districts around Paris, the difference between the rich ghetto and the poor ghetto in the 18th district gets obscured. We have an issue with the availability of very fine data. We are prevented from using some data which makes us unable to address inequity at fine levels.

Why do you talk about how bad GDP is and how it doesn't correlate with social progress and then use monetary indicators in your composite indicators?

We haven't been talking about accountability. Without accountability, which is a political question, we can meet hundreds of times and talk about the same things.

Participants – respond to the questions?
These are questions we ask ourselves. It would be very ambitious to answer these questions in five minutes. When we go back to our cities and municipalities and talk with public officials who want to define progress, things start looking different. First we need to identify the link the between the objectives, the operational objectives, and public policy, and give the public officials the tools that they need. This is the context in which we must operate. If we keep waiting for the mythical perfect indicator we'll never make any progress. I'd rather be pragmatic.

One comment about indicators: whether we use indicators with a proven building methodology, or whether you design totally new indicators, they are always argued and discussed. That's the nature of indicators. In Belgium, we had a debate, but a debate between experts, of course. Not democratic participation. Let's be more concrete. Indicators are often asked for for a very specific use. In our case, people in government asked for a specific use – needed allocation of resources in a more transparent fashion. This was a step forward. We were taken on board and we were asked to build the indicator. The price to pay is that this was a very constrained context. The good thing is that we had the opportunity to introduce fundamental human rights and the important indicator of the null vote (voting is mandatory in Belgium, and the null vote measure wasn't being used.) There's no such thing as a GDP at a municipal level, which is another opportunity. Also, by introducing participation and deliberation, we can help municipalities develop data.

I'm concerned because I'm a zealot of participation and I want to include it in my work. I have learned patience. At a regional level, you don't work with participation, it's not in the culture. Start with what is possible, and that will open doors for us, and together we will build strategy. If this is an opportunity to combine participation with traditional efforts, let's go with it.
Gender-specific indicators, where there is little difference in the HDI. In the BIP40, we looked at gender differences, and we wrote about the lack of gender-specific data in a number of areas.
Correlations between GDP and ecological footprint: we're still very much a materialistic western civilization. This afternoon there will be a workshop that will deal with the ecological footprint and an inquiry into this issue, and a happiness indicator, and a life expectancy indicator.
Thank you for your answers.

Read more ...

Rennes Conference, Day Two: Part One

See the notes from Day One of the conference: part one, part two, part three, and part four.

Good morning! The conference in Rennes opened today with my presentation. I've got my notes from this session that I need to type up and put here. In the meantime, I'm going to post the notes I do have available to share. [Update: Notes from my presentation are now available. Update: All notes now entered.]

So come back in a day or two to see what happened at this session. (Or post your own notes/comments in response to this session while you wait.)

My session was on "Les indicateurs communautaires aux États-Unis" (Community Indicators in the United States). I began by identifying three hats I was wearing at the conference: as Deputy Director of JCCI, a nonpartisan nonprofit think-and-action tank in Jacksonville, Florida; as a former president of the Community Indicators Consortium, a network of community practitioner organizations; and as the current president of the National Association of Planning Councils, a collection of social planning organizations in the United States that use social indicators to make community improvements.

JCCI has been publishing community quality-of-life indicator reports annually since 1985.



The local newspaper showed graphically the importance of what we do (click on picture to enlarge). They also wrote about the importance of our indicators work: "In some ways, the best news for Jacksonville is the [Quality of Life Progress] Report itself. The very premise of the report, and of JCCI, is the belief in Jacksonville as a community where the problems of some are the responsibility of everyone." This sense of community is at the core of our work, and of our model for community change.

Indicators are more than just numbers or interesting reports; they must be part of a theory of change, a model for community change, in order to be relevant and meaningful.

The use of indicators is not a new idea. Abraham Lincoln, former U.S. President, once said, "If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it …"

Community indicators projects exist across the United States. They measure indicators at one or more of several geographic levels:

  • neighborhoods,
  • cities or municipalities,
  • counties,
  • multi-county regions,
  • states,
  • and the nation.

From the experiences of these existing community indicator reports, we have learned a series of lessons about the importance of good indicator systems.

From California, we learn that indicators are part of a community's commitment to progress

In a time when our neighbors listen to elected officials or other established leaders and wonder who to believe, indicator reports serve as a civic-based tool to re-build this country’s social capital … our trust in each other, our willingness to find common vision and values, our engagement in collaborative civic work to solve problems that confront us. But most of all, they help to build a commitment to stewardship, to pass along to our children and grandchildren a country of many regions that are much improved over those left to us. Such commitment to progress is also a commitment to measure our progress … honestly and with open hearts and minds. This is the promise of the regional indicator movement in our state and our country.
-- Becky Morgan, Morgan Family Foundation

From Miami and South Florida, we see how indicators can be used to create a regional identity and forge connections.

From Sustainable Seattle, we learn that how we select the indicators is critical to success:

"The process of developing and selecting indicators is at least as important as publishing them. ... The process of debating the design of indicators shapes the players’ thinking about the policies. Agreement on indicators helps get agreement on policy." -Judith Innes

From Buffalo, New York, we see how indicators can build bridges across two countries, helping redefine community and support efforts to work together outside of political jurisdictions and boundaries.

From Pittsburcgh, Pennsylvania we see how the right indicators can be important tools in making good decisions and shaping public policy.

From St. Louis, Missouri, we learn how indicators are part of a policy-making process, open to community accountability and input:

"RegionWise is committed to reducing the gap between what we know and what we do. It seeks to be part of a continuous regional improvement process in which practice informs research, research informs public policy, and public policy informs practice. To this end, RegionWise builds bridges and facilitates interaction between service providers, policy makers, and researchers – to frame research questions and processes, interpret data, articulate its practical implications, identify indicators of progress, and champion change." --Richard Kurz, Chair

From Boston, Massachusetts, we can see how indicators can be used to take action, and how to scale indicators from the neighborhood to the multi-state regional level.

From Orlando, Florida, we learn how indicators can monitor community progress toward shared goals and priorities.

One final thought:

"Indicators a society chooses to report to itself about itself are surprisingly powerful. They reflect collective values and inform collective decisions. A nation that keeps a watchful eye on its salmon runs or the safety of its streets makes different choices than does a nation that is only paying attention to its GNP. The idea of citizens choosing their own indicators is something new under the sun – something intensely democratic. " -- Kent E. Portney

There are indicator systems in communities all across America. This is a sampling of what we can learn when we network together and learn from each other.

After my presentation, Enrico Giovannini commented that the concept of nested indicators – indicators that can be measured from the neighborhood level up to the national and multinational – is an ambitious goal. He urged the conference attendees to keep in mind the notion of a “model of change” as a context within which indicators should be developed, because indicators are only one ingredient in a larger process.

A question he wanted to have addressed later was that of the sustainability of the project – setting up an indicator project is one thing, but maintaining the project over a number of years is even more difficult. (I get asked this question everywhere – I'm interested to note that this is an international problem, not just a problem in the States. I'm going to suggest a session on this question for the next conference of the Community Indicators Consortium.)

The next presentation came from Brazil. Eufran do Amaral is the Secretary of State of the state of Acre in Brazil; he spoke in Portuguese, which was translated into French by Andre Abreu, which was then translated into English for my benefit by the translators. My notes will reflect my understanding of the presentation from both the Portuguese, which I still understand from my time in Brazil, and the English translation of the French. Andre Abreu represented the France Liberty Foundation, as did the third speaker on their project, Danielle Mitterand.

Mrs. Mitterand is the widow of François Mitterrand and the president of the foundation France Libertés Fondation Danielle Mitterrand. She looked (and sounded) remarkably vibrant for being 84 years old! Wikipedia (which has a nice picture of her) has a quote from her from the 2005 European Constitution referendum in France: "I denounce the power of the economy over people, a system that turns individuals into elements in an economic equation, does not respect the poor and excludes everyone that does not live up to the principle of profitability." I add all this in to show the respect the group had for her being there.

Mrs. Mitterand spoke first. We have made a choice to build a different world. We have a software presentation to show you – we will not use the term “PowerPoint,” so we will just call it a software presentation. France Liberty is about choosing a society that allows people human rights, and about taking responsibility for changing conditions. All of the experience we are having in working to create a better society is coming together. We could talk about Brazil, about Africa – the whole world is changing. We need to think about the limits of the system We need to use the new data and new indicators in our experiences around the world.

Andre Abreu added some background. This is a story of a small state in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, on the border with Peru. Acre wasn't part of Brazil until about 100 years ago, when they fought for that right. When Acre became part of Brazil, lots of people came in to harvest rubber. The indigenous people, and those who moved to Acre for economic opportunity, were at the mercy of large farmers, which mainly produce cattle, soy, and ethanol. Progress was defined in a traditional way of thinking – what has value is what can be sold. In the 1970s there was a new way of thinking that emerged, coming from the trade unions – we can stand up for our rights, we can live with the forest instead of cutting down the forest. The future of the Amazon is not, should not be, soy, cattle, or rubber.

This group achieved political power in the 1980s, and immediately started having trouble with farmers. Chic Mendes was murdered horribly in 1988. His death led to a feeling in the population that enough was enough. A new type of democracy started emerging. At Rio Branco, a new popular government was elected, called the Government of the Forest. They had a powerful message: The forest must be protected. We can harvest nuts (Brazil nuts) and rubber without destroying the forest. We must create a sustainable economy. The Popular Front government has been working for 10 years with left-wing forces, but they have installed democracy in the region. They have changed the social dynamics. They have created community councils and councils of citizens. However, the data and indicators are still very bad.

Acre has the worst human indicators in the region, and as a result are stigmatized by financial institutions, and by the IMF. Together we asked, why is there no development, no evidence of progress in Acre? Why are the indicators so poor? Acre started designing economic zoning and mapping to understand the state and from this mapping realized they needed new indicators to measure well-being and progress. The local economy was based largely on an informal economy, and monetary income was very low and had a much smaller role in the local economy, so why were we measuring progress only according to monetary income?

In 2006 Acre met with France Liberty to discuss alternatives, and we designed a new system. We set up an international working group to identify measures of well-being for the population of the Amazon region. We wanted to measure sustainable well-being. Too often we talk about poverty being the problem, and the solution is that poor people have to become rich and consume more – this is the traditional vision that we have, and this model is happening all over Latin America, and the costs of raw materials and food are skyrocketing, and this is continuing to increase power to these large landowners. They benefit from this policy, and as the price for raw goods increases, they expand further into the Amazon rainforest.

This is a crucial moment for the region. For the future of the forest, these initiatives are key. We are working on this project through 2010; the neighboring states of Mato Grosso and Rondonia are prosperous, and income per capita has risen quite a bit, but in the process they have created a “green desert” with monocultures of soy as far as the eye can see, with significant impacts on water resources. People are forced from their land and give up their subsistence farming to work the farms of the large landowners, working in unacceptable working conditions. We need to measure the negative impacts on the environment. We cannot accept this as a model for progress. But this is what happens when the only indicator you use is income per capita.

Eufran do Amaral continued the presentation. We have been through 100 years of struggle, and the last 10 years have been fighting to save our forest. Until the 1980s the Amazon was under a basic development model, which meant cutting down the forest to create these farms. We asked, what do we mean by the term, Quality of Life? This is the sum of the economic, environmental, scientific-cultural, and political. We have to start locally, with the local community. We could destroy our future in order to increase GDP and create permanent losses for future generations. None of the destruction shows up in the measure of GDP. Income could increase if we destroyed our forest, but it would be illusory progress.

We are not talking strictly about environmental preservation. We have to address poverty. But we think these are on the same side of the same coin. Sustainable development means addressing both poverty and the environment. We want to create organized and dynamic communities with a fair distribution of wealth.

We did mapping and regional scanning. We saw three modes of living: living in the forest, which the indigenous people do, as part of the natural ecosystem; living off of (or from) the forest, which is an economy based on extracting resources from the forest; and living with the forest, taking the forest into account in all we do and living in harmony with it. The problem is that we needed alternative data and indicators, a new index to support a new vision of progress.

(I hope this presentation is made available on PEKEA's website. It's really quite good, and I'll have difficulty reproducing the diagrams.)

Picture a tree – at the roots see the project, and then reaching upwards through goals, indicators, results, areas of results/outcomes, strategic objectives, and vision. The intent was to create indicators to measure all of our community's wealth: social, cultural, economic, and environmental.

Enrico Giovannini commented that the presentation clearly demonstrated that indicators were not just an important tool for developed countries, but even a more important tool for developing nations.

Mike Salvaris then spoke. Citizen-based progress is a global paradigm. We can change the paradigm for a democratic government. We need participatory action and research and community deliberation.

Here are some of the links between citizen engagement and social progress:

  1. Defining progress is the responsibility of citizens
  2. The development of democracy is part of the meaning of social progress
  3. Healthy democracies increase well-being
  4. Social progress means better governance
  5. Engaging citizens strengthens their democratic capacity

The UNDP Human Development Report set out as its goal the end of the mismeasurement of progress. This is our important goal today. In Plato’s Republic, Thrasymachus comments that “‘just’ or ‘right’ means nothing but what is in the interest of the stronger party”. Thomas Hobbes believed “the most powerful instrument of political authority is the power to give names and to enforce definitions”.

Mike followed that up with a series of quotes that make the point nicely. I'll give you all the ones I could capture.

Hazel Henderson said, “Statistical indicators are the structural DNA codes of nations that become the key drives of economies and technological choices. Democratising such powerful tools as indicators of human progress and sustainable development is essential to empowering citizens.”

Victor Sidel: “Statistics are people with the tears washed away.”

Albert Einstein: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Raymond Bauer: “Social indicators enable us to assess where we stand and are going with respect to our values and goals, and to evaluate specific programs and determine their impact.”

To measure social progress, we need a theory of what makes a good society. Moreover, democratic society needs shared realities to progress.

“The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it.” -- Edward Dowling

We need to be able to audit democracy, to measure whetehr or not we are living up to our democratic goals. I wish I had the political cartoon Mike shared: on one half of the panel, a scene from the recent summer Olympics, as the crowd cheered when a swimmer broke a record by 0.00001 seconds; on the other side, someone stating that the estimated civilian deaths in Iraq were between 13,000 and 60,000. It was a stark commentary on how we measure what we value.

How do Australians rate their democracies? Mike shared some survey data on rating democracies, and added we need to identify the concepts of what we believe make a healthy democracy in order to be able to measure it. Now IDEA has an international tool for measuring democracies.

Human rights and democracy are part of the meaning of progress and well-being, and are contributors to progress and well-being. They need to serve dual roles in how we conceptualize progress, as both inputs and outputs.

A recent WHO report, “Closing the Gap,” says, “Inequities are killing people on a grand scale.” We can look at national well-being and other progress indicators, and see how important human rights are as a measure of well-being.

Citizens are more than customers of government. They are partners in achieving public outcomes. To be legitimate, social indicators require the explicit involvement of citizens.
We should also look to the Asian societies and their approach to well-being. The recent conference in Thailand on Gross National Happiness brings a convergence between Eastern and Western thought on measures of well-being and progress, and dovetails nicely with the OECD approach.

Albert Einstein: “We should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organisation of society.”

Enrico Giovannini commented: The key ingredient is that we are not alone. Not only are we not alone in this work, we are all headed in the same direction.

Questions from the audience included these:

  • How can we have a theory of a good society based on a common good, if it's impossible to have a common good without sacrificing the individual?
  • M. Warner challenges us with a new definition of community. How can citizens become involved in building the indicators? Do you look for representatives from organizations? Who should be involved? What's the methodology for involvement?
  • How do you reconcile different points of view on what makes a good society? Do you use a proportionate approach or a majority vote?
  • The Brazil approach has huge promise. You dared to build a vision. Vision is at the heart. Without vision you produce merchandise but not well-being.
  • In Brazil, social struggle led to political change, which led to developing the framework for indicators. Where do we start? Do we need political upheaval first?
  • Some citizens have not embraced the current model of progress. They just want more than their neighbors. How can we deal with the destruction of the natural environment and social environment when people have these mindsets?

The panelists responded to the questions -- I emphasized sustainability through partnerships and getting results, answering Enrico's question, and open citizen access to the indicators process, trying to allay fears about citizen involvement by letting people know that in practice, no one wants a bad environment, and people really want to be involved and to be heard. Not as representatives of organizations, but as people, citizens of a community.

The other panelists said inspiring things that I forgot to write down. And with that, the session ended.




Read more ...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rennes Conference, Day One: Part Four

See part one here, part two here, and part three here.

Workshop session: Growth and Reconsidering Happiness.
Since my French is horrible, and there were no translators for this session, my notes will be much sparser. We began by hearing Isabelle Cassier discuss GDP, and compare the resulting trend lines of per-capita GDP with a measure of life satisfaction. Tremendous growth in the GDP was not reflected in life satisfaction measures across time and across countries.

Looking at the chronology the evolution of the GDP and the Life Satisfaction indicator from all the western countries after 30 years. In comparison internationally, there's no correlation evident, for example, between Brazil and Japan.

l'argent ne fait pas le bonheur/money can't buy happiness

What do the economists say? Three families of explanations about the difference between measures of economic growth and life satisfaction:
A. Wealth is relative
man changes and is adaptable (the effect of the surroundings)
man is a social animal (Aristotle) (the effect of social comparisons)
B. Wealth isn't everything
Good sense

Of a number of elements, none are as well-defined and well-constructed over many years as the GDP, of all things contributing to life satisfaction
Some of the factors affecting well-being include:
inequalities/ lack of social justice
changes in work conditions
health
family and social relations
governance and institutions
the environment

Reflections about the indicators:
Indicators of what? What concepts should we keep?
Progress (social/societal/of societies)
Wealth (material, immaterial)
Well-being (utility, being)
Quality of Life (individual, collective, sustainable)
Prosperity (economic, state of happiness)
Development (South/North)
Happiness (individuals separately/connected, universal)

What outcomes?
Revive the question of a model society
Neither growth nor de-growth: good-bye to outcomes
Individual or collective?
Diverse symptoms of living together
Poverty of the the individualism methodology and of the analyses or the indicators that we collect
Meda: recognize the existence of a community that has different interests
Goods in common can draw attention away from individual liberty
Stiglitz Commission: quality of life; we measure the QOL of the whole society in the actions of individuals

Objective indicators create a universal norm we can discuss; subjective indicators deny the existence of one society, of a common Good?

Who decides?
Risk 1: replace the debate about the outcomes for one or two indicators: a technocratic governance model
Risk 2: an opinion indicator represents universal outcomes: a model of unique development
Risk 3: Need to measure the non-quantifiable (happiness): preserve the happiness to economists
are institutions ready for radical change?

Measure and improve the progress of societies
measure without a definition?
Progress: only one definition?
Improve: role of the public pouvoirs
Society: whose society?
Dimensions few present for discussion:
Considerable economic interests with the old measures: resistance to change
Aspects of reparation or redistribution: can't have change without redistribution
Historical perspective: what was the news of 1944 (compatible national constitutions and cap growth): what's the news today?
Impact of the financial crisis:
What to do?
Contribute to the redefinition of finalities
reduce our own incoherence
Denounce? Expose? them of institutions and governments

Dennis Stokkink addressed “The impact of economic growth on poverty and inequalities: the importance of political choices, of indicators and of their definitions.” Our goal is both economic growth and equality for one and for all. The question of economic growth automatically applies on an individual level to questions of poverty and inequality. He turned the rest of the time (and the PowerPoint presentation) over to Marion Englert.

There exists a merger implicit between economic growth and the different approaches to well-being, both social and subjective well-being. The subject of the study she is reporting on is the relation between economic growth (and poverty and inequality) and income/revenue. Poverty is a multidimensional concept. The postulate is that the maximization of the size of the pie allows a increase in each of its slices, suggesting that the increase in the GDP contributes to social development and reduces poverty. The question then becomes: does the real world support this postulate? Is there an evidentiary link between theory and technique?

Plan:
Define poverty
Examine growth and redistributive capacity
Explore the example of countries of high revenue
Review the temporal approach (historical)
Examine international comparisons
Reach conclusions
(Ed. Note: There may have been a couple more steps in their plan, but this is all I caught.)

First, we have to understand Absolute v. Relative Poverty. We have an intuitive perception that what we mean by poverty varies in different times and different places. Poverty can be measured through social comparisons – does this family have as much money as others in the society? -- or through social exclusion principles – does this family have enough money to fully participate in society?

Pertinence of the concept of relative poverty
the question is not about the size of the share but about the relative size of the share
Growth and redistributive capacity
differenct effect depends on the mode of growth: productivity vs. employment rate
increase in productivity
augmentation of revenues
growth of productivity does not imply positive redistribution (without fiscal reform)
growth of besoins with GDP (generosity relatively constant)
redistribution is a political choice
increase in employment rate
growth results from an increase in employment diminishes relative poverty in the condition of the absence of working poor and the public fiscal policy remains the same.
MORE:
The existence of the working poor (living precariously at unequal salaries)
Possible annulment of the positive effect of employment growth in th function of fiscal policy
High-revenue countries:
temporal approach (historical evolution of inequality in relative poverty)
Fordism v. post-fordism
Characteristics of the types of regulation/deregulation post fordiste:
Reviving ideology: predominance of neo-classical and liberal ideology
Approach the level of international comparisons
After sharing graphs on the rate of relative poverty in higher-income countries, marion Englert concluded with the results of the economic analysis:
Per capita GDP does not influence the level of the variations in inequality and relative poverty, but is positively correlated with other variables.
Per capita GDP shouldn't always be considered the only indicator of global poverty, though it is an appropriate indicator to highlight overall poverty in some countries.
Redistribution as public policy is particularly effective in the reduction of inequalities and relative poverty, and is not correlated with per capita GDP
Levels of poverty and inequality are dependent on societal choices and political decisions that respond to social objections.

One of the comments was in English, so I can share it with you. In response to the question about what people needed to be comfortable with their quality of life, in 1994 American surveyed said they needed $80,000 to be comfortable, while in 2004 those surveyed needed $200,000 to feel comfortable. The conclusion is that people never think they have enough. The second comment is about the futility of trying to address global poverty through economic growth. Under our current economic model, we would need 30 planets to reach the amount of economic growth needed to eliminate poverty globally.

New speaker: Laurent Jolia-Ferrier, from the Societe Mesurer le developpement durable spoke on the topic of “Indicators for a new look at human development and societal well-being.” He discussed a project developed for the Ile-de-France region with a wider application.

The beginning: L'IAURIF has a base of 400 indicators of the environment, society, and economy for this region
The fact: these indicators, indispensable to specialists, are not allowed to communicate simply with the greater public
The need: Discover a methodology to create a synthetic measure of regional performance of the region in matters of the environment, society, and economy.
The tools tested have been judged unable to be adapted to this use, so we needed to create a tool we could use for our own.

Developing a methodology and an authorized tool:
The intent was to synthesize certain indicators in 3 levels, so that one could move from the simple to the more disaggregated and precise/specific:
Level 1: 2 indexes (environment and social-economic)
Level 2: 10 indexes (earth, water, air, flora and fauna, resources, public health, wealth, knowledge and culture, community, equality)
Level 3: 30 indexes

We also needed to be able to compare the performance of several collective areas between themselves, and reflect the political impacts in different places as a result of this work after a reasonable amount of time. We needed to validate the indicators with experts for each domain, including which indicators to keep, the sources of the domains used, and the management of the consolidation of the proposed indicators.

We were running short of time, so we went quickly past the objectives of the study and the commentary page on the slideshow, and spent a little more time looking at the results of the tool when comparing the counties of western Europe in environmental performance and socio-economic performance. Then we compared the results with a couple of other indicator frameworks.

Sandrine Michel and Delphine Vallade were up next, talking about “Social expenditures financing and long term economic growth: the contribution of a synthetic index of the development of men.” I think this is Delphine Vallade speaking.

We begin by examining economic growth over the long term: the contracyclicity and procyclicity of the expenditures for mankind since 1945. The study is problemmatic:
Is it possible to interpret the recurrent contribution of the expenditures at the exit of crisis with the structural irreversability of growth? Are these expenditures a unitary characteristic? Proposition of a synthetic indicator. Let's begin with a discussion of works about these indicators and our reflections.
Three dynamic works around the measures of growth and the nature of wealth: production very dense of alternative indicators
Social indicators and collective well-being: The conventions of evaluations of progress (Gadrey 2002)
Social indicators and the measure of wealth
(I missed the other titles)
[DS = depenses sociales – that was the key I needed to understand the previous slide which used the abbreviation liberally. I'm sure she said what the abbreviation stood for, but I just didn't catch it.]

We looked at social expenditures – with an interesting graph examining social expenditures for education from 1850 to 2004 along with the trend line. Further graphs looked at social expenditures for education, health, and old age.

Then we saw a graph that overlaid social expenditure spending with GDP (again 1850-2004) showing lower social expenditures during economic recessions. It's my lack of language clarity raising its ugly head again – as she covers the different economic periods and relative social expenditures, I can't tell which of the variables she is suggesting is causative – whether poor economic times lead to lower social expenditures, or lower expenditures lead to economic recessions, or if the two are coincidental. She's asking, what are the determinants of the movement in these trend lines? Demography? Economy? The historical analysis is very interesting, but I can't answer her questions. The concept of looking back to be able to, as she puts it, study the financial solutions that prevailed in times long ago is an interesting idea. The years immediately prior to 1945 aren't just an example of economic shortfalls – it was a time of enormous upheaval in France, and barring a further occupation, I'm not sure if we can draw any really good conclusions from that time period.

More charts, and really neat timelines. Plus a few slides that seem to be trying to meet the challenge of “how many French words can you fit on one page before PowerPoint self-destructs?” I'm afraid the lateness of the hour (it's now 7:00 p.m. and we've been in sessions since early this morning), combined with jet lag, are magnifying the language barriers. I am prepared to admit that this presentation is revolutionary in its thinking and exemplary in its application. I just hope someone else is taking notes who will be willing to share them. I apologize to Delphine Vallade for these notes.

We have a dinner next – I hope it's unstructured without presentations. I'm speaking first thing tomorrow morning, and my head is starting to hurt.
Au revoir!

Read more ...

Rennes Conference, Day One: Part Three

See part one here and part two here.

Session 3: was called Working Out the Collective Construction. Gilda Farrell acted as moderator. Before the session, the panelists asked: construction of what? Ideas? Knowledge? Indicators? Societies?

Samuel Thirion, Council of Europe: Good afternoon. How can we build local indicators of societal progress, and what does that entail? I'll share the experiences we've had at the Council of Europe. It also deals with concepts, and this morning made it clear we have more work to do on framing those concepts and finding new words to describe what we are doing. It also entails experiments as we try to pull all people together to work on this. How we work with citizens at the local level is important.

Our experience so far is that we need to make experiments and to think out of the box to see what happens in the field. I'll tell you where we're at and share those issues we think are still unresolved. Experiments are essential and entail a lot of effort, which is why we need to work in networks to share the results of our experiments and learn from each other.

The Council of Europe has always worked on human rights. In 1997 we had a summit on social cohesion, then we published a methodological guide, and the ndid experiments in localities and now we have a working group. We wanted to sum up what had been done and establish networks to learn from each other. Our society is constantly evolving. We are used to the welfare state where the state is responsible for the welfare of all, but now we see that is not enough. Now we see with the rise of poverty a welfare society. Social cohesion is about growing society for the wellbeing of all, which means being able to define the wellbeing of all, develop indicators to measure progress, and then think about the shared co-responsibility of all to make the conditions better.

We have assets/goods, that allow us to experiment with different activities in different spaces (companies, schools, etc.) to move toward well-being. If you want to create from the ground, use available structures to ensure the sustainability of the effort. If you have a neighborhood council, involve them in the process and then they can carry out the activities.

First step: defining well-being together. The definition has to be accepted by all actors, it has to be built from the ground up. It has to be done collectively. The idea is to bring citizens together to have them reflect on the what the well-being of all looks like – not just immediate vision but reflective reasoned discussion, starting in small groups, beginning at “what is well-being and happiness to you” and “what could society do better.” Then we collect the ideas and create an inclusive vision. Start in unicolor groups (8-10), then in “rainbow groups” (with people coming from different perspectives). In Europe, 80 percent of the criteria are material; in Africa, the opposite.

We apply a synthesis: regroup the criteria in themes and define the indicators for the themes. Regroup the indicators in families, building on the scientific work and frameworks – this doesn't replace the local work, but places it into the methodological framework that is supported by the research to strengthen it. The individual indicators are inter-dependent.

(Then came some slides with lots of words and diagrams and models. I'm trying to capture the key points here, and will link to the slides if/when they become available. Just bear with me for the next paragraph or two.)

Feeling of well-being
citizen participation
human relations
relationships with institutions
cadre de vie
access to movens de vie
something else

progress indicators are different from traditional indicators becasue they indicate a way, a direction
variables
value
categories/degrees to apply to the living environment
apply tool to see bad situation or improving situation through matrix/categories (what does really bad and really good look like?)
4 types of criteria to build the ladder
- need to work on measuring indicators with citizens
- evaluate the impact of actions
- involve citizens to reflect on the impacts of their own actions
- use criteria in designing public policy and analyzing that policy
- apply the method of analysis of the goods/material side of things
- move from actions to co-responsibility

New model of governance – build as a common group, linking participatory and representative democracy

Gilda Farrell: What I heard as they key points were the need to move from the ethics of debate to indicators, and to have a clean method to make sure duplication of experiments is possible. The difference is in the ways well-being is perceived, and not in the implementation of methods. I questioned the link between indicators – interaction between indicators. The framework is adapted to the company – relationship between indicators and responsibility.

Frank Lenk, Metro Outlook in Kansas City: The metro area regional council is not a government, and has no power except the power of a good idea. This is an agricultural area; we exist because of a bridge. We have a very linear pattern of development in the core, and then a sprawl development pattern in which we must drive everywhere to do anything. We look at land use patterns – we have lots of land. We also have more freeway lanes per person than anywhere else in the US and we're building more and still have congestion.

So what does one do when the entire region is built around growing outward with an automobile?
We were created to think about the quality of life -- used to be regions were good places to live if they were good places to work, now they are only good places to work if they are great places to live.
Overall regional goal: rising quality of life for everyone
not progress for some at the expense of others
not progress at the expense of future generations
not economic welath at the expense of social or environmental health
message from the future: create a tool sensistive enough to hear messages from future generations
requires deeper understanding than what we have today
model for understanding quality of life
people choose to live in communities
institutions
policy and spending decisions
poem
we make the decisions
focus is on raising wealth in all three dimensions
life requires a profit
economic embedded within the social and natural systems
topographic map – is it a hill or a valley?
Model forced us to look at high-performing institutions
look at capacities
tools (decisions and institutions)
objectives
why bother to create a model?
Coherence
clarity
continuous improvement
completeness
diminishment of bias, fads
link public with policy, and policy with performance measurement
provides a common frame of reference, more focused and better questions
version 2 tried to compare to peer cities
overuse of comparisons for reasons of measuring competitiveness rather than quality of life
sustainability and triple bottom lines
environment, economic, and social
www.metrooutlook.org
wheel of progress
today's investments create tomorrow's quality of life
how do we create a system that allows us to invest more wisely
Gilda: thank you for this interesting presentation which allows us to reflect on the connections, and on institutions as platforms and spaces for decisions
the point of future generations as a starting hypothesis – can we go from material to quality of life matters later
questions for these two speakers:
?methodology for Council of Europe applied at a country in southern Africa – can we freely apply this method or do we have to create something?
Reactions to citizens and indicators in Kansas City?
Do what extent do they show differences in tastes v. discrepancies in fate?
Aim of your indicators – how do they tie in to public? How are they linked to public policy?
For Frank, the work you've been carrying out, are they taken into account by public authorities?
Frank: citizen involvement has been weak. As we develop plans we are much better at involving citizens throughout the region, engaging citizens and make sure we know what they want. Some common threads we can build. Policy makers nod and smile and go on. Metro Outlook version 3 really are going to be tied to policy – determining system-level indicators and program-level indicators to ensure programs support overall goals, another year or so before that's in place.
Samuel: we are building a method with other people, free method, all can use it. Can be done in Brazil. We created an international group to allow a transfer beyond the borders of Europe. Need to see how this works in other contexts. In Latin America there's the Como Vamos approach – need to build links. Our approach isn't gospel, you know.
Romania, their priority was that of governance, while in 14th arrondissement in Paris was about achieving balance in one's own life. In other context, it might be the importance of nature. You will find discrepancies regarding the criteria then you can fine-tune your analysis based on the local input.
Yes, we want to tie in our approached with local authorities, not as a parallel process. The goal is to influence public authorities. How do we influence public authorities? They usually re-analyze their own policies in light of what the citizens are saying.
Michele Leclerc Olive: the case of an African town facing societal transformation. This presentation if I had to define the context, it's at the crossroads between philosophy, mathematics, and other matters. I'm not an economist, but a citizen. But the very local example is more than to see whether our categories can be applied. It's a way to think locally.
Town of guillema – decentralization process created more than 700 towns compelling people to experiment with a new kind of citizenship. So they created neighborhood and village communities, like how nGO's are completely different from the practice of public authorities, and the difference between local and state political processes.
Now decentralization reform. Ivory Coast crisis deprived Mali from its window to the sea and built two roads. Both roads reach the town of dhierma. Town has been transformed. Massive number of migrants because people want to take the opportunity of the economic concentration there.
For us it is very interesting because now we can't see democracy on a daily basis because we are so used to it, but there we can study the beginnings of democracy and really observe it. What they could not see was the transformation of their towns due to urbanization, while we could see it because we had other examples in mind having seen urbanization and knowing what changes were coming based on research, study, and examples.
UNDP has co-run an observatory of the transformation. What we see is that the local authorities should be able to improve the living condition of the population because they are elected, so it is all linked to political reforms. However, the local collectives have to deal with geographical space but you have to remember that we localize indicators but when we transfer them they are different from localized indicators. One the one hand, we should implement general indicators, and on the other, use localized indicators which are completely different from UNDP or academic indicators.
Usually, when one looks at an indicator, one looks at the dimension, direction, and momentum of the indicator. The thing is that to really grasp dynamics and momentum the statistic unit must be very precise. We cannot assume that just because we create an indicator that it will be meaningful or tell the truth.
Hypothesis of regularity and continuity.
City of Paris built its subway based on likelihood, rather than predictability – not data based on what they had done, but looking forward to what they could do and what was being done elsewhere.
Currently ,very different conceptions of citizenship are being debated. In Africa, it is not that hard to have a political voice – not all do it, but it is different from what we are used to. So that shows that free speech doesn't create well-being by itself, but is only one part of creating well-being. Can smother the topic if focus only on giving a voice to citizens just to give a voice to citizens. Participatory democracy is the process, not the end in itself. Indicators assess the likely, not the possible. The Black Swan.
So I think well-being is not maybe something of the present time and especially in the small African town that fuel the immigration and the tales of these towns have to be taken into account when talking about the well-being of society.
Gilda: Helps us reflect on the shortcuts we sometimes take. Indicators don't always explain the dynamics of a society, and words don't mean the same thing everywhere. We have difficulty in measuring and embracing reality.
?Coming back on what you just said, allowing oneself to speak, in Africa debates are a means to regulate/sort out various issues on a daily basis.
?As an organization we work in Africa, but we have a real difficulty with indicators imposed from top-down by funding institutions to measure performance, and sometimes we find it impossible and useless to use performance indicators. Sometimes they would use private auditors to do performance measurement. We need to play an important role.
?These many ideas are challenging the systems we have in place, but we do our best efforts not to fall into the trap of using traditional indicators. People have a right to share their experiences but what is the link you make to the criticism of participatory democracy.
I'm not criticizing participatory democracy. We need to be careful how we use this phrase when we see what's being built in the name of participatory democracy. African debates – the reason why these decentralization processes are breakthroughs is that everyone can't take part in these debates – women are excluded, and some families are excluded. You need to be old to take part in debates. The practice today is similar to ancient Greece – culture of public debates, and culture of excluding people from debates. Processes can still exclude people. 80 percent of the population in Mali cannot read or write French – many cannot read or write at all, but many could in their own languages. But French is the official language, so many people were excluded. Debates and commitments in front of others instead of written contracts. Time dedicated to debate gets left aside when only think about technical side because they seem a waste of time.
Gilda: Extremely important to have courage and take risks.
Bernard Billaudot
Social progress and measures a problem of justics
framework: what is societal progress and how we can measure it
not starting from reflection based on wealth, broadening scope from measuring GDP only
instead, start from social justics framework
Historical issue – societal progress is modern concern
Institutional: concern about results from institutions
but it's not the total result, just the areas defined where the institution is intended to impact
Justice societal progress results from justifications based on reason, not just belife
Progress depends on how justice is administered and the values behind justice
All modern societies which exist are based on Western model, First Modernity, one dominating model
first characteristic of model is that only justifications to increase efficiency are acceptable
justice is limited to private spehere
justifications of inequalities it creates if creates greater good
what goods are we talking about? Can they be classified into categories – superior ideas about what is good. Wealth, power, fame.
The good is linked to an ethical, moral, or social value
reference value – freedom if refer to technical efficiency, community then the value is fame
what is their exact meaning
competition v. individuals
second modernity: inequities are unfair – you can't talk about global progress, even with rising indicators, as long as inequalities exist
in Western way of thinking, no link between what is good and what is just
In second modernity, goods are only means toward activities to create well-being
indicators of inequalities
if inequalities increase, have not made progress
conclusion: derives from positive analysis
in western world, only value taken into account is competition
need to agree on joint conventions and individual freedom based on ethical standpoints can justify the same convention but based on different principles.
Gilda: okay, this was quite a complex presentation. Not to oversimplify things, but we are led to identify progress in an ideological fashion. In this notion of progress, we need to be able to assert the primacy of justice.
?You are talking second modernity? Why is this beyond Western? Why are there two concepts of excellence? What do you do with someone who does not share this definition/convention/or how conventions are crafted?
?To reach unanimity, to reach conventions, how do you fight dominant ideas – not everyone will accept forgoing the part of him or herself influenced by conventions?
?Point of the complex presentation appears to be to show us that when we talk about societal progress we work within a large convention in terms of what are the inequalities and in the 1940s and 1950s those who created the national accountancy system they were not naïve, they were operating within the Keynesian system and knew what they were doing. In other words, we should take into account the historical aspects of the justice of excellence, because we need these great conventions to rebuild the system. We need political spaces and find new ones.
Gilda: since we are still in the first modernity, I'd like us to be quite efficient.
B: I define the second modernity as opening up the public debate to including social justice in defining the rules, not a substitution/replacement because the defenders of the first modernity will never accept their replacement. American philospher McIntyre said about justice in the philosophical sense: ancient Greeks and Jews had different notions of justice. Justice in modern context. I don't agree with all his ideas. So the philosophers who adhere to the idea of excellence I mentioned them, then there is Smith and Eros(?), just to name a few. The history that came before the construction of the first modernity, the history of excellence as justice has religious roots, so I wanted to part from that, becaue that's how justice was created after the wars of religion. Religious wars were the end of one particular kind of justice. When inequalities increase, you are still in a position of injustice – justice is model, but still in position of injustice. That's why we need indicators of social progress.
Comments:
Samuel: You end on a question: would an unequal society be better? But when we work with citizens, we get the answer – the citizens have given the answer. Well-being is not present when I see my neighbors living in poverty. We need to listen to citizens and hear what they have to say.
Michele: Of course we need to what citizens have to say, but we need to think about the local dimension which is often considered as the starting point to think about global issues. But the real answer is to deal with global and local at the same time.
Frank: This is a deeper level than I'm used to dealing with. I like the idea of justice criteria as part of what makes a society sustainable. In the world that I'm familiar with, people agree on what they want about life. Where they disagree is what to fix first. Arriving at a common set of priorities is much more difficult.

Read more ...