Community Indicators for Your Community

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

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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

CIC Conference, Part Three: Another Perspective

Here's a real treat for you. Glenn Brown, of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, took notes at the Community Indicators Consortium 2009 Conference in Seattle, “Community Indicators as Tools for Social Change: Tracking Change and Increasing Accountability.” He went to different sessions than I did, with some overlap, so his notes provide a new perspective and greater detail on the conference. Thank you, Glenn, for allowing me to share these notes with this blog audience. (If anyone else has notes to share, please let me know!)

Part One of my conference notes is here.
Part Two of my conference notes is here.

Click the link below to read Glenn's conference session notes.

DAY 1 10/1/2009
Opening Plenary
Richard Conlin, City Councilman and President and Co-Founder of Sustainable Seattle

With the growth and development of Seattle rose a consciousness that this progress should be planned – and so rose the organization of Sustainable Seattle – and in so doing, there was a realization that the process requires measures. Early on there was a feeling that there were challenges between what could easily be measured and what they actually wanted to accomplish. After numerous public meetings with thousands of Seattle residents, it was decided that the indicator to be used as a major measure of their overall accomplishment was (and is) “wild salmon returning to spawn.” It is measure that encompasses many elements which touch on the four key values of economics, environment, social justice and community; and it carries a great deal of symbolic value for the residents of Seattle. It is also as challenging a measure as it is important.

This has led to a lot of learning and thinking about the context of measures. He spoke of some examples they have been working on in Seattle. He presented a story about solid waste disposal in Seattle and how this led to efforts toward recycling. He went on to report that the dialogue around this grew and it was concluded that, recycling is not an end unto itself, but a means to reducing waste. In the case of affordable housing in Seattle, he reported that they don’t know if policies are actually accomplishing the goal of affordable housing (something considered to be an end) because the policies don’t have actual measures tied to them. And finally he spoke of Seattle’s efforts to address climate change on the local level. The City adopted the Kyoto protocol (even though the Federal Government has not), and have been able to set policies and measures in place which indicate that they will meet the Kyoto standards sometime in 2010.

There was a question regarding community engagement – he reported that the city charged local communities with developing their own plans and gave them the money to hire local people to carry this process out. All and all, 35 communities were involved and over 20,000 residents participated.

First session:
Integrating Community Indicators and performance measures.
The presenters in this session were Allan Lomax (consultant, formerly with the GAO); Cheryle Broom (Auditor for King County, WA); and Karen Hruby (from Truckee Meadows Tomorrow, NV). Presented a matrix in development that is being put together in partnership with the Sloan Foundation which maps out the development of projects in regard to their integration of performance measures and community indicators. The Sloan Foundation with CIC will be publishing “Four Real Stories,” regarding various efforts around the country on an annual basis. Much of the presentation focused upon the development of the matrix, included discussion of it being altered into more of a lattice type structure and the possibility that perhaps a 3rd dimension is needed to capture a better description of these sorts of projects.

Second Session:
Also Integrating Community Indicators and Performance Measures – presenters: Julia Joh Elligers (Senior Analyst, National Association of County & City Health Officials); Erica van Roosmalen (sociologist for the Halton Catholic District School Board); and Rhonda Phillips (professor, Arizona State University).

Julia started and presented the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) process used by health departments across the country as an effort to improve public health. The method is viewed as a community-wide strategic planning tool and a method for communities to prioritize public health issues as well as identify resources for addressing and taking action upon them. There are six map phases: 1) organizing and developing partnerships; 2) visioning; 3) Four assessments, a. community themes and strengths (community indicators), b. community health status (community indicators), c. local public health system (performance standards and measures), d. forces of change; 4) Identify strategic issues; 5) formulate goals and strategies; 6) Action Cycle. The six phases are iterative. The entire process tends to move from qualitative to quantitative data.

Erica presented on Halton Our Kids Network project (Canada). Project originally began with an assessment of the community building blocks, ranging from parent and caregiver skills and supports, economic security, to health and safety. This included an array of partners in the public, private, and government sectors. The evolution of the network led to the inclusion the Search Institute’s 40 developmental assets with agreement that the information would be collected from all 21 neighborhoods of Halton. They grounded these assets in the ecological model of Bronfrenbrenner and agreed that Results Based Accountability would be the method of choice to show how service integration is critical for collective action. They choose seven population results and four performance results and began to work toward turning the curve. Ultimately the intent is to show how much will be done, how well they did it, and answering the question as to whether or not anyone is better off.

Rhonda has been looking at economic indicators and stressed that traditional economic indicators are not measures of quality as they tend to focus on the measure of consumption: purchase of local goods by individuals; purchase of local goods by government; purchase of local goods by businesses; and purchases of goods by others outside the local area. This is why the current crisis was not anticipated. What is needed are more comprehensive indicators, we need to think outside of growth, and we need to focus better, not bigger, development. Growth as we have known it may not ever return. We need to look beyond economics for understanding quality of life. Looking at consumption, we can look at revitalizing downtowns and neighborhoods (with measures such as retail v.s. green space – Burlington VT has done this in their Legacy Project); for investment, we can look at businesses buying local goods and services as opposed to those outside (this is also a sustainability issue, and again, Burlington VT is an example); for government, this too includes an examination of buying local goods and services v.s. outside goods and service, and can include looking at organizations combining purchasing power (another sustainability issue); and finally, addressing exports, indicators include the type and volume of products outside the home, the market area should be a venue for sustainability (for a good quality of life) wherein companies that practice sustainable business practices should be targeted and supported. Indicators from Burlington include the number of full time workers earning above the livable wage (looking not just at job creation but the quality of the jobs). Housing and jobs ratio as a way to check the sustainability of the workforce; and civic investment should include things like the economic diversity of arts and cultural based businesses and organizations.

During lunch there was a presentation by Dr. Stephen Bezruchka (from the Departments of Health Services and Global Health, School of Public Health, University of Washington), “You Get What You Measure.” He began by speaking about the notion that people focus attention to things they feel are important, and that we as a nation focus on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – up to the second using the stock market – and raised the point that the GDP, a measure of consumption, is not a measure of well-being. If it were, then because continuous growth is desirable, cancer would be considered a good thing. He made the provocative statement that in the big picture, individual behaviors are relatively unimportant (he gave the example of the average life span of a Japanese citizen compared to a US citizen, noting that the Japanese live longer – however, there is far more smoking among Japanese people than US citizens). He stated that it is in the trends that we infer causality and the trends imply that inequity kills. More egalitarian societies have better health. He showed numerous slides comparing various countries to other countries. He concluded that changing the way wealth is shared has the largest impact on health. He also reminded us all that healthcare is different than actual health and made the political statement that government needs to work for people rather than banks.

Session 4 was a session on community engagement and mobilization, with presentations from Tad Long (New Cities Institute), and Mary-Louise Vanderlee (Brock University, Canada) with Sandra Noel (Niagara Region Public Health). Tad presented an Evaluation of the NewCity Project, in Kentucky (ppt. on website, . They wanted very specific indicators to measure civic engagement. To engage the community, they set up local initiative committees and charged these groups with collecting the data and being accountable. The importance was the community “moving the needle” not the facilitators. This required less traditional data collection, ranging from going to local soccer games and speaking with parents on the sidelines, to going to farmers’ markets and BBQs. To get the community engaged, they had to engage the community. Also shared Morehead State University website as location for many tools: .

Sandra and Mary-Louise presented a project done in Niagara Canada, using service as a catalyst for community mobilization. The process has taken a year longer than anticipated as working groups for the report have ebbed and flowed. They based their engagement model on the work of Peter Block – specifically finding his book, Community Conversations to be most helpful. This strategy entailed identifying a continuum with a core group, a target group and then scale up to the entire community. They used Results Based Accountability to generate their report and are looking forward to bring it back to participants and stakeholders.

The last session of the day was on data visualization. Presentations were given by Scott Gilkeson (from The State of the USA, ), Alex Bourden (Graduate Assistant at University of Massachusetts), and John Bartholomew (GeoWise Limited – Instant Atlas, Scotland).

Scott presented on two very useful, free applications for data visualization that can be found on the web: Many Eyes ( ) and Google Docs ( ). In both cases, these applications allow not only for the upload and visualization of data, but also allow the user to copy the code for the visualization thereby enabling the user to transfer the visualization into one’s own web page. Of the two, Many Eyes is more dynamic.

Alex presented on an open source application that under development by the Open Indicators Consortium ( ) and is funded by the Boston Foundation. It combines tables and graphs with a mapping application. The map also links to Google maps and Wikipedia for more information on any specific area. This software is free for individuals, non-profits, and government agencies.

John presented the commercial application, InstantAtlas ( . It also creates a data dashboard to go with a map. It comes with ready to use templates that can be customized for use and there is a minimal amount of technical knowledge needed to use the application. Reports are stand-alone web pages so they don’t need to be installed on a server to be used.

DAY 2 10/2/2009
Morning Plenary: If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Manage It: People, Progress and Persuasion.
Jon Hall, OECD, Head of the Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies ( ). He began by speaking about his work on the Stiglitz Report presented in September this year in France. He stated that what we measure reflects and determines our values. Unfortunately, GDP has been the primary measure used – a measure of growth; we should be measuring our welfare. He stated that the world is presently in a “mid-life” crisis – we have stuff, and yet we are not happy. We have to redefine development and progress and the Stiglitz report set out to establish this new definition with the creation of new sets of indicators. This ended up being more complicated than expected as it quickly became clear that the issue of defining what progress means is culturally relative. This leads to questions, what does measuring quality of life mean for policy; how do we turn evidence into change; and how do we do this with meaning as it is progress, not simple outputs? Frameworks take on great importance. He used the example of a study on the happiness of nuns and the impact of whether they were happy or unhappy – the study found that unhappy nuns live an average of 10 years less than happy nuns.

The next session I attended was titled: The Power of Neighborhood Indicators. Presentations were done by Kathy Pettit (The Urban Institute), Tom Kingsley (The Urban Institute), and Charlotte Kahn (Boston Foundation).

Kathy began the presentation/discussion speaking about the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, founded in 1995 to assemble common indicators from local partners with the intend to allow analysis across sites to draw lessons for nation policy. At that time, this was not a feasible thing to do. Since then there have been advances in the nation’s data, an increase in local partners, and expansions of neighborhood level data holdings.

Charlotte elaborated upon this, speaking of what she felt was once a divide between neighborhood level and community level indicators, feeling that the difference in scale and the issue of causality often used to be an impediment to an integrated framework. Most recently work has been done regarding the topical framework of community indicators and cross cuts, that it now seems that the integration of neighborhood and community indicators are more logical.

Tom pulled this together reporting that the Census Bureau has become a partner with NNIP as it is moving more toward using the American Community Survey and phasing out the decennial census. The Census is working to integrate neighborhood indicators. The challenge of looking at indicators across cities requires some structure as definitions require continuity, and metropolitan context has an influence on how these indicators are defined. All NNIP members can map indicators. This allows for a visualization of trends that allow for policy nuances among areas – teen pregnancy or sub-prime lending can have very different specifics on the neighborhood level that is missed when examined on a broader scale.

The second session of the day was also in the Neighborhood Partners Track, with Linn Gould (from a non-profit called Just Health Action) and Cynthia Updegrave (University of Washington); they presented a service learning project done jointly among Just Health Action, University of Washington and Ritsumeikan University in Japan examining the connection between racism and the environment. The course is from an evolving discipline called Environmental Justice and has its foundations in the work of Robert Bullard. The project brought students followed an industrialized river basin to a community that abuts it and looked at the environmental issues that residents there deal with on a daily basis. They used a version of the E.P.A. toolkit for this process, which moves from qualitative data collection to quantitative data use.

The final session was a round table on the use of social media in indicators projects led by Karen Hruby (Truckee Meadows Tomorrow) and Allen Lomax (consultant, formerly from the GAO). The discussion was based on the questions of how to use new media in indicators projects, and can community indicators improve the use of social media for better communities. Conversations spanned a broad range of issues and ideas: real-time qualitative data; social use vs. professional use; how to integrate performance measures and indicators; making and bridging connections; greater sharing of stories. Rutgers was recommended as a resource with their Public Performance Measurement Reporting Network.

The Conference ended with a discussion of future directions of the CIC and a session on building regional and affiliation networks.


Post a Comment