Yesterday I led a lunchtime conversation via webinar on the question, Are your community indicators making a difference? The webinar was sponsored by the Community Indicators Consortium and was a members-only event, and I know several dozen of you were disappointed in not being able to attend. I thought I'd summarize my notes for both the attendees and those who missed the event, and continue the conversation. (Plus you ought to join CIC to not miss out on their next webinar!)
One topic: Measuring the effectiveness of your indicators project
Three meta issues: Design, Timing, and Source
- Inform/ educate/ raise awareness
- Build shared priorities
- Shape decision-making
- Influence budget allocations
- Define public policy
- Inspire action
- Demand accountability
- Measure performance/outcomes
- Explicit use of indicators in information sharing. By this I mean the number of times your indicators are used by other people (media, public officials, other organizations, your intended audience) in talking about the issue. For example, we have been able to track not just the media coverage of our report releases, but the way the indicators have been used over the course of a year to talk about issues, to justify positions, or to advocate for a cause. If the intended result is to raise awareness, you can track how the indicators are being used for that purpose and how often your reported is cited, linked to, or quoted.
- Explicit use of indicators in decision-making. We find in whereas clauses and in public debates the use of our indicators in making key decisions. Sometimes we are asked to present the data to a decision-making body. Sometimes the indicators are cited in justifying decisions. Sometimes people will come to us and thank us for having the indicators available which helped them prevail in a political decision or in receiving a grant. If your intended result is to influence decision-making, track these. We also survey our intended audience and ask them about how they have used the indicators in their decision-making.
- Institutionalization of indicators in decision-making. This is where the process of making decisions are built with the data report in mind. This is an important outcome we work towards. This can include policy and budget decision-making, but it can embrace many other things. Our local Leadership Jacksonville program builds its curricula for its four leadership programs with our indicators in mind -- all participants receive a copy of the report, and they are encouraged to use the indicators to better understand the community. Think about who you want to use the indicators, and in what fashion, and then help them design their processes with the indicators as a fundamental/necessary piece of that process. Remember the issue of timing!
- Cross-disciplinary/cross-institutional priority-setting and collaboration around identified issues. Your indicators can help set the community agenda. What priorities have you identified? Who has embraced those priorities? More importantly, who has stepped out of their silo or comfort zone to step up to a shared community priority identified by your indicators? In our case, we pay attention when the indicators are used by our Chamber or Mayor to tackle an issue that's not traditionally their focus or responsibility, or when multiple groups join together in a common cause identified by the indicators. That's a desired result, and we note that activity.
- Improvements in the indicators themselves. Your measure indicators that you want to improve. They're important, or else you wouldn't measure them. Our model for community improvement demands that we pay attention to what the indicators are telling us -- are we moving closer to the desired goals? If none of your indicators are getting better over an extended period of time, then your report isn't being effective in motivating change.