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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cross-posted: Instant Atlas Blog

Here's a piece I wrote for the Instant Atlas blog -- thought I'd cross-post it for those of you following along here.

Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI) began using Instant Atlas to display its Quality of Life Progress Report community indicators in September of 2009. For the first 18 months, we used the Single Map Template to show approximately 125 indicators, many of them stretching back over 25 years, in a way that was revolutionary for our community. People throughout our community, from policy-makers to grant writers to community advocates, appreciated the ease and clarity with which they could get the data they needed. On our part, we appreciated the freedom from the constraints of the printed report, allowing us to update information as soon as it was released (often beating the local newspaper to the publication of new data.)

Beginning last month, we decided to see how our community would react to seeing some of the other tools Instant Atlas has to offer. When we used the Double Map Template and began playing with the scatterplot tools, we started to see interesting (and sometimes unexpected) correlations that we could verify over time. In fact, the use of this template helped provide a definitive answer if one of our indicators truly was still a significant and useful measure today. (It was, much more than anticipated.)

If the scatterplot tool, allowing comparisons between two indicators, revealed such interesting information, we wondered what the Bubble Plot Template might show? Once we began examining relationships among four indicators at the same time, we began to see targeted opportunities for additional research and policy direction. For example, when examining high school graduation rates, we found school districts that were overperforming in relation to the social and economic conditions within the district, and other districts that were underperforming – including districts with a reputation for excellence. Suddenly, we were able to bring together useful information in a compelling visual display with the ability to reshape community conversations around priorities and policies – and the data is available for anyone in our community to check for themselves.

You can see how we’re using Instant Atlas at

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

SA 2020 Update

On March 19, we completed the first phase of the SA 2020 process with a public release and written report (available here.)  It was an amazing experience as the people of San Antonio came together to reach a shared vision for the future, develop metrics (community indicators) to measure their progress, and commit to action to reach their goals. (Pictured is the December forum where the groups determined their key indicators they would like to see measured in each of the themes of the report.)

The SA 2020 initiative focused on what San Antonio could look like in the year 2020, and enjoyed both wide community participation and widespread support.  Of particular interest to those who might be considering similar initiatives in their communities, Mayor Juli├ín Castro focused on the SA 2020 initiative as a key feature of his first term in office, and was re-elected with 82 percent of the vote.

The work on implementing SA 2020 continues. This week, Mayor Castro briefed the White House on SA2020 and its goals, adding: SA 2020 "produced specific marks for the community to meet," Castro said. “That has value as other communities look to develop plans.”

I'm reminded of what Becky Morgan, of the Morgan Family Foundation, said while introducing an indicator report they supported:

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.

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Press Release: Open Indicators Consortium

Here's the press release from the Open Indicators Consortium:

June 14, 2011

From across the nation, local, regional and state data partners have collaborated with a team of 20 faculty and graduate students at one of the world’s top data visualization labs in the Open Indicators Consortium to create Weave (Web-based Analysis and Visualization Environment), a high performance web-based open source software platform. Weave allows users to explore, analyze, visualize and disseminate data online from any location at any time.

The Open Indicator Consortium’s goal is to transform publicly available data into visually compelling and actionable indicators to inform public policy and community-based decision makers. Since 2008, the Open Indicators Consortium (OIC) has brought together technical and academic experts, data providers and data users. With its technical lead and partner the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Institute for Visualization and Perception Research, the OIC is soft-launching Weave 1.0 BETA in preparation for the official release of Weave 1.0 in the mid-fall.

The Weave core code is being released under the GNU General Public License version 3 (GPLv3), and the Weave API under the Mozilla Public License (MPL v 1.1).

Full documentation is available through The code is available for download now at These releases provide all that is needed to implement Weave.

More information can be found here.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Community Indicators and the Visioning Process

I've been busy with the SA2020 community visioning exercise for San Antonio, Texas and we just moved into the part of the process where the community is engaged in developing indicators to measure progress towards reaching their community vision.  

Two of the youth participants at the last forum.
The shirts say, "My voice was heard. SA2020"

I received a good comment back from the exercise, and thought I might share the answer I provided with you for your comment and discussion.

I was glad to participate in my third SA2020 event. This time I found that the process was ahead of where it should be. We were instructed to develop measures for determine how visions were being realized. Since visions are not concrete, I found this difficult. There should be a step of designing strategies for bringing visions into reality. These strategies can and should be measured. I love participating in the very worthy SA2020 process. Thank you for considering my opinion.

Here's my response: This is a good comment, and there’s a critically important reason why community indicators need to be used at this point in the process, prior to the development of strategies.

Indicators operationalize the vision statements; they take the abstract notions of community well-being and clarify them with specific measures of the intended/desired outcomes. These outcome measures then serve as a framework within which strategies can be constructed. This allows the strategies to proceed with the end in mind and focus those efforts on important aspects of the quality of life. The measures also allow for an upper-level evaluation of the effectiveness of the strategies in influencing the vision statements.

With the indicators in place, strategies can be developed – and when strategies are developed, they should be accompanied with specific process and performance metrics. The use of measures at this stage of the process does not remove the need for measurements for each of the action steps, which [the commenter] is right to observe. However, we have often seen communities that focus entirely on performance measures for specific strategies to determine whether the action was completed as desired without taking the next step to see if the outcomes of that strategy accomplished the overall purpose of moving the community closer to its desired vision. For example, No Child Left Behind was created with concerns about all students receiving a quality education. One strategy to advance the purpose of quality education was to implement at the state level a set of standardized tests, and additional actions were built around those test outcomes. Because many of the states focused directly on one strategic initiative (standardized testing) and the metrics embedded within it, too often the larger picture (quality education) was forgotten as curricula, school year start times, retention policies, and other initiatives were developed in response to the strategy (instead of focusing on the overall goal).

So [the commenter] is right – we need specific metrics tied to strategies. But we also need, to balance out the picture and keep us focused on why we selected those strategies in the first place, a constellation of measures tied directly to the vision statements themselves. In this fashion, we preserve both accountability and focus. 

How would you have answered that question?

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Engaging Dialogue about Community Indicators

We had a great session talking about community indicators at the Community Matters '10 Conference in Denver yesterday. Delia Clark facilitated a panel discussion with Rhonda Phillips, Shanna Ratner, and me as we talked about why community indicators were important and how to use them in creating sustainable community change. While we were talking, highlights of the panel discussion were captured on flipcharts as shown below:

The fun part was that we asked the group for their questions before we started speaking, and filled two flip chart pages with questions. After the short (15 minutes each) presentations we provided, we encouraged the session participants to form small groups and talk with each other about community indicators. They reported out their comments and questions, and we turned the session into open dialogue around indicators. At the end, the panelists each got five minutes to respond to any questions that remained unanswered from the opening list.

All in all, it was a good example of using a civic engagement process to discuss the importance of using community indicators in civic engagement processes.  Looking forward to using similar processes in other conference sessions. Special thanks to Delia Clark for the facilitation that made it all happen.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Visioning, Indicators, and Mariachi Bands

One of the breakout groups for SA2020
I was reflecting this week on the world of community indicators and how widely they're being used now. This past weekend I was in San Antonio to help launch their community visioning effort. A thousand people came together to talk about what challenges the community is facing, what is good about the community that needs to be preserved or maintained, and what the opportunities are for improvement or change in the next 10 years. From that vision, we will draw indicators, set targets, and move into community action. One of the more exciting aspects of the SA2020 process has been the integration of social and online media into the conversation, with live web-streaming of the launch event, over 2200 web-based comments during the live feed, and strong online comment captures, including on the website (, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

This month also provides the opportunity to celebrate World Statistics Day on 20/10/2010 (that's October 20, 2010, for those of us who put the month first in our dating system.)

Next week I get to join Rhonda Phillips and Shanna Ratner in a discussion of community indicators and measuring progress as part of the CommunityMatters '10 Conference in Denver, Colorado.

And we have just celebrated the 35th anniversary of my organization, JCCI (Jacksonville Community Council Inc.), along with the 25th anniversary of our Quality of Life Progress Report, 10th anniversary of JCCI Forward, and 5th anniversary of our Race Relations Progress Report.

This has been a week to think about how communities can transform through the action of good people working together on a shared concern, and how data, properly used, can bring those people together in a common understanding of the issues at hand.  And as our local government (along with many, many others) has struggled with questions of how to prioritize spending in an era of increasing demand and shrinking resources, it's sobering to reflect on where we might be without community indicators to help make the really hard decisions.

I hope to have good notes to share with you from the Community Matters conference (I'll let you know when I know the hashtag for the event -- CM10 is being used right now for the Chicago marathon, which I am not participating in this year.) And keep an eye out on the #SA2020 conversations -- the work is just beginning to create community-defined indicators.

And yes, the SA2020 launch event included both a marching band to welcome people into the facility and a youth mariachi band to serenade them once inside. Tremendous experiences, wonderful energy levels, and an astounding city.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Community Indicators Growing Up

This January we released our 25th annual edition of our signature community indicators project. We've launched an interactive indicators portal allowing us to update indicators as quickly as the data become available. We also celebrated the fifth anniversary of our annual community indicators report focused on racial and ethnic disparities.

At the same time, we got assistance from a talented graphics designer to transform our model for community change into something hopefully more understandable (and more friendly!) And we began using twitter as a way of communicating news and updates about community indicators, rather than blog posts (you can read the news feeds and the twitter feeds on the right-hand column of this blog.)

This past summer has felt like a summer of transformation in the community indicators world -- a sense that the movement is growing up. You can see what I'm talking about at the new website for the Community Indicators Consortium. You can follow along on the Facebook pages for The State of the USA project. You can see the exciting developments in graphic design, data sharing, mapping technologies, and all of the other amazing tools exploding onto the data-sharing scene.

So as we work with communities now on creating and sustaining community indicators projects today, the conversations are different than they used to be. The concern is not about whether communities need good data to make responsible decisions (of course they do.) The questions are not about where to find good, reliable data (we're choking in it!) The conversations don't even focus as much on how data can be displayed or used effectively (hundreds of excellent examples are a Google search away.)

We're circling around to conversations about community engagement, re-invigorating local democracy, and making public participation in community visioning both meaningful and effective.

We're having conversations about measuring the effectiveness of your community indicators project, and knowing whether or not your community indicators project is making a difference.

Those are, I think, important conversations to have. And with these thoughts, the focus of this blog will shift slightly -- from updating you on community indicators news, conferences, job openings, events, and report releases (you'll get more of that on the Community Indicators Consortium and on Twitter) to conversations and articles about the field.

And I'm interested in your input as well into what we need to be talking about as the movement proceeds.

Thanks for your time and attention and for being a loyal reader of this blog for the past three years!

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Call for Proposals: Integrating Community Indicators and Performance Measures

The Community Indicators Consortium (CIC), as part of a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is seeking proposals to write "Real Stories" of communities, organizations, and/or jurisdictions that have tried, successfully and not so successfully, to integrate community indicators and organizational performance measures.

The Real Stories project is intended to provide real life examples of the advantages and challenges to both community indicator and organizational performance measurement projects as a result of integrating or linking these two types of efforts. The published Real Stories, from 5-20 pages in length, will be used to advance the knowledge of community indicators-organizational performance measures integration and for training and other outreach material to community leaders as a way to improve or inform decision-making and create measurable, positive change in communities.

We are looking for proposals from individuals and groups who are directly involved in these efforts as well as individuals and organizations that work with community indicator and performance measurement projects. A stipend of $2,000 will be awarded for each Real Stories published.Three-to-five Real Stories will be selected for publication in 2010.

The deadline for submitting proposals for the 2010 Call for Real Stories is June 22, 2010. Notification of selected proposals and guidelines for development will be sent on July 15th. The deadline for the written first draft is September 15, 2010.

Visit the CIC web site for more information about the Real Stories project and the call for proposals. You can also download the Real Stories Proposal submittal form for more details, or contact the Project Steering committee at


Allen Lomax and Cheryle Broom
Integrating Community Indicators and Performance Measures Co-Chairs

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Indicators, Civic Engagement, and a Bright Future in Apucarana

This morning I shared JCCI's 35 years of experience with community engagement, studies, and indicators with a group of business, civic, and political leaders in Apucurana, Brazil. That's located in the state of Parana in the south of Brazil, and is part of the same north Parana region as Londrina.

They're using indicators and community-based studies and civic engagement in tangible ways in the region. I got to meet a number of people representing organizations doing some very good work.

One of the groups that shared their work was the Social Observatory of Maringa. In order for the country as a whole to develop properly, they argued, they really only needed two things: resources, and the correct application of those resources. Unfortunately, according to their data, 32 percent of taxes collected in Brazil are lost to corruption. The people of Maringa organized and took action. Their Social Observatory goes carefully through the local government budget and finances, looking for cost reductions in what is spent, ensuring the money is spent for the public good, and checking to make sure the government received what it paid for. They have saved millions by ensuring that the costs for goods and services paid by the government are in line with the local market, that purchases are made only for what is really needed, and that what is delivered meets contract specifications. In one instance, they made sure every school had a scale they could use to measure the amounts of goods purchased, since some vendors had been significantly shorting the school system. Just by being there, they've increased the sense of risk for would-be defrauders of the government. And by catching problems up front, they save real money, since the government's approach to catching fraud seldom results in full recovery even if there's a conviction. The key to the program is 3,000 volunteer hours a year to create real transparency in government. Pretty amazing stuff.

CODEM Maringa is another civic organization focused on local development. They want to connect government and the community together to work for the common good. They use indicators to measure progress and studies to find solutions to economic development. Their challenge, like many others, is how you define "community" -- participation in these efforts appears restricted to the usual community suspects, and adding new voices to the table is difficult.

We heard from a couple of others, including the Forum Desenvolve Londrina (who intentionally patterned themselves after JCCI seven years ago and is making great progress), and then I shared some case studies around the JCCI Model for Community Improvement.

By the time we headed out for the local churrascaria, we had seen a number of examples that showed us:

1. The future of a community is too important to let happen by chance or at the whims of the few. Community involvement is critical to both design and create/implement your desired future.
2. Community indicators are critical tools for measuring progress, creating shared community priorities, engaging institutions in solutions, and evaluating the results of changes made.
3. Civic-minded people are the same the world over, no matter what language they speak.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Community Indicators in Londrina, Brazil

I'm spending thisweek in Londrina, Brazil as a follow-up to earlier conversations and visits about effective community indicators. When I return, I'll share something of the dialogue and exciting work happening in this area.

What's really interesting to me is the continued validation of the efficacy of community indicator systems in created desired community change. There's something about the process that transcends culture and geography (though some of the discussions we've had about different perspectives on community governance and civic engagement in different countries show that location/culture/history does matter in the design/implementation of the indicators system and the model of change built around it.)

As the GAO continues its efforts to document the state of indicators systems in the United States and to support the development of a Key National Indicators system, this message of the universal importance of broadly-available community-informed public data systems for decision-making and action is an important one to recognize.

Anyway, those are the kinds of things I'm thinking about right now. A full report comes later.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

GDP v GNH: The Economist Debates

There's an interesting debate over at The Economist over replacing GDP as a measure of progress with something else, such as a Gross National Happiness index.

You may be interested in watching the debate, seeing the arguments, or voting on the outcome.

Click here for more information.

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