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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Data Everywhere

In early March, USA TODAY ran a story about John Gantz, a tech analyst, who calculated that 161 exabytes of digital data (161 billion gigabytes) were generated in 2006.

Here's what they say that means:

What is 161 exabytes?
161 Exabytes of digital data was generated in 2006, says researcher IDC. That's about 168 million terabytes, or roughly the equivalent of:
36 billion digital movies
43 trillion digital songs
1 million digital copies of every book in the Library of Congress
Source: IDC, UC Berkeley, USA TODAY research

Per person
About 213 gigabytes of information was generated for each person in North America in 2006.
Source: IDC, CIA World Factbook, USA TODAY research

Who generates the most data?
Digital data production, by regions, in 2006:
North America: 41%
Western Europe: 32%
Asia Pacific: 22%
Rest of world: 5%
Source: IDC

161 exabytes is 185,620,362,241,702,000,000 bytes, approximately. That number is big. There are an estimated 100,000,000,000 (100 billion) stars in our galaxy. If we take that number as typical, if bytes were stars 161 exabytes would fill nearly two billion galaxies.

That's big.

What does this have to do with indicators? Here's a lesson I learned from Ken Jones at the Green Mountain Institute for Environmental Democracy:

In the night sky, on a clear day in the country, we can see millions, if not billions, of stars. The sky might look something like this:

Beautiful. Awe-inspiring. But too much to take in.

Until someone connected just a few of the dots to draw a picture. You may have recognized this picture already.

By putting together a series of data points into a constellation, we (or rather the ancient Greeks did) create a sense of order and can begin to tell a story. This constellation is, of course, Orion. And once we begin to tell that story, we can add meaning to those data points.

(For more about the story of Orion, click here.) After someone connects the dots for us and tells us the story of Orion, we then can see it for ourselves every time we look at the night sky:

And that's what big numbers and Greek myths have to do with the importance of community indicator systems. Good indicator sets pull together a set of data points, connect them in a meaningful fashion, and turn them into a story to move the community to action.