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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, April 5, 2007

Indicators of Caring

The United Way's State of Caring Index includes 36 indicators covering the topics of financial security, health, education, safety, charitable giving, volunteerism, civic engagement and the natural environment. Data is available for the nation as a whole and for all 50 states.

When I use the tool to measure how my state (Florida) is doing, I find Florida consistently ranking in the bottom 10 states. (That's sure to be influenced by per capita giving to the United Way, which hovers between 37th and 43rd in the years covered in the data.)

I was a little disappointed that the data for the volunteerism rate, which I would suspect to be a key component of a Caring Index, were either missing or seemed to have a national rate superimposed on each state. Local surveys show Jacksonville's volunteer rate to be much higher than the national average -- local folk give more time than they do money -- and the Index would have been more helpful if it could have captured that difference.

(I would have also liked to see philanthropic giving, even if limited to United Way contributions, measured against local average household income, rather than in straight per capita dollars. Five percent giving in one area is a lot more than five percent giving in another, though it would be hard to argue that the level of "caring" is substantially different.)

I did like the inclusion of "municipal solid waste recovered" (which I think is a measure of recycling in a community) as part of a Caring Index -- it was a nice way to broaden the perspective. Voter turnout was another nice surprise -- a measure of civic caring. Per pupil expenditures in the school appeared to be a measure of how much the community cares about education -- an interesting try, though perhaps other measures may have been more illustrative.

Some of the measures, however, were of social needs and problems, such as teen birth rates or infant mortality, which seemed out of place. And student achievement scores seemed to force the same assumption -- does poor academic performance necessarily mean that the community doesn't care about the student? I can see the argument, though it appears to be a stretch. Under that premise, what indicators could you exclude from a "Caring Index"?

If you were to design a set of indicators that measured "caring" in your community, what would you include? Do you currently measure these kinds of indicators? If so, what do they say about your community?


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