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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Measuring a Vision

Community indicators operate as a critical part of a community change process. David Swain articulated the relationship among a vision for the future, community indicators, and meaningul improvement in his essay, Measuring Progress: Community Indicators and the Quality of Life:

Vision: The impetus toward community improvement originates with how a community values itself and what vision it has for its future. All communities have some sort of vision and at least some shared values, although these may not be consciously articulated. Some communities have sought to define and express their visions through complex collective processes and impressive documents.

Indicators: For an improvement effort to emerge, some knowledge must exist about the current situation. Indicators tell graphic stories (figuratively and actually) about specific aspects of life and wellbeing in the community. If tracked over time, they offer a moving picture of community trends in the recent past. These trends can be followed for understanding. They can also be compared with the community’s vision. The resulting comparison of reality with vision can become the basis for determining improvement goals.

Indicators alone, however, are insufficient to instigate action for improvement. In particular, they often reveal little about the underlying causes of the trends they display. Nor do they usually provide clear direction toward how to accomplish improvements. The most important roles indicators can play at this stage are to raise consciousness among citizens and decision makers, to reconfigure priorities among issues most deserving of community attention, and to shape the agenda for public consideration of action and allocation of resources.

Planning: Once an issue has “arrived” on the community’s agenda, action must be preceded by planning. This planning may include research into causes and solutions and development of strategies and priorities.

Advocacy and action: The results of the planning, along with some key indicators, may become the basis for advocacy efforts. These might include public campaigns by citizens organizations and interest groups, as well as formal lobbying and decision making within the halls of government. Presuming success in advocacy, some form of action follows, whether through a new initiative, program, or organization, or perhaps through implementation of a new law or ordinance.

Outcomes: The actions produce results, both immediate outputs and broader, longer term outcomes. From the perspective of the community’s vision and the indicators that guided its planning, documenting and understanding the outcomes are of paramount importance. They form the basis for measuring success, or at least progress.

Assessment: As articulations of the vision and the basis for community goals, the indicators play a second important role by providing the basis for evaluation of the results. If the planning, advocacy, and action have been consistent with the vision and indicators, the outcomes will reveal progress—or lack thereof. Either is a valuable lesson for a community. Successes deserve celebration, while disappointments deserve attention toward greater improvement.

Feedback: Since the real-life, community- improvement process is incremental and iterative, the primary value of assessment is to set up another round of improvement efforts. Most frequently, the assessment feedback loops back to the planning stage in search of better understanding of causes and development of more effective solutions. In some cases, unexpected results may lead a community to rethink its indicators or even to question its vision.

There are a number of examples of indicator efforts that follow this model. One interesting report is produced by the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center. The report, Visioning Kentucky's Future: Measures and Milestones 2006, outlines vision statements and goals, then measures progress towards those goals and advises the state legislature and governor on priority needs for action. From the report's description:

The report is organized around five sections: communities, education, economy, environment, and government. Within these five areas are 26 long-term goals derived from a citizen vision for the Commonwealth's future. The report includes over 100 benchmarks, trends, or indicators that are measures of the progress made toward each goal and the results of a statewide opinion poll that gauged citizen assessments of progress and the importance of each goal.

You can then see a presentation on Future Trends & Current Public Policy -- pay attention to the planning for the future that the indicators allow/encourage. The indicators themselves report on the success/lack of success of public policy changes to address needs identified.

What are your favorite examples of indicator projects that link community visions to public action?


Post a Comment