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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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 19, 2007

Social Indicators

Michael Kruse ran a series on American Social Indicators on his Kruse Kronicle blog that raised some interesting questions.

According to the data he pulled together on Infant Mortality and Life Expectancy, Suicide, Crime, Substance Abuse, Family Formation and Sexuality, Education, Economic Status, Ethnicity, and the Environment, he concluded "that the worst year in American history over the last fifty years was probably about 1981." Since then, the data have been generally trending positively in the areas he identifies, which ought to mean that we should be feeling pretty good about life in the United States. (Be sure to check out the series of posts to see what he means.) He titles his conclusion "American Social Indicators 2006: Getting Better but Feeling Worse."

At the same time, Gallup has been tracking Satisfaction with Personal Life since 1979. The most dissatisfied responses were in 1982, and the most satisfied in 2000 and 2003. The trend lines in satisfaction rates remain largely unchanged since 1996, surprisingly.

Part of the problem is that Kruse relies on objective data to measure some social trends, but then falls back on anecdotes to report that people seem "gloomy" today. Gallup also asks about people feeling happy, and those results are interesting -- 96 percent of Americans describe themselves as "very happy" (49%) or "fairly happy" (47%). Both money and marriage make a difference in how happy and satisfied people describe themselves.

The opportunity is interesting -- to construct a set of indicators that describe social conditions, and run those in parallel with survey questions about personal satisfaction and happiness.

"The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings," Robert Louis Stevenson said. But are we?


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