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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, May 25, 2007

EPA Environmental Indicators: Comments Needed

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on May 10, 2007, a 45-day public comment period for the draft document titled, EPA's 2007 Report on the Environment: Science Report (ROE SR) (EPA/600/R-07/045). This public comment period is to precede the formal public, scientific peer review of the document by EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) on July 10-12, 2007. The public comment period started on May 10, 2007 and ends June 25, 2007. Technical comments should be in writing and must be received by EPA by June 25, 2007 as indicated in the May 10, 2007 Federal Register notice.

According to the EPA, its 2007 Report on the Environment: Science Report (also referred to as EPA’s 2007 ROE SR) compiles the latest and most reliable indicators to help understand critical trends in the environment and human health. Additionally, the report identifies key limitations of these indicators and gaps where reliable indicators do not yet exist. These gaps and limitations highlight the disparity between the current state of knowledge and the goal of full, reliable, and insightful representation of environmental conditions and trends, and provide direction for future research and monitoring efforts. To review more information and the draft report please go to

Read more ...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

USPS Data in New Orleans

Passing along a message from Denice Warren -- I'm highly impressed with the use of non-traditional data to track such an important subject. Here's Denise's message (hat tip once again to NNIP -- if you haven't signed up yet for the listserve, please consider it!)

Good, timely statistics to track the repopulation of New Orleans and its neighborhoods are still hard to come by, so we've been digging into data from the U.S. Postal Service on households receiving mail.

We think this active mail delivery data holds a lot of promise for tracking repopulation after a large disaster such as Katrina, and have documented what we've learned about this data set in a new Research Note.

Using U.S. Postal Service Delivery Statistics to Track the Repopulation of New Orleans & the Metropolitan Area
By Allison Plyer with Joy Bonaguro

Available at: in the right column just under The Katrina Index

I've also copied below a short article on the subject that came out in the AP newswire a few days ago. If you'd like to learn even more about the data set, please let me know... we're happy to share.

-Denice Warren

Nonprofit uses neighborhood postman to track New Orleans' population
5/16/2007, 5:42 p.m. CTBy JOHN MORENO GONZALES, The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - In the ongoing effort to figure how many people are returning to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a nonprofit group released statistics Wednesday drawn from the only person responsible for daily visits to every household in the city: the neighborhood postman.

The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, a research group that has been used by government agencies and relief groups to make population-based decisions on where to funnel resources, found that 61.9 percent of New Orleans households receiving mail before the storm were doing so again as of March.Backtracking to August 2006, when researchers said New Orleans post offices themselves had recovered enough to be a reliable source, the figure was 49.5 percent. In November 2006, it grew to 55.2 percent. In February, it was 60.3 percent.

Researchers said the statistics, which were compiled from monthly letter carrier reports on "inactive" mailboxes, had their limitations. But they said the numbers were also up-to-date evidence that New Orleans is making a labored, but consistent, population comeback.

"The postal counts indicate people who are already in their houses, which does not account for a lot of active construction," said Allison Plyer, manager of the data center. "But it's unique because the information is published monthly. And it's objective."

The hurricane has forced demographers to find innovative ways to measure the population of New Orleans. Utility hookups have been the most widely reported method, with the local firm GCR & Associates using that information to find this month that there was a 14 percent jump in the city's residents since a July 2006 U.S. Census Bureau tally.GCR's estimate shows that 56 percent of the 454,000 people who lived in New Orleans before the storm had returned, with residents increasingly returning to the hardest hit areas. The postal records showed a similar trend, with heavily flooded neighborhoods like Broadmoor, Gentilly and Lakeview showing increased rates of postal delivery.

"Surprisingly, some parts of the more moderate income Gentilly may be repopulating more quickly than higher income Lakeview," said Plyer. "This may be slightly deceptive in that Lakeview residents are more likely to have resources to live elsewhere while rebuilding their house, whereas Gentilly residents may be more likely to live in FEMA trailers on their own property."

Read more ...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Indicators, Targets, and Community Change

I was recently backtracking a discussion about online communities and measures of their strength -- how do you know when you have an online community, or how strong is the community of practice? It's an interesting question of indicators of community, subtly different from indicators of a community, and one that I'll save for a later post.

One of the discussions, however, triggered something for me that's particularly useful when dealing with traditional community indicators -- measures of the quality of life within a geography.

We look for key indicators -- sentinel indicators if possible, warning of problems in the community. Sometimes we add targets to those indicators -- we look at where we are and identify where we want to be, then galvanize the community to work together to reach that goal.

However, Shawn reminded me of a danger in that approach. If we're not careful, we can confuse the indicator of a problem with the problem itself -- and in that case, our "solution" may move the indicator but not address the problem.

Here's his analogy:

I’m not sure if the following analogy has already been drawn, but community indicators are like indicator species; they indicate the health of a the community/ecosystem. Green frogs are my favourite ecosystem example-albeit an inaccurate and imprecise one. If a green frog is an indicator species of a healthy ecosystem, introducing a gross of green frogs doesn’t improve the ecosystem’s health. The same is true of community indicators. These indicators help people inside the community understand and nurture their ‘environment’ but, please, please, please don’t turn them into management targets.

I think this analogy has tremendous implications for those of us reporting community indicators, and ought to be kept in mind particularly as we try to engage community indicators and government performance measures. We can't confuse the indicator with what we're trying to measure -- welfare reform, for example, didn't instantly lift half the people in poverty into a higher income bracket, it just removed them from the welfare rolls that may have served as a proxy measure of financial need in the community.

I'd love your thoughts on this issue, and how your community guards against mistaking the indicator for the problem. And I may start using the phrase "dumping frogs on the problem" to describe attempts to move the needle without addressing the real issues.

Read more ...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Mining Data for Meaning

More and more people are using the tremendous explosion of available data and cheap-but-powerful computing capabilities to do amazing things with data.

This May 20 New York Times article highlights some of the ways people are using data, including a very interesting way of combining a set of neighborhood measures to fight crime:

The programs cull through information that the department already collects, like “911” and police reports, but add new streams of data — about neighborhood demographics and payday schedules, for example, or about weather, traffic patterns and sports events — to try to predict where crimes might occur.


The technology, for example, pointed to a high rate of robberies on paydays in Hispanic neighborhoods, where fewer people use banks and where customers leaving check-cashing stores were easy targets for robbers. Elsewhere, there were clusters of random-gunfire incidents at certain times of night. So extra police were deployed in those areas when crimes were predicted.

The crime rate in Richmond declined about 20 percent last year, and it is down again this year. The Richmond experience is part of a wave of sophisticated computing and mathematical analytics that is moving into the mainstream.

The opportunities afforded by wider uses of data-driven decision-making cut two ways, however. For community indicators efforts to build on these opportunities, we're going to have to get more geographically specific (taking data down to the neighborhood and sub-neighborhood level, where appropriate and available.) We're going to have to be more timely with the data, so that the information is as current as possible. We're also going to have to be more specific with what we measure, so that the information can move decision-making rather than just point out large-scale trends. And we're going to have to market and share that information in a more compelling fashion to help make change possible.

This means getting the right information to the right people at the right time for the right places -- not an insurmountable challenge, but one that suggests we take a careful look at our processes and procedures to ensure they fit a changing reality.

We've been pushing for more data-driven decision-making. If we get what we ask for, are we ready to meet the data demands of the decision-making processes?

Read more ...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Housing Statistics Users Group

For those who are interested in indicators around housing, the Housing Statistucs Users Group is a group of government agencies, private companies and non-profit organizations in the Washington D.C. area who meet 3-4 times per year and are sharing what they talk about with the larger indicators community. Here's an update from their April 2007 meeting, provided by way of the NNIP listserve:


Presentation by Jeffrey Passel, Pew Hispanic Center on Immigration & Housing: Numbers, Trends & Outlook. For more information visit: .

HUD Aggregated USPS Administrative Data on Address Vacancies:

  • HUD has a new agreement with USPS that will provide them on a quarterly basis with data about the number of addresses (aggregated to census tract level), the total vacant addresses, and the total "no-stat" address (new construction, rural long-term vacancy, or other not likely to be active for some time). HUD will also report the number of days and an address has been in each category (starting Nov. '05).
  • This data has never really been analyzed and one potential advantage of this data is that it will be accessible only a few days after the end of each quarter so that one can have nearly real-time knowledge of vacancies.
  • Data is available on and they are looking feedback on the data and recommendations for what types of aggregate data would be beneficial.

Other Topics:

Data Developments @ HUD:

  • Survey of Market Absorption and Survey of Manufactured Housing Placement got funding for FY07 and hopefully will continue in future years.
  • 2007 AHS is officially in the fields and will include the metro areas and national survey at the same time. A new survey instrument is being used which is windows based, therefore quality control is expected to take longer. National data is expected to be available on 8/2008 and metro data by the end of 2008.
  • CINCH and Rental Dynamics Reports for the 2005 survey should be available on the HUD site soon.
  • FY07 area median income data has been published and is up on the web.
Federal Statistics Update: Ed Spar: Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS)

Census Update: Housing Unit Based Research Team (HUBRT) investigating the possibility of using housing unit based population estimates instead of the current use of administrative data to come up with county population estimates.
  • ACS: Proposed revisions to the 2008 ACS are coming out next month for comments and will include questions about health insurance coverage, veteran status and marital history. ACS 5 year averages data is available to study what happens to the 5 year averages in the 30 test counties.
  • National Center for Health Statistics: will be flat funded once again. They are considering eliminating one month of collection of vital statistics (i.e. Births/deaths) due to lack of funds.

    Read more ...

    Contextual Indicators for Health Disparities

    From our friends on the NNIP listserve:

    The MCH Information Resource Center, funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB), is pleased to announce the 2007 DataSpeak Internet audio conference series, Contextual Analysis, Part 2: Methods for Understanding and Interpreting Multilevel Analysis, to be held on Wednesday, June 6, 2007 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. This program will be the second in a three-part series on contextual analysis, with the third program to be broadcast on July 11, 2007. To register for this program, go to:

    More information on this program is available at:

    Program Overview: This DataSpeak program is the second in a three-part series on the use of contextual analysis, an approach for assessing the effect of contextual, or neighborhood, characteristics along with individual-level factors in explaining disparities in health outcomes.

    Each program in the series features one of several university-based researchers funded by the MCHB in the Health Resources and Services Administration to explore the effect of neighborhoods on our country’s relatively high infant mortality rate as compared to other industrialized countries and wide racial disparities in infant mortality and preterm birth. This series is intended to provide public health professionals with background and knowledge of concepts and statistical analysis techniques to begin developing and adapting the approach to their specific States and communities.

    The first program in the series, broadcast on May 16th, presented an overview of contextual analysis, including discussion of how neighborhoods are defined, what sources of data are available at the neighborhood level, and how neighborhood conditions can affect health.

    This second program will describe several different multilevel analysis techniques, the advantages and disadvantages of these different approaches, examples of their use for the analysis of preterm birth data, and the interpretation of statistical results.

    The third program in the series, to be broadcast on July 11, will include real-world examples of analyses from the research sites funded by MCHB, the resources needed to implement these types of analyses, and the varied potential uses of multilevel modeling other than preterm birth and low birth weight outcomes.

    Read more ...

    Saturday, May 19, 2007

    A Cynical View on the Comics Page

    While it's still available, check out this Dilbert comic strip.

    The phrase "that way you'll have more data to ignore when you make your decisions" shouldn't have made me laugh the way it did.

    Read more ...

    Thursday, May 17, 2007

    Data and Storytelling: Part III

    To recap from parts I and II, using data to tell a story appears to trigger the analytical part of the brain, not the emotional. The emotional part is what spurs action. So using data to encourage action is counterproductive, the researchers tell us.

    Now for the counterargument. Check out what is telling us -- the folks that pride themselves on sharing "the art & science of connecting with consumers."

    Here's their press release -- my edits are marked:

    Global- CNN has teamed up with Suzuki Motor Corporation to launch [product], an interactive website allowing users to check out the latest [subject] results and statistics as well as submit pictures, videos and commentary.

    " continues to lead the field in global online news sites and this new initiative allows Suzuki Motor Corporation perfect reach to our audience who enjoy high disposable incomes and are proven regular purchasers", William Hsu, vice president, advertising sales Asia Pacific of CNN said in a statement.

    "The strength of the message is unquestionable and we are delighted to pursue this campaign to promote our exciting Suzuki Motorcycle brand to CNN's audience", Masayoshi Ito, general manager, America & Europe Motorcycle marketing dept of Suzuki Motor Corporation said.

    So what's the product? Why are they so excited about sharing statistics? Why do they think sharing statistics is such a strong message, so strong it will evoke the necessary emotional responses needed to sell motorcycles?

    Because the product is football. In sports, we interrupt the actual game experience to talk about statistics. We display data on the screen with the action. We fill the sports pages of the newspaper with columns of statistics. For some sporting events, the only story in the paper is the box score. And yet these statistics generate emotion -- lots of it -- and spur people to action.

    What's the difference? Is it a difference in statistical literacy, a training ground and expectations about using statistics when talking about sports? Not all sports fans, I think I can safely say, are trained statisticians or are necessarily comfortable with numbers outside of the sports arena. Is the issue of giving money to Rokia just that we're trained (through a series of exposures over time) that money to starving children is only given when Sally Struthers makes a personal appeal after showing wide-eyed sad children?

    Why does data kill a story in one case, and end up crucial to the story in another? And how do we tell our stories so that data become integral to the story telling, part of the story, like knowing there were 3 little pigs or 7 dwarfs? How do we personalize data and invest it with the emotional overtones of the legitimate story it's telling us, so we can weep not only for Rokia for for the 11 million other Rokias who also need help?

    Read more ...

    Wednesday, May 16, 2007

    Data and Storytelling: Part II

    I'm still reeling from the implications of the story of Rokia mentioned in the previous post. Here's another warning about using statistics when telling a story.

    This one's from The Numbers Guy who blogs at the Wall Street Journal Online. He provides the links back to Paul Slovic's article in March 2007 Foreign Policy called "Numbed by Numbers" -- the problem with statistics, he argues, is that they make the problem so immense that we feel helpless. We relate to a murder. We ignore genocide, because that's too overwhelming. Our feelings of helplessness and inability to comprehend or relate to to the scale of the problem de-motivates us toward action.

    (The complete study by Paul Slovic is online at the site of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making.)

    So what can we do, we who traffic in statistics? One reader on The Numbers Guy's blog suggests the problem is that the ask -- the request for assistance -- seems insignificant in the face of the huge problem. Giving $5 may help Rokia, but it doesn't begin to feed 11 million starving children. However, Slovic's article points out that in another study, people were willing to donate to buy equipment to help one child with a medical problem more than they would to help eight children with the problem -- even though the amount needed to buy the equipment was the same for one as it was for eight.

    Here's a quote from an earlier study Slovic participated in:

    We find that people also exhibit diminished sensitivity in valuing lifesaving interventions against a background of increasing numbers of lives at risk. We call this psychophysical numbing.

    In other words, if I'm understanding this right, the worse the statistics, the less we care.

    An e-mail response from a blog reader to the previous post said this:

    My gut instinct, and I will think more about this one, is that the math is offputting for one of two reasons:

    1. It's impersonalizing. When you take a step back from the people affected, maybe it makes the reader take a step back from himself, the idea that he might be personally responsible for change.

    2. It's overwhelming and therefore paralyzing. I can help this one person is a lot more motivating than here are thousands of people, each as pathetic as this one person.

    My county keeps an online database of kids needing foster care, and seeing the limited number plus the actual story and pic made it feel very personal and possible to me. I almost picked one up right there, even though I had already made the decision that I would only take foster kids after my kids were a bit older. Do you think that effect may be the same one at play here?

    How can we take community indicators and turn them into stories that seem both "personal and possible"? That may be the real goal of storytelling with data.

    Read more ...

    Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    Data, Storytelling, and Making It Stick

    I hope you've had a chance to read Katya Andresen's blog on non-profit marketing. She's got some wonderful resources there on messages.

    In a series of articles reviewing the book Made to Stick, she retold a story from the book about statistics, starving children, and a philanthropic appeal. You need to read this story. (You probably will then want to read the book!)

    The point the book's authors, Chip and Dan Heath, made (and Katya re-emphasized), is one I think community indicators folks ought to think long and hard about.

    It wasn't just that telling stories are more powerful at eliciting emotional responses than sharing statistics. We already knew that.

    It was that sharing statistics with the story lowered the giving rate, and that even thinking analytically lowers people's emotional responses to information.

    As the authors put it:

    Statistics shift people into a more analytical frame of mind. When people think analytically, they are less likely to think emotionally.

    The problem is that the emotional response is what gives power to the story -- it's what inspires action. And community indicators projects are about action, if nothing else -- we measure all this stuff because we want to know, and we want to make things better, and then we want to know if things got better. That's information that an anecdote doesn't give us.

    At the same time, I've seen (and I'm sure you have too) numbers that became the story, numbers that moved people beyond a sad event, numbers that were the "sticky" part of the message.

    So how do we tell stories with data in ways that connect to people both analytically and emotionally, without turning off the ability to tap into the action-oriented part of them?

    We have much better tools for displaying data, and we've been sharing them on this blog. But take a look at one more article about storytelling: A Case for Web Storytelling, by Curt Cloninger.

    Curt makes the point that with all the technology, we end up with "great handwriting, lousy narrative." It's more than sharing data -- it's storytelling. And now the Heaths tell us that just including the data makes the storytelling that much harder.

    Read more ...

    Monday, May 14, 2007

    Measuring Poverty

    The National Center for Children in Poverty has a new fact sheet out, called Measuring Income and Poverty in the United States.

    The fact sheet deals with the following questions:

    • How does the United States measure poverty?
    • Why is the current poverty measure inadequate?
    • Are there alternative ways to measure poverty?
    • How much does it really take to make ends meet?

    Based on the answers to these questions, NCCP has developed a "Basic Needs Budget" as an alternative measure of what it takes to make it in a number of communities across the U.S.

    You can download the PDF document here.

    Read more ...

    Saturday, May 12, 2007

    Child Indicators Conference

    Upcoming conference:

    First International Society for Child Indicators Conference
    Child Indicators: Diverse Approaches to a Shared Goal

    June 26, 27 and 28, 2007
    The Allerton Hotel
    701 North Michigan Avenue
    Chicago, Illinois

    The conference seeks to explore how child indicators can be used to improve the development and well-being of the world's children. The goal of the conference is to provide an opportunity for all participants to discuss relevant issues, form networks, share resources, and collaborate in an effort to promote the well-being of all children using child indicators.

    More information can be found at, including a detailed conference agenda. The conference is organized by the International Society for Child Indicators and hosted by Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. You must register and pay in advance for this conference. There is no on-site registration.

    Read more ...

    Friday, May 11, 2007

    Social Justice and Racial Equity

    Effective Communities, LLC has created a new website, The site is committed to increasing racial equity and social justice through providing six "pathways to progress."

    The site identifies gaps (PDF document) or disparities in how people are treated, and provides a list of data sources for specific indicators (PDF) so that you can measure these disparities in your own community. also highlights case studies of communities and programs that make a difference.

    From their website:

    Improving social justice and racial equity remains a challenge to society. Data consistently show gaps or disparities in the performance of our public systems, private markets and everyday life. For example…

    On Bourbon Street, African Americans have to wait longer for service and are charged more for drinks than Whites, on average.

    Around the country, applications for home mortgages submitted by African Americans are rejected at a higher rate than those submitted by Whites, even when the applications are identical.

    African American children start school at greater risk, on average, than White school children. They ultimately finish their schooling with less satisfactory prospects, earning less and having less to invest in their homes, their health or their children. These prospects are then passed on to the next generation with less than Whites, on average.

    Most people, on hearing these examples, acknowledge “That’s not the way it should be. It goes against basic American principles of fairness. We should be able to fix that.” Fixing that goes by many names: closing the gaps, leveling the playing field, removing structural barriers, and addressing root causes.

    The results of such efforts to "close the gaps" should be that, on average, blacks and Whites experience the same waiting times and prices at bars and restaurants, and are subjected to the same decision-making rules when applying for a mortgage, and find equally beneficial environments and opportunities in health and in school.


    Can philanthropy, in any of its many forms, stimulate progress in
    social justice and racial equity? The question is the basis of our inquiry; the answers, cast as a work in process, motivate this Web site.


    Benchmarking progress: Many funders want to see measurable results. Measuring results assumes that we know and agree which "bottom lines" are important to achieve. Measuring results also assumes we have appropriate and reliable measuring tools. In fact, neither is the case. One purpose of this project is to advance the field's understanding of progress -- what it means in context, how to notice it, and how to advance it. Ultimately the results to be measured in the gaps data: Are the gaps closing?

    If you haven't started measuring racial disparities as part of your community indicators efforts, this website provides the tools, data links, and reasons why you should get started.

    Read more ...

    State of the World's Mothers

    Just in time for Mother's Day, Save the Children has released its report on the State of the World's Mothers 2007 (PDF document).

    The report uses under-5 mortality rates, percentage of children under 5 who are moderately or severely underweight, gross pre-primary enrollment ratio, primary enrollment ratio, secondary enrollment ratio, gender parity, child survival progress rankings, and percent of the population with access to safe water as key measures of child well-being.

    It also measures women's health status, educational status, economic status, and political status to get at an overall Mothers' Index.

    The data (and pictures) tell a story about mothers around the world. Check it out. And don't forget to give your mother a hug or a phone call, if you can, this Mother's Day.

    Read more ...

    Thursday, May 10, 2007

    Effective Community Indicators

    Lia Gudaitis shares some of her work in Tools for Action: Analysing the Effectiveness of Community Indicators Projects in Realising Community Empowerment. In her blog, she talks about the work she did with The Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia (SPARC BC) in Canada.

    (Side note: Scott Graham from SPARC BC presented on "Using Community Indicators to Mobilize Action" at the 2007 Community Indicators Consortium conference -- he represented the Council well.)

    Lia suggests that, in her research, "outcomes of indicator projects varied as much as the indicator projects themselves. " That poses both an opportunity and a challenge to community indicators efforts -- how do you build in measures of your own effectiveness in galvanizing community change?

    Some folks have, as evidenced by the CIC Innovation Awards Winners, communities whose commitment to community change through indicators have led to exciting (and measurable) results. For other communities, their indicators projects are too new see results yet.

    But the opportunity/challenge exists to design your indicators effort so that it is accessible to the community, empowers people to make change, and measures what change is being made. For those who do so, congratulations -- and share your stories, please.

    Read more ...

    Census Updates

    From the New York Times editorial page:

    Among other needs, the Census Bureau told the White House that it would require $18 million in the 2008 budget to begin its partnership program, which is central to the bureau’s strategy for ensuring that all Americans participate in the census. But in its budget proposal, the White House allocated nothing for the program — zero.

    Under the program, the bureau would promote the census by teaming up with thousands of organizations — including state, local and tribal governments, churches, schools, corporations and community service groups. More than 140,000 such partnerships were established in the years leading up to the 2000 census and were widely acclaimed as crucial to its success. Racial minorities, in particular, were more accurately counted than in previous attempts. In 2000, the African-American undercount was reduced by more than half — to 1.84 percent from 4.57 percent in 1990. The undercount for Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans vanished.

    If you want to know more about what's going on with the Census, you can visit or head on over to The Census Project, which provides media alerts, Census updates, and opportunities to get involved to ensure sufficient funding for Census (and ACS) activities.

    There are also some exciting new tools planned for use in the 2010 Census. From HTL News:

    Doing up the census is serious business, a task that has in the past taken thousands of people thousands of hours to do. That process has gotten more streamlined and more electronic through the years, and the 2010 census will be the most electronic and precise yet. This is mainly because much of the data counting and correlating will be done using handhelds.

    A fleet of specialized handhelds is being developed for the U.S. Census Bureau by Harris, HTC, and others. A field test of the devices begins today, incorporating 1,400 of the handsets in separate yet connected operations on both coasts. Using GPS, SD cards, and high-tech reporting software, the devices will track the citizens of the country better than any combination of pen and paper ever has. The full-time effort is expected to incorporate 500,000 of the handhelds.

    Because these devices contain sensitive information, they have been engineered to a high level of security, including multiple levels of passwords, starting with fingerprint authentication. The devices communicate with a central Census database using Government-standard industrial strength encryption.Assuming that the field test goes well, we'll be hearing a lot more about these handhelds in the next few years, leading up to the Decennial Census of 2010.

    Many of us use the Census (and the American Community Survey) as key data resources for community indicators projects. Get involved to ensure that we have the most reliable and timely data possible.

    Read more ...

    Wednesday, May 9, 2007

    Annie E. Casey Launches New Website

    The Annie E. Casey Foundation has launched their new website, and I recommend you take a look at it. Annie E. Casey has been a great supporter of indicators projects and the use of data to help vulnerable children and families succeed.

    They're probably best known for KIDS COUNT, an invaluable data resource about children. A key resource they also provide is called CLIKS, or Community-Level Information on Kids. You can get state and local profiles on children, line graphs, maps, rankings, and other useful information.

    While you're at their website, check out their Knowledge Center, which allows you to search among the many research efforts into various issues dealing with children and families.

    For more information about Annie E. Casey's work can help local communities, check out Edwin Quiambao's presentation to the 2007 Community Indicators Consortium conference (PDF document). In it, he shows how Casey helped Baltimore address a series of children's issues.

    If you're using the Annie E. Casey Foundation's work to assist your community indicators project, drop me a line and tell me what you're doing.

    Read more ...

    Tuesday, May 8, 2007

    Telling a Story with Data

    Check out Gretchen Schuldt's Milwaukee Blog for a great use of community indicators (in this case, for one zip code in Milwaukee) to tell a story about violence, schools, and community.

    She says:

    If you want to understand what is behind the violence that seems to in the Milwaukee Public Schools, read researcher Lois Quinn's "New Indicators of Neighborhood Need in Zipcode 53206." It's in there, behind that rather dry title.

    The violence that is occuring in MPS is changing, which Sarah Carr is capturing in her series on school violence. It's not the number of incidents -- it's the degree of anger behind the incidents, the attacks on MPS staff, and the involvement of parents and other family members in fights.

    What Quinn, senior scientist at UWM's Employment and Training Institute, shows clearly is that part of the city is falling apart, economically and socially.

    She then quotes a series of indicators that add together to an inescapable conclusion: This part of the city is broken.

    Check it out.

    Read more ...

    Online Trainings and Expert Chats

    We're starting to see a rising number of places on the web that will provide online training in factes of community indicators. Let me share a couple with you, and invite you to pass along others you may know about.

    I've enjoyed the information available through KnowledgePlex. They tend to focus on housing issues, and include training on data in the process. Today at 2:00 p.m. ET, they're hosting a session on Green Communities: Designing Efficient, Affordable Multifamily Housing. For more information or to join this chat, click here. They've also provided an archive of past training sessions so you can get caught up if you missed a session that matters to you. I highly recommend the training on the overview of DataPlace.

    On Wednesday, May 16, the Maternal and Child Health Information Resource Center, funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, is offering an internet audio conference called Contextual Analysis: A Tool for Understanding Disparities in Preterm Birth from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. This program will be the first in a three-part series, with subsequent programs to be broadcast on June 6 and July 11, 2007. To register for this program, visit the Data Resource Center for the National Survey of Children's Health home page and click on the MCH DataSpeak on Contextual Analysis link under New Resources.

    Their DataSpeak program also has an archive of past sessions so you can get caught up on the health-related data information they provide. Check out the sessions on the National Survey of Children's Health and those on health disparities.

    What other online training resources do you turn to most?

    Read more ...

    Monday, May 7, 2007

    Arts and Culture Indicator Project Launches New Website

    From our friends at ACIP and NNIP:

    ACIP recently launched a new website
    ( as a resource for those interested in developing indicators on arts and cultural vitality, including artists, researchers, community leaders, community development practitioners, and arts administrators and funders. Visitors of the site will find extensive information on indicators of cultural vitality, which ACIP defines as the practice of creating, disseminating, validating and supporting the arts and culture as a dimension of everyday community life and conditions.

    The Arts and Culture Indicator Project (ACIP) has operated in conjunction with the National Neighborhood Indicator Partnership (NNIP) since the late 1990s. ACIP promotes the idea that having information about the presence and effects of arts and culture in communities can help policymakers and community members make better decisions for neighborhoods and cities. As Maria Rosario Jackson, director of ACIP, notes, "You cannot adequately grasp the experience of race and ethnicity or socio-economic status without some understanding of a community's cultural expression. The demographic figures on communities tell only a limited part of the story. You also have to understand the cultural expression of the community to get at the heart of it". ACIP has shown that information on the presence of arts and culture in communities can help shape many areas of policy, including economic development, education, and transportation.

    ACIP collaborates with local affiliates on cultural vitality indicators work in seven cities across the country. Five of the seven affiliates, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., are NNIP partners. Other affiliates include the Great Valley Center, located in Central Valley, CA, and the Active Arts Initiative at the Los Angeles County Music Center. The ACIP Affiliates page highlights the affiliates and the work in their local communities.

    The website provides many resources for individuals and organizations interested in creating, interpreting, and using cultural vitality indicators in their communities and neighborhoods. The web site includes the following sections:

    Cultural Vitality Defined: This section offers a definition of cultural vitality, recommends areas of measurement, and discusses the far-reaching impact these indicators can have on various types of policy, including education, public safety, economic development, health, and civic engagement.

    ACIP Reader: The Reader lists research and publications on arts and culture indicators, covering both the conceptual framework and practical applications. It also documents the national data sources from which one can develop comparable arts and culture indicators.

    Case Examples: Here you can learn about communities in the United States where cultural vitality indicators are being used to inform planning and policymaking in various policy areas. Presently, the case example on the ACIP site highlights California's San Joaquin Valley use of arts and culture indicators for the improvement of the 250-mile stretch of Route 99.

    Further additions to the site will be made soon, including updated city rankings based on nationally comparable data and examples of how cultural vitality indicators can be derived from unlikely local data sources, including police, school district, or economic development data.

    Read more ...

    Thursday, May 3, 2007

    Measuring Social Progress

    In November 2006, PEKEA (Political and Ethical Knowledge on Economic Activities) held a conference in Rennes, France to address local indicators of social progress. During the conference sessions, speakers emphasized the need to look at the progress of a community in terms of the social conditions of its people, and not just the economic conditions of its industry.

    If you're looking to measure the social condition of your community, a great deal of information is available to help. The list of possible resources is immense, so let's start with the global first and then start to transition to national-level information. Future posts will explore state, regional, and community-level social indicators projects. Feel free to respond with your own suggestions of projects as well.

    For data resources, a good starting place is the United Nations' Social Indicators web page. Indicators on that site are provided on the following areas:
    - Child-bearing
    - Child and elderly populations
    - Contraceptive use
    - Education
    - Health
    - Housing
    - Human settlements
    - Income and economic activity
    - Literacy
    - Population
    - Unemployment
    - Water supply and sanitation

    Their methodology and technical background on the development of social indicators are available in their Handbook on Social Indicators and Towards a System of Social and Demographic Statistics.

    I've already mentioned OECD's Social Indicators site in an earlier entry. But I didn't mention the social indicators at the World Bank site.

    Canada has their own Social Indicators site that's worth a look even if you don't live in Canada. Pay attention to their Social Indicators Links for other interesting information.

    If you want to see how to make a difference with social indicators, check out the National Association of Planning Councils' Leading Social Indicators report. In it, the indicators are paired with success stories of communities who used the data to make a measurable difference in addressing social needs.

    Read more ...

    Tuesday, May 1, 2007

    Sustainability Resources

    The folks at Play a Greater Part are trying to connect college students who need to do a class project for credit with community efforts that need research or other work that could be done by a college student.

    The AACU Civic listserve puts it this way:

    The “Play a Greater Part” website is dedicated to bringing together people with research projects in sustainability with others who have the time and interest to help perform the research.

    This website connects post-secondary students with an interest in sustainability to professionals who need help with a project regarding sustainability. The site is available to all types of organizations (e.g. business, government, non-profits) and the public for viewing and submitting projects.

    We hope this site will help those in the fields of sustainability gain the needed human resources for performing their research, and that it will enable students to see how they can use their academic work to contribute to the solutions to our societal problems.

    Play a Greater Part is created and maintained by the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP), in collaboration with the US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

    If you have (or have had) a successful experience linking your indicators project to a student through Play a Greater Part, please let me know.

    Read more ...

    Volunteerism and Civic Life

    The Corporation for National & Community Service has released its Volunteering in America: 2007 State Trends and Rankings in Civic Life (PDF document). The report "gives a detailed breakdown of America’s volunteering demographics, habits, and patterns by state and region. The 2007 report also provides the agency’s first-ever ranking of levels of civic engagement by state through a new Civic Life Index."

    You'll want to look closely at the data sets around both volunteering and the other measures of civic participation and civic engagement. The site reports:

    The section’s maps and tables include state level volunteer rates, volunteering rate changes, volunteer retention rate, and an index of civic life that includes voting, working within the community, and civic infrastructure. Volunteering among key demographic groups, such as older adults, Baby Boomers, young adults and college students, is also ranked. The volunteer rankings are based on three years of data in order to increase the reliability of the estimates and ensure more accurate comparisons across states.

    For those who used to rely on the studies and surveys from Independent Sector to measure volunteer rates, this is a welcome addition to the data sources available. Independent Sector is still the primary source for the calculated dollar value of volunteer time, which is a useful number to use in your local community to calculate total dollar value of the volunteer services provided in the community. Independent Sector also links to other relevant studies on aspects such as philanthropic giving and the Bureau of Labor Statistics' volunteer rate estimates (PDF document).

    If you have other data sources for volunteerism and civic engagement, please pass them on.

    Read more ...

    Canadian Index of Wellbeing

    In October 2007, we can look forward to seeing the first release of The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW). GPI Atlantic describes it as a "tool that will redefine what it means to have a truly prosperous economy, in a way that captures the public imagination and stimulates the everyday ‘water cooler chat’."

    The CIW project asks you to:

    Imagine an index:

    • That distinguishes between good things like health and clean air, and bad things, like sickness and pollution;
    • That promotes volunteer work and unpaid care-giving as social goods, and overwork and stress as social deficits;
    • That puts a value on educational achievement, early childhood learning, economic and personal security, a clean environment, and social and health equity;
    • That values a better balance between investment in health promotion and spending on illness treatment.

    The CIW is that type of measuring stick. It is being built by a team of national and international experts, in partnership with leaders from the business, health and community sectors, around indicators that measure the extent to which we are realizing our values and goals as a society and whether we are leaving the world
    a better place for our children.

    For more information, see Canadian Index of Wellbeing: Measuring What Matters (PDF document). This is part of a global trend to "measure what matters" -- moving beyond traditional indicators of economic activity to trying to understand the important aspects of a community, which are much more closely linked to concepts of sustainability, quality of life, and even happiness.

    Peter Conway, CTU Economist, writes:

    [D]o the statistics we regularly use actually measure what matters? As Albert Einstein said “not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted, counts”. For instance Marilyn Waring, in her seminal book, Counting for Nothing, argues that monetary value needs to be attributed to unpaid work — productive and reproductive. Recently there has been more and more debate about how to measure sustainability and wellbeing. The Canadians are establishing an Index of Wellbeing which will measure: living standards, time allocation, healthy populations, ecosystem health, educated populace, community vitality and civic engagement. The first release is in October 2007.

    Professor Richard Layard from the London School of Economics describes GDP as a hopeless measure of welfare and says it makes more sense to measure happiness. He argues that happiness is like noise – there are many different types but you can measure the decibels. There is also a Human Development Index which measures the average achievements across life expectancy at birth, adult literacy, and a decent standard of living as measured by GDP per capita in purchasing power parity. The GPI or Genuine Progress Indicator uses 26 social, economic, and environmental variables. The GPI assigns explicit value to environmental quality, population health, livelihood security, equity, free time, and educational attainment. It values unpaid voluntary and household work as well as paid work. It counts sickness, crime and pollution as costs not gains.

    Some progress has been made in New Zealand with the MSD Social Report which also focuses on wellbeing. It has 10 areas which are measures and 42 indicators. The areas include: health, knowledge and skills, paid work, economic standard of living, civil and political rights, cultural identity, leisure and recreation, physical environment, safety, and social connectedness. And the Local Government Act requires a collaborative process every 6 years to identify community outcomes and for a report from 2009 every three years on whether or not the outcomes have been achieved.

    Many of us involved in what Enrico Giovannini of the OECD described as the "global movement" of community indicators are faced with similar questions -- how do we measure what matters? This national efforts provide broad answers to these questions which we can then apply on a more intimate community level. If we're in the business of measuring, we ought to continually ask ourselves if we're measuring what matters most.

    Read more ...