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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, June 21, 2007

Indicator Selection Criteria, Part I

I thought it might be interesting to pull together the selection criteria different communities use in choosing their indicators. I'll start with Jacksonville, Florida, because I'm most familiar with that one. The complete list is available here (PDF):


For the purposes of JCCI's Quality of Life indicators project, an indicator is defined as a quantitative measure of the quality of community life. Perfection in the selection of these indicators is not possible. An indicator that is meaningful (provides valuable information) and useful (provides guidance toward community improvement) usually reflects a combination of idealism (what we would like to measure) and pragmatism (what we are able to measure). Based on these concepts, the Quality of Life indicators have been selected and are maintained based on the following criteria:

  • Importance: The indicator measures an aspect of the community’s quality of life which a diverse group of people in the community would agree is important, in relation to the community’s vision.
  • Policy relevance: The indicator measures an aspect of the community’s quality of life
    concerning which the community can achieve positive change through public decision making and policies at the community level.
  • Responsiveness: The indicator responds relatively quickly and noticeably to real changes in the quality of life, as revealed by changes in the direction or slope of the indicator’s trend line.
  • Validity: If the indicator’s trend line moves either upward or downward, a diverse group of people in the community would agree on whether the quality of life is improving or declining.
  • Understandability: The indicator measures an aspect of the community’s quality of life in a way that most citizens can easily understand and interpret, in relation to their own lives.
  • Clarity: The indicator uses clear measures that filter out extraneous factors. For instance, dollar indicators are reported in deflated, constant dollars; per-person rates are used where appropriate to factor out population growth; and raw numbers are used where total magnitudes are important.
  • Outcome orientation: Where possible, the indicator measures a community outcome—the actual condition of the quality of life (e.g. the crime rate). Alternatively, it measures an outcome of the community’s response to a quality-of-life issue (e.g. police response time) rather than the input of the response itself (e.g. number of police officers).
  • Asset orientation: Where possible, the indicator measures a positive aspect of the community’s quality of life (the community’s assets rather than its liabilities) so that an increase in the indicator’s trend line reveals community improvement (e.g. the high-school graduation rate rather than the dropout rate).
  • Anticipation: The indicator anticipates future quality-of-life conditions rather than reacting to past trends. A “leading” indicator (e.g. cigarettes sold) is more useful than a “lagging” indicator (e.g. long-cancer deaths) because it allows a proactive community response.
  • Availability, timeliness, stability, and reliability: Data for the indicator are readily available and affordably accessible annually from a credible public or private source. If the data come from multiple sources, staff can readily compile and calculate the indicator numbers. Data are consistently collected, compiled, and calculated in the same way each year.
  • Representativeness: Taken together, the indicator set, and the indicators within each Element, cover all the major dimensions of the community’s quality of life.

Jacksonville Community Council Inc., July 2000


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