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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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

An Australian Reaction to the OECD Forum

The full article is linked on the news feed, but because it will likely rotate off soon, I thought I'd share an interesting excerpt from Geoffrey Woolcock's article titled "It's the society, stupid!"

Woolcock pulls together data from a number of interesting sources, including children's perceptions of the future and social equity research, to question the reliance on economic indicators as a sole (or even primary) measure of the happiness or well-being of a country. He then ties in his reaction to the OECD World Forum's efforts to examine indicators of progress. What he says echoes what those of us in the community indicators field have been saying for years. I just like the way he says it:

Given that ultimately happiness is an entirely subjective phenomenon, perhaps true understanding of individual happiness is mistaking the means for the ends. Various social movements, most prominently the environmentalists, have long questioned untrammeled growth and continue to provoke us to engage instead in a much broader debate about how whole societies define and measure progress, beyond the baseline index of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

These questioners are starting to come from more diverse places, whether it be a few private sector corporations increasingly influenced by the social aspects of triple-bottom line accounting or the Australian Bureau of Statistics whose Mapping Australia’s Progress is lauded internationally for its efforts to collate an impressive array of non-economic measures such as volunteering and perceptions of trust and safety.

But the rub for governments in publicly presenting such indicators is in the inclusion of some of the more confronting aspects of progress, including measures of citizenship, human rights and democracy. Incorporating these aspects into 100 indicators of well-being across 18 of the 30 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, the economists Rod Tiffen and Ross Gittens in their 2004 book How Australia Compares, ranked Australia a lowly 15th.

These broader ambitions in measuring wellbeing were the focus of a major OECD conference held last month,
Measuring the Progress of Societies, challenging the world’s sharpest statistical minds to answer the key question: how can we measure how our societies are really doing?
The conference undoubtedly helped elevate the political importance of long-standing alternative measures to the GDP such as the Genuine Progress Index and the Global Peace Index, as well as the impressive work establishing community indicators of sustainable progress emerging in Australia.

There is much to be achieved but if such gatherings are to be effective, they will help elevate fundamental markers of progress like bridging the vast discrepancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians’ life expectancy to start competing alongside the earnest daily recital of the fortunes of the Nikkei, Dow Jones and All Ordinaries indices. And they might also do justice to the famous libertarian philosopher J.S.Mill’s thoughts dating back to the 1850s: “Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness.”


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