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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Indicators of Singles in Communities

Did you catch the article in Forbes listing the top U.S. cities for singles? You can even check out the international ranking of cities by appeal to singles.

What I found interesting wasn't the list -- everyone's got a list these days (it would be interesting to have a list of cities ranked by how many lists they appear on, wouldn't it?) No, what I enjoyed was the methodology. Do you ever read the methodologies behind these lists? Sometimes they surprise you, and sometimes they've got a hidden gem or data source in their index that they'll share with you. I received some critical data one time from the kind people behind the America's Most Literate Cities rankings, and I'll always appreciate their willingness to share.

So here's the methodology behind the rankings. And these are really fun.

First they measured the singles, the "ratio of a metro's population above the age of 15 that has never been married." That's Census data, and not really that exciting, but a necessary data point to begin with.

They had a "Coolness" factor: "We determine coolness by an area's diversity and its number of creative workers (i.e., those whose jobs require creativity, such as artists, scientists, teachers and musicians). Richard Florida and Kevin Stolarick of Catalytix and Carnegie Mellon University gave us the data." I like Richard Florida's work (which doesn't keep me from complaining about the weakness of the data sometimes), but I don't get so jazzed up about Dr. Florida being the arbiter of what's cool. So far, it's just an OK list for me.

Job Growth is next -- obvious, but probably necessary. "Job growth rankings are determined by the projected job growth percentage over the next five years for each metro. Washington, D.C.-based Woods & Poole Economics provided the data."

They add a "Buzz factor", which I find annoying -- the same kind of thing started a number of arguments in our community when Black Enterprise Magazine named it one of the Top 10 Cities for African Americans. If you have a web-based survey as part of the index, someone's going to try to game it, and someone else isn't going to trust it because they'll think it's been gamed. To Forbes' credit, they let us know that this part is almost meaningless (so why include it?): "The city's buzz factor is determined by the outcome of an interactive poll in which we asked our readers to give a city a thumbs-up, a thumbs-down or a shrug. Buzz is substantially less heavily weighted in determining the final rankings then the other factors."

But then they get to real data, and they source it. Nightlife and Culture seemed like pretty good indicators:

Nightlife: Nightlife is based on the number of restaurants, bars and nightclubs in each standard metropolitan area. This year we tweaked our formula to give a higher weighting to restaurants and less to bars and nightclubs. Nightlife data is provided by AOL City Guide/Digital City.

Culture: Our cultural index is determined by ranking and then equally weighting the number of museums, pro sports teams, live theaters and university population in each metro. Data courtesy AOL City Guides/Digital City and McGill University.

Now here's the part I really liked:

Cost Of Living Alone: Our proprietary Cost Of Living Alone index is determined by the average cost of a metro area's apartment rents, Pizza Hut pizza, a movie ticket and six-pack of Heineken. The majority of the raw data was provided by Arlington, Va.-based ACCRA.

Isn't that a more interesting, and probably relevant, indicator? How often do we miss the opportunity to think creatively about a new measure to express something we really want to know about? (I think I would have added "laundromat fees" to the list, just for kicks.)

So check the methodologies behind these kinds of lists, and start thinking creatively. Please share your favorite quirky indicators!


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