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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Child Poverty Indicators: What Do We Know?

We've been talking about measuring poverty here, here, and here. Measuring child poverty is even more difficult.

Some researchers have tried to discover better child poverty indicators through asking children for their point of view. This wasn't as helpful as they thought it might be -- these children in England ranked the lack of cell phones the key indicator of child poverty. (They may be right in some cultures -- how about the numbers of five-to-nine year olds with cell phones in Japan?)

In the United States, trying to understand what we know about child poverty indicators is hard work. Douglas Besharov's Poverty Update from September 27, 2007, is helpful in explaining what the numbers we use really mean, and why they aren't sufficient. His efforts to get behind the numbers yielded some interesting results, particularly on the racial/ethnic shifts of women employed in skilled blue-collar employment and the impact on racial disparities in child poverty.

I hadn't realized that Connecticut has mandated reducing child poverty by 50 percent by 2014, which is an interesting idea -- can you legislate away poverty? And Minnesota has launched a commission to end poverty by 2020 -- what comes out of these efforts may be incredibly useful for community work, depending on what they accomplish. Just declaring war on poverty didn't make it all go away.

Earlier this year, the United Nations adopted a new definition of child poverty, one that went beyond a family income definition. UNICEF added some thoughts that might be useful in exploring community indicators of child poverty:

Children’s well-being relies in large part on the availability and quality of basic services and an environment for play and leisure. Access to these does not always depend on family income but on the priorities and investments of the state. Lastly, income poverty assumes that all family members have an equal share of the family’s income, which is often not the case, particularly for girls. ... If poverty is understood as more than just income poverty, then responses need to address the broader picture of children’s experience of poverty.

How do you measure child poverty? Any suggestions for other communities?

Read more ...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

New Data on Networks

I have to pass on one more item from Harvard's Social Science Statistics Blog. The article -- "How Do You Get 7,000,000 Cell Phone Records?" -- discussed this presentation by David Lazer.


We've been talking about big numbers and new data sources and using traditional data in new ways and even using cell phones as data sources, but this goes way beyond.

Beyond beyond.

How about using the records of 7,000,000 cell phone users (including 49 trillion conversations!) to map social networks? What if you then followed up that work by tracking (participating) students for a month, paying attention to both phone conversations and physical proximity -- and used that data as a predictor of friendship patterns? What if you took that research next to Washington?

Amazing information that you need to check out, if only to put our community work and local indicator projects in context with the possible.

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Social Science Statistics Blog

I had mentioned the Social Science Statistics blog earlier, but since the blog is more active now after summer vacation, I thought I'd bring it to your attention again.

It's from the nice people at Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Here's why you should pay attention to it, from its own description:

This blog makes public the hallway conversations about social science statistical methods and analysis from the Institute for Quantitative Social Science and related research groups. Expect to see posts on trends in methodological thought, questions and comments, paper and conference announcements, applied problems needing methodological solutions, and methodological techniques seeking applied problems. Also included are summaries of papers and comments from a popular weekly research workshop held here and billed as a tour of Harvard's statistical innovations and applications with weekly stops in different disciplines.

Those are great conversations to listen in on, especially without paying tuition. A recent entry caught my eye and I thought community indicators practitioners might be particularly interested, since it deals with problems we have in comparing self-report health data to get a real sense of what's happening in communities.

The article is titled Health Inequities and Anchoring Vignettes, and it describes a technique for having survey respondents classify the health status of a series of short descriptions of someone else's health functioning before rating their own. In this way, differences in expression or culture aren't treated as real differences in health status.

Read the article, as well as these two earlier articles, to see how useful this technique might be for your community's health assessment -- and for a better understanding of how to use data from other communities as comparatives.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Blogging Graphs

The good folks at Swivel have made it easire than ever to add graphs to a blog entry.

You begin by either creating or selecting a graph at Swivel. I've been talking with folks about global demographic trends and their potential impacts in local communities, so I chose fertility rates in OECD countries.

The next step is to look under the graph at "Share this graph". Under the send-to-e-mail link is "post to blog" -- they make it pretty easy. When I click that, I get a page with a helpful note pointing out which text to copy and paste into HTML, and some options on what size graph I want. I choose medium, and try below:

United States vs. Total fertility rates: Number of children born to women aged 15 to 49 Japan vs. Total fertility rates: Number of children born to women aged 15 to 49 Mexico vs. Total fertility rates: Number of children born to women aged 15 to 49 Turkey

That seems a little cluttered, so I refocus on just U.S. fertility rates:

United States

Then, because I'm interested in sparklines, I try a sparkline version of the same graph:

This turns out to be as simple as Swivel promised. Send me your examples of using graphs in your blogs. In the meantime, I'll gather a bit more information on the global trends we're looking at, and an upcoming conference to discuss how they effect local community planning effort.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Story Telling with Big Numbers

He's questioned the data in the salsa v. ketchup debate. He's challenged the costs of cybercrime.

In Bringing Big Numbers Down to Size, the Numbers Guy takes on the concept of big numbers. How often do we use large numbers and statistics to make a point, and lose the audience because the numbers just don't make sense to them?

So we sometimes use analogies and descriptors and examples that describe dollar bills stretching to the moon or lines of people wrapping around the earth or similar kinds of things.

But there are some really innovative ways to portray large numbers. Check out how artist Chris Jordan depicts nine million children without health insurance.

And reader ChuckP adds that:

Most solutions to the difficulty conceptualizing numbers don’t work because they simply compound the problem. A stack of bills to the moon equals x dollars or the federal budget etc., etc.? Such images fall flat because it tries to solve the problem by introducing - more numbers!
Any solution probably requires two things - deeply held intuitive conceptions and a few SIMPLE numbers - but only if absolutely necessary.

My best attempt was an informational leaflet at describing how much more CEOs now make than the average Joe: “There are CEOs that make in one hour what takes many of us a whole year to earn.”

It’s very effective. People don’t forget it because it’s about one of the most important weekly events - the size of the paycheck for 40 hour’s work - and how it compares with the paychecks of other people we know. Imagine! - the example illustrates scale with no numbers at all!
It took me a long time to come up with the CEO example. It seems that every time I wanted to think about it, my mind automatically turned to the hopeless abstraction of numbers. I really had to work at getting into another frame of mind.

I know we've talked about the problems with using numbers to tell stories. And many times scale is even harder to show.

What are your best ways you've used in community indicators systems to help people understand large numbers?

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

UMI Conference Early Bird Ends Tomorrow

The Brookings Institution's Urban Market Initiative's 2007 Forum
October 18th and 19th, Washington DC
The Early Bird Special ends tomorrow, Thursday, September 27th. Last chance to register at the reduced price of $325. This is the last opportunity to make a reservation at Jurys Washington Hotel. Our reserved block of hotel rooms at the Jurys Washington Hotel, closes tomorrow, September 27th, at 5:00 PM , EST. This is the last chance to get the preferred rate of $205. To make a reservation, please call (202) 483-6000 and ask for a room in the Brookings/Urban Markets Initiative block to take advantage of this great deal.
New Pre-Conference Workshop added!
Learn about the exciting new developments and plans for the U.S. Census Bureau's American Communities Survey and the implications for users. Please note that this workshop takes place on Thursday, October 18th at 1:00 pm - don't miss out, plan your travel accordingly!

Exciting Presenters added!
We are pleased to announce that presenters at the Forum now include:
  • Anthony Williams, Co-Author of Wikinomics
  • Ben Hecht, Living Cities (invited)
  • Bruce Katz, VP & Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution
  • Gus Newport, Former Mayor of Berkeley, CA and lifelong activist
  • Chris Allen, President, Chris Allen & Associates
  • Cynthia Stewart, Director of Government Relations, the International Council of Shopping Centers
  • John Talmage, President & CEO, the Social Compact, Inc.
  • Robert Weissbourd, President, RW Ventures
  • Dr. Michael Turner, President, Political Economic Research Council
  • Dr. Clark Abrahams, Executive Director, Fairbanking, SAS Americas
  • Cavan Capps, Data Web/Data Ferrett, U.S. Census Bureau (invited)

We are also excited to announce that UMI's new director, Norris Dickard , will be participating in one of the Forum's many breakout sessions.


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Mapping Communities - GIS Workshops

From Gina Clemmer:

New Urban Research offers mapping and Census workshops, which are great for anyone that would like to map out demographics and service areas.

Hands-on workshops focus on teaching the fundamentals of using a Geographic Information System (GIS) for community analysis. Participants will learn to create thematic maps with Census data, Geocoding (Address mapping) and Spatial Queries. Other features of the workshop are learning to extract Census data and good map layout and design.

Upcoming workshops:

Gina Clemmer
New Urban Research, Inc.

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E-Conference on Sustainable Development, Indicators, and the Internet

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is hosting an E-conference on Internet Governance and Sustainable Development September 17 to 28.

Their description follows:

From September 17 to 28, IISD is hosting an e-conference to engage researchers, practitioners and policy analysts in an open discussion on the intersections between Internet governance and sustainable development. Your participation will help advance the debate. See below for details.

Click here to join the discussion.

The E-conference grew out of the 2003 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Conversations involving sustainable development, internet governance, and information and communication technology (ICT) led to a series of exploratory papers and this e-conference, which invites feedback and discussion, using those papers as a launching point.

It's all done through online listserves. The five discussion areas for the e-conference are:

  • governance processes;
  • economic barriers to development;
  • the capacity of developing countries to participate in international governance;
  • access to local knowledge as a critical input to decision-making; and
  • indicators for development.

The issue area for "Indicators for Development" uses these two issue papers and the following description:

Christoph Stork and Clark Miller describe some of the existing ICT and SD indicators, and suggest ways to make them more meaningful for evaluating results. Stork distinguishes between access, usage and impact indicators, among other types, pointing out that impact indicators, as derivatives of primary or secondary data, are most useful in gauging the impact of ICTs on sustainable development. Miller examines traditional indicators of sustainability, and points to the need to establish indicators customized at the community level—an observation that could be especially useful for designing effective derivative indicators noted by Stork.

The conversation itself is interesting, and so is the format for the conversation, which has brought together practitioners from around the world. Take a peek at what they're doing for both content and ideas for how future discussions in the world of indicators could be conducted.

(My only suggestion is that the listserve comments get threaded for easier archive and search purposes -- it's sometimes hard to follow or catch up with a conversation, and e-mails get really long if they've got to trail all previous comments with them to maintain context. The layout of the messages within the web software is also kind of quirky. But that's a quibble with the Lyris software, not with IISD.)

Read more ...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More Data Clocks

We had talked earlier about Worldometers, a site which provided continuously-updated estimates of a number of indicators across a variety of fields.

A similar kind of data clock can be found at World Clock, part of the Poodwaddle group of clocks (hey, I didn't name it.)

Here's what I like about these clocks:

  1. The data sources are provided.

  2. The means of calculation are provided.

  3. The clocks are available for you to embed on your own site, if you'd like.

  4. You can choose to display the clock as a yearly, monthly, daily, or stopwatch-from-right-now counter.

  5. You might even be able to customize the code to include your own data sources, if you know how to program, since the executable file is provided as well. (Someone who knows something about programming please let me know if I'm wrong.)

While you're there, check out the Earth Clock and even the Vital Statistics clock (which is available as an iGoogle widget.)

I'm most excited about using this concept to build localized tools as a different way of displaying information in the community than traditional charts and graphs. There's higher stickiness with a clock that a graph, I suspect, and I suspect we're all looking for something to make presentation of local statistics more compelling.

(Hat tips: Neatorama and

Read more ...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

HMDA and IRS Data Releases

Kathy Pettit informs us through the NNIP Listserve that two new data sets are available:

In case you missed it, two great datasets were released last week - the new Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data (tract-level) & new IRS individual tax statistics data (zip code-level).

1. HMDA 2006

HMDA data are collected by a financial institution as a result of applications for, and originations and purchases of, home-purchase loans (including refinancings) and home-improvement loans for each calendar year. For the first time, flat files (both for the entire U.S. and by MSA) are available for download.

2. 2005 Individual Income Tax Return Statistics by Zip Code
Zip Code data tables for Tax Year 2005 are now available for purchase. Data tables include the number of individual income tax returns; the total number of exemptions and number of dependent exemptions (which approximates population); adjusted gross income; salaries and wages; taxable interest; total tax;contributions; number of returns with Schedules C and F; and number of returns with Schedule A, by State and 5-digit Zip Code. In addition to these items, data also show the amount of taxable dividends; net capital gain/loss, IRA payment adjustment; self-employed pension adjustment; taxes paid deduction; alternative minimum tax; tax before credits; earned income credit; and number of returns prepared by paid preparers. Zip Code and State data are derived from addresses shown on the returns when filed with the IRS.,,id=96947,00.html

Read more ...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes

This is less a book review of Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes than it is a review of reviews of the book (you do that, don't you -- read a bunch of different reviewers opine all around a book before reading it?)

In this case, the book seems too interesting to ignore. It is, essentially, a trend analysis of 70+ indicators. If this begins a trend in itself, indicators practitioners could dominate the bestseller lists. How cool would that be?

Information Week is excited about the book's authors, Mark Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne, seem to validate the nerd -- IT folks are the new cool, and those who are reluctant to adopt technology are the new introverted social misfits.

Reuters wants to make sure we notice the similarities between this book and Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference -- both books say little things can have big impacts.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have perhaps the most interesting, and adversarial, reviews. (Why adversarial? Mark Penn is Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign advisor, a point both reviewers seem to get stuck on. More about that later.)

The Times (Hary Hurt III reviewing) explains why indicator folks should care about the book:

The thesis of Mr. Penn’s book is that “you can’t understand the world anymore only in terms of ‘megatrends,’ or universal experience. In today’s splintered society, if you want to operate successfully, you have to understand the intense identity groups that are growing and moving, fast and furious, in crisscrossing directions.” In the United States, he notes, these society-changing “microtrends” can involve as few as three million people, about 1 percent of the population.

So how does Mr. Penn identify the 75 most important microtrends of the current age? By numbers, largely those obtained through polls and surveys.

“Americans claim to be a ‘gut’ nation — which is kind of a bodily term for what we roughly term our ‘values,’ ” he declares. But according to Mr. Penn, the advice we get from our guts is “lousy” most of the time because it is inexact and often contrary to statistically determined facts. Numbers, he believes, do not lie. ‘‘Numbers will almost always take you where you want to go if you know how to read them,” he maintains.

So far, so good, right? But wait, says the Journal (Sam Schulman on the Opinion page.) It's not that figures lie, but liars figure. From the article:

In his quest to find microtrends, Mr. Penn also seems to miss the forest for the trees. He marvels at a society that is fundamentally older, yet working more. But the increasing age of our society is driven by improvements in health. Besides having access to better medicine, many have also given up tobacco, and we have the blessing of technology that has made much work not a physical activity that wears us out but a mental activity that can be performed much later in life, extending our usefulness and earning power.

The falling birth rate is also in part a function of our burgeoning information economy. If we don't physically wear ourselves down, we don't need to people our family with slightly younger versions of ourselves who can take care of us when our backs give out in our 30s. Childbearing becomes a matter of taste rather than necessity, and we are healthy enough to have children at much older ages, leisured enough to observe them at play (at sports where all can participate, not just an elite nine or 11 team members) or have pets instead--all "microtrends" Mr. Penn marvels at.

Why such different views? For the Times, it's a chance to make the point that the Republican Party is doomed; for the Journal, a chance to argue in favor of free markets and an opportunity to sneak in an attack on Senator Clinton. Despite the petty partisan bickering, the reviewers encourage me to read the book, with these thoughts in mind:

  • Small-scale indicators can have large impacts, so we ought to pay attention to a number of trends.
  • Small-scale indicators are in themselves influenced by larger trends, so we ought to pay attention to those as well.
  • Indicator analysis could be the new Harry Potter. (OK, maybe not. But a guy can dream ...)

P.S. The Wall Street Journal opinion piece is also worth reading for its history of the word "trend". Kind of fun trivia to toss out at parties when it looks like people are having too much fun.

Read more ...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

How ’Bout Them Indicators

It's nice to see your work appreciated. Fitz Haile provided plenty of appreciation in the Creative Coast Initiative blog with his I Love Me Some Jacksonville (sorta) article.

I haven't yet decided which is my favorite quote from the "How 'bout them indicators" section. It's pure indicator-lovin' poetry. Thank, Fitz.

You owe it to yourself to check it out.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hot-Mapping to Reduce Energy Use

We've seen efforts to identify people who consume water at high levels in the community and draw attention to that data to encourage conservation. We've seen similar efforts around electricity use, but those (unless a celebrity's involved0 don't seem to get the headlines or reactions that seeing someone's water bill does, especially when your area is experiencing water restrictions.

But there's an interesting new mapping technique being used in London to measure heat escaping from people's homes. Haringey Council in London sent planes (the articles keep referring to them as "spy planes" but they're just low-flight aircraft with heat sensors) to record thermal imagery, and then posted maps on the web showing differences in heat loss.

Here's how it worked:

Haringey’s mapping took place on a winter’s night when households were likely to have the heating turned up high.

An aircraft, fitted with a military-style thermal imager, flew over the borough 17 times to take pictures of almost every house in the area.

Footage of heat loss was converted into stills, then laid over a map of the area, before each house was given colour-coded ratings.

Homes that were losing the most heat were represented as bright red on the map. The least wasteful households were shown in deep blue. Shades of paler blues and reds were used to show grades of heat loss.

The stated goal was to "[help] us address three of the biggest issues currently facing Haringey — climate change, fuel poverty and housing waiting lists" by identifying vacant units and wasted energy through heat loss.

Here's the company that does this mapping (with several maps to see) -- pretty interesting stuff.

So is this a good use of data, or an invasion of privacy?

(Hat tip: Global Dashboard)

Read more ...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Best and Worst Graphing Techniques

We've talked before about Edward Tufte's work to improve the visual display of quantitative information. Now here's another site, the Gallery of Data Visualization, with a Best and Worst gallery for graphs.

With all the wonderful bells and whistles of new technology and tools to make data display more exciting, we might get so caught up in the display options that we forget to make sure we don't turn our data into lies.

Michael Friendly put this page together, and it's really quite interesting.

The good graphs he highlights come in five sections:

The not-so-good stuff gets categorized as well:

He also provides sections on Milestones in the History of Thematic Cartography, Statistical Graphics and Data Visualization and Timelines and Visual Histories.

Here's how he describes what he's trying to do. (Please click through for the all-time best [which is available in poster size here] and worst ... I think you'll enjoy it.)

This Gallery of Data Visualization displays some examples of the Best and Worst of Statistical Graphics, with the view that the contrast may be useful, inform current practice, and provide some pointers to both historical and current work. We go from what is arguably the best statistical graphic ever drawn, to the current record-holder for the worst.

  • Like good writing, good graphical displays of data communicate ideas with clarity, precision, and efficiency.
  • Like poor writing, bad graphical displays distort or obscure the data, make it harder to understand or compare, or otherwise thwart the communicative effect which the graph should convey.

Happy graphing!

Read more ...

Monday, September 17, 2007

More Data Sources

I'm becoming a big fan of tags for organizing web-based material, and for discovering other people who have tagged and organized material for you.

Thanks to the folks at this blog, I found the tag listings of Jon Udell. Jon's been trying to pull together public data sources, and has added quite a few interesting ones.

For example, the Human Development Report has customizable tables from countries around the world that you can download in spreadsheet format. That's from well over 100 indicators. (You can also read their report, but free access to customizable data sets is much more exciting to me, which obviously means I need to get out more.)

Then look at all pages tagged with 'publicdata' on More gems emerge, including GeoHive and WorldMapper.

So poke around, and join in the tagging fun -- make your own account, and when you identify really neat public data sites, tag them accordingly.

(There's also a community_indicators tag you may want to check out and add to.)

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

I Made Charts and Graphs!

OK, this is a little dated, but how can you not like a webcomic with the punch line "I Made Charts and Graphs!" If you're into movies, be sure and check out Theater Hopper.

(Found on Theater Hooper from September 2005. This looks a little small -- go check out the original.)

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Health Data Updates

Data updates are now available at, where you can get information for more than 50 indicators in the areas of:

For more detailed data within the United States, check out

Both sites are brought to you courtesy of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which also provides news briefs on health-related issues.

(Hat tip: Resource Shelf)

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

City Data Resources

I ran across a fascinating data site called they claim to have "collected and analyzed data from numerous sources to create as complete and interesting profiles of all U.S. cities as we could."

There's a number of sites out there with "city profiles on them" that tend to repeat the basic profile information from the 2000 U.S. Census. But this site is different.

Clicking on my city's profile (which was really easy as they set the page to dynamically grab your location information and set that as the example link), I was first greeted with 69 photos of Jacksonville, Florida.

Then I got maps, detailed weather information, breakouts by zip code, population, median age, median income, house values, median gross rent. It had racial breakdowns, commuting times, unemployment rates, and educational attainment. It had building permit data through 2006, with some nice comparatives.

And it kept going.

My point is that there's an awful lot of information on this site, and it's worth checking out your community for data or information on potential indicators.

Here's my quibble with the site: Despite having enourmous amounts of information (and forums to discuss issues and opportunities to correct or add information), I found it nearly impossible to source most of the information presented. I couldn't find the metadata information necessary to verify where the data came from. I really wanted to know whose population estimates were being used, whose median income estimates, what year they were using for educational attainment figures. I wanted the boring background reference stuff. And I couldn't find it.

The good news is that there's a way to contact the site owners and ask questions, and a way to join an active forum to talk about your concerns. On the whole, I think this is a useful starting point for community indicators folks in the United States to start looking at possibilities for indicators, but I'd get pretty upset if I ran across a report that used the data and only cited as a source.

Read more ...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Data Visualizations III

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, I thought I'd direct your attention to a fascinating blog called Information Aesthetics. This placed is geared to the concept that "form follows data" -- the site concentrates on bring a wealth of information about data visualization and visual communication.

Where else would you find out about sweaters with data knit into them? Or see what your baby might look like with different potential mates?

Some of the links are more traditional data sets with interesting displays, like a toxic site a day. Others display more unusual data sets, like how you're feeling.

What I find most useful about the site is the constant challenge to the idea that data can only be shared in lines plotted on x-y axes, or in stacked columns or pie charts. Here's a place to go to get your creative juices flowing.

Because, after all, the point of community indicators projects isn't just to collect stacks of relevant data. It's to get that data to tell a story to spark community change. And if the traditional means of displaying graphs and tables aren't connecting with the community, maybe something else could command their attention long enough for the story to sink in and become an impetus for community action.

Read more ...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Data Visualizations II

We've talked about data visualization several times before in this blog, and I've pointed out a number of interesting sites that display data in amazing ways. But this site left my jaw on the floor.

Smashing Magazine ran an article on Data Visualization: Modern Approaches with examples and links to seven categories and hundreds of examples of new and exciting ways to display data.

Some of them we've covered before. Others may not apply to the community indicators world, though they're pretty neat (and neatly pretty to look at.)

But the breadth and artisty of the examples given, and the lists of resources and tools available is amazing. So much so that I want you to quit reading this blog and go there right now. (Then come back here and read more and leave your comments -- I'd love to know what you found there that you might find useful for your own community.)

Read more ...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Children's Health Indicators

The Mulford Library Blog shares a nice description of the National Survey of Children’s Health and the new data set it provides. Here's what they say:

The National Survey of Children’s Health is a new survey that was conducted for the first time between January 2003 and July 2004. It provides statistics on child and adolescent health and well-being at the national and state levels. Read more about the survey by clicking here.

Results from the survey are easily accessible to the public via the
NSCH Data Resource Center. This interactive data query feature allows users to customize data and make comparisons between different states and among children of different ages, race/ethnicity, gender, household income, family structure, etc.

The National Survey of Children’s Health addresses various areas, including
over 60 child health indicators and content from the Healthy People 2010 goals.

So I went to this site and started to poke around. I really liked seeing data in areas that are hard to find good data for -- such as:

  • Mental Health Care: % children with current emotional, developmental, or behavioral problems who received some type of mental health care during the past year
  • Medical Home: % children who have a personal doctor or nurse from whom they receive family-centered, accessible, comprehensive, culturally sensitive and coordinated health care
  • Early Childhood School: % children ages 3-5 who regularly attended preschool, kindergarten, Head Start or Early Start during the past month

I liked being able to see the state numbers and compare to other states or the national averages. I really liked being able to click through each number and get the raw data, confidence intervals, and then get detailed explanations of each number with a simple mouseover. Very good metadata. I really really liked then being able to look at the same question for subgroups, such as race/ethnicity, family structure, family income, sex of child, insurance type, and special health care needs status. The fact that the site will graph the numbers for you and allow you to select which kind of graph you'd like to see was icing on the cake.

So what didn't I like? It's 2003 data, and single point in time. It's state-level only. I ended up want more data, more current data, more local data, and trend lines. It may seem selfish, but the site is so well done it just left me hungrier for more.

Take a look!

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Zip Code Data Source

Here's an interesting data source for you (based on the 2000 U.S. Census, so the data is getting a little old.) It's called Zipskinny, and it gives you a set of social and economic indicators for a zip code, and allows you to compare up to ten zip codes at the same time. Try it out!

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UMI Conference Update

Urban Markets Initiative Forum 2007
Connecting Communities: Using Information to Drive Change.

October 18, 3:00pm to October 19, 5:00 pm
The Brookings Institution
Washington, DC

Join us at the second Urban Markets Initiative Forum entitled, "Connecting Communities: Using Information to Drive Change." The UMI Forum 2007 will focus on how information drives change to facilitate connections and community change.

New Breakout Sessions Include:
  • Using Information to Improve Public Health
  • Community Change and Workforce Dynamics
  • Re-"storing" Urban Markets: Retail Strategies


The Urban Markets Initiative (UMI) at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program aims to improve the quality of information available on urban communities and use it to unleash the full power of those markets while connecting them to the economic mainstream.

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Predicting Neighborhood Decline

A couple of my favorite people in the whole world have a new policy brief available for us to pay attention to. Kathy Pettit and Tom Kingsley looked at urban neighborhoods and identified which had improved and which had worsened, then tried to see if any predictive indicators existed to be able to tell ahead of time which neighborhoods were going to struggle. The article is interesting, and you ought to take a look if you're interested in neighborhood-level indicators.

Here's how Tom Kingsley at The Urban Institute described the article:

Concentrated Poverty: Dynamics of Change, by G. Thomas Kingsley and Kathryn L.S. Pettit.
Neighborhood Change in Urban America Series, Brief 4. Washington DC: The Urban Institute.

America’s urban neighborhoods generally fared better in the 1990s than they did over the preceding decade, but this brief shows patterns of change were far from uniform. It contrasts census tracts in the 100 largest metropolitan areas that improved over a decade (poverty rate decreased by 5 percentage points or more) with those that worsened (poverty rate increased by 5 points or more). Indeed, a larger share improved in the 1990s (11 percent) than in the 1980s (8 percent). But even though the numbers were declining, the shares that worsened were actually larger in both decades: 15 percent in the 1990s down from 19 percent in the 1980s. The share of neighborhoods that improved in the 1990s was much higher where markets were strong than where they were weak, but the results were always a mix; some neighborhoods worsened even in the strongest markets and vice versa. Neighborhoods that worsened most often saw sizeable increases in minority populations, but racial composition did not change as much in improving tracts, suggesting that gentrification was not the dominant explanation. While there were many exceptions, tracts that improved were most often found in the inner portions of the central city and the outer rings of the suburbs, while tracts that worsened were more prevalent in the outer portions of the cities and, in particular, the inner ring of the suburbs. Beyond that, we found no simple set of indicators as of 1990 that reliably differentiated how tracts would change over the subsequent decade. Local officials cannot be complacent about the good news that has been reported about urban trends of late. Clearly, they should make better use of local data to get early warnings of worsening and improvement and to learn more effective ways to address the challenges that both imply.

The abstract, some highlights, and a link to the full PDF article is available here:

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Are You Ready for the Shift?

Here's a video that's worth watching to see how quickly the world is shifting -- and data play a key role. Karl Fisch presents Shift Happens.

It's six minutes long, and it's just as effective without the accompanying music, so feel free to watch it with your speakers off if you'd like.

Special thanks to Albino Blacksheep for the video.

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Webinar: Intro to GIS

If you know of an available online training resource or webinar that may be of interest to the community indicators community, please let me know and we'll post it here.

From the Nonprofit Technology Network:

Mapping Your Nonprofit: An Intro to GIS
Event type:
Cost: $25 for NTEN Members, $50 for Non-Members

Start: 10/02/2007 - 11:00
End: 10/02/2007 - 12:30
Timezone: US/Pacific

From Google Earth to GeoRSS, maps, geography, and location-based services are changing the way we interpret our world and engage with communities. This webinar will explore how geographic information systems (GIS) technology is being used to enhance the missions, meet the challenges, and answer the questions faced by non-profit organizations.

Applications cover a broad range of disciplines, including:

  • political advocacy;
  • education;
  • neighborhood redevelopment;
  • social services;
  • public health;
  • constituency building;
  • public safety;
  • and disaster response.
Almost any activity you conduct has a geographic component to it. Consequently, technology that leverages that geography can help improve communities, support better decisions, and demonstrate needs, progress, and program impact to boards of directors, stakeholders, and funders.

This webinar will be based on actual case studies of applications in nonprofit organizations and will progress from relatively simple processes to more complex analysis.

Topics will include:
  • the process of assigning locations to lists of addresses (geocoding);
  • using geography to organize and search community assets;
  • incorporating map-based reports into grant applications;
  • visualizing the geographic and demographic patterns in donor and audience groups;
  • demonstrating electoral support for political reform;
  • and prioritizing resources (real estate, natural resources and the like).

> Register Now!

Presented by: Robert Cheetham has been applying GIS technology to help nonprofits and government agencies for more than 10 years. He is the founder and president of Avencia, a software design and development firm based in Philadelphia. Avencia develops geographic analysis tools and services for government, nonprofit, commercial and research organizations. Previously, Robert served as the Senior GIS Developer for the City of Philadelphia and as Crime Analyst for the Philadelphia Police Department. Robert also serves as an occasional lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Design; collaborates with the Cartographic Modeling Lab at Penn; serves on the advisory committee for the Masters in GIS program at Penn State University and is Director of the Japanese Garden Research Network, a nonprofit, online database of information on Japanese gardens.

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Expert Chat: Assets and Opportunity Scorecard


Expert Chat: Assets and Opportunity Scorecard
Wed., Sept. 12 at 11 a.m. ET

This online discussion will present findings from CFED's 2007-2008 Assets and Opportunity Scorecard. Now in its third edition, the Scorecard is considered the nation's premier benchmarking tool for grading how well states build and protect assets for their citizens. Join experts Andrea Levere, Jennifer Brooks, and Jerome Uher of CFED for this presentation of how the 50 states and the District of Columbia rank on 46 performance measures in the areas of Financial Security, Business Development, Homeownership, Health Care and Education.
For more information and to join this chat,
click here.

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Quote of the Day

If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way. - Bertrand Russell

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Troy Anderson Discusses Data

Troy Anderson is the CEO of KnowledgePlex, Inc. In this article, The Problem With Data, Troy discusses how the importance of data:

Data doesn't kill people, people kill people. And yet, more lives are affected by data than guns: data determines how many Congress people represent you (unless you live in DC) and often how much money your state gets; data is one of the primary things (some say the only thing) that determines your mortgage interest rate; and data is often the last refuge of a specious argument.

With data so important these days, you'd better have some or you'll get left out, competed away, or find yourself unable to prove anything to anyone. Miss providing data and you'll miss out on money or opportunities for you, your organization, or your community.

The problem with data, as it currently exists in federal agencies and web sites, is that
it's very difficult to use despite being very relevant, down to a neighborhood level.

You can read the rest of the article here.

The good news is the number of new initiatives --, of course, but also swivel and freebase and numberpedia and a host of other efforts trying to make sense of data and make it available in easier fashions.

The bad news is that the problem isn't that there aren't enough numbers to play with, any more than there's a problem with not enough online news sources. As data become more accessible, we shift the problem from availability to data integrity -- sure we can get the data, but is it good data? Dataplace has been really good about metadata, but not every data site has been as diligent.

Check out this discussion of Geocommons -- how good is a tool if you're unsure about the data? Metadata standards -- data about the data -- are becoming increasingly important.

One more warning from The Problem With Data:

But ease of use and democratization of data are not the only problems faced by people who need data. The other problem with data, and with wanting data, is that data usually comes with a bias. People who gather and use data often already have an answer in mind: “Let’s disprove this hypothesis.” “Let’s see what’s well correlated with default risk” “What’s the income of this neighborhood?” The answers to their questions often depend on what can be measured, how often, when, and where. The usual answer to “What data can we get on this?” is “This is the data that’s available.” Anyone familiar with the story of the drunk looking for his keys under the lamppost because that’s where the best light was should see the problems here.

Community indicators efforts too often are forced to rely on what's available instead of what's important to measure ... and the hope is for an increasing range of accessible, good data to solve that problem as well.

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Vote for Your Favorite Corporate Sustainability Report

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) just issued a press release announcing a new award program for Corporate Sustainability Reports.

From the release:

Thousands of companies issue sustainability reports each year - but who reads them? What do these readers think of reports? Do reports meet the needs of communities, investors, employees, customers, journalists, and non-governmental organizations?

The GRI Readers' Choice Award was designed to find answers to these questions and give all sustainability report users worldwide a voice on sustainability reporting today. After extensive preparations by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and their partners - all leaders in the field - the first world wide online sustainability reporting awards scheme is close to launch. Mark your calendar for 1 October 2007.

Between October 1 and December 31, 2007, you get to vote on your favorite report. Again from the release:

Both the Global Readers' Choice Awards and the survey results will be presented during 'The Amsterdam Global Conference on Sustainability and Transparency', which will be hosted by the City of Amsterdam, and is supported by the Netherlands Government, UNEP, and with the involvement of businesses, NGOs, labor, and investors active in GRI's worldwide network. This is GRI's second international conference, and will be held 7 - 9 May, 2008.

"While most will agree that transparency through sustainability reporting is essential in our global pursuit of sustainability, little is known about the views and experience of intended readers - the users - and how sustainability reporting influences markets and stakeholder relations" said Ernst Ligteringen, Chief Executive of the Global Reporting Initiative when asked what inspired the development of the Readers Choice concept over the past year.

Your opinion counts. From 1 October 2007 you are invited to score the sustainability reports issued by companies that you work for, own stock in, are neighbors with, report on, or do business with at:

This is an interesting new initiative. Good Happens calls this Corporate Social Responsibility's version of the Oscar and adds, "As Hollywood taught us, nothing is official until it has an annual award attached to it... So by those standards, CSR reporting is now officially official."

Governance Focus adds that this is only one of two CSR awards being announced:

Users of corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports are being invited to vote for the most effective reports, with two new awards schemes announced this week.

Corporate Register (CR), which runs a free online depository of almost 15,000 CSR reports on is inviting its 20,000 registered users to vote in the CR Reporting Awards 2007.

We've been talking about the rise in the use of triple-bottom line reports and improvements in corporate sustainability reporting. This, however, suggests both a real movement towards change and an exciting opportunity to harness new data sets for understanding the community.

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Child Indicators for Canada

Here's a press release from the Canadian Education Association:

The Well-Being of Canada's Young Children

In September 2000, the Government of Canada and provincial and territorial governments reached an agreement to improve and expand the services and programs they provide for children under 6 years of age and their families. In an effort to promote accountability, the federal government committed to report regularly to Canadians on a common set of indicators of young children’s well-being. This report develops a comprehensive portrait of child wellbeing, examining physical and emotional health, safety and security, and early development in addition to providing an overview of the families and communities in which children live.

The Well-Being of Canada's Young Children, Government of Canada Report 2006

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Thursday, September 6, 2007 Now Opened

Good news for data fans! is now available to read without registering.

Don't know about Feebase yet? It's "an open, online data community provided by Metaweb Technologies. While in alpha, Freebase is targeted for developers and 'data fanatics' who can help provide valuable feedback for our Beta launch."

What that means is that it's still in development, and you still need an invitation in order to register and help add data (which is easy to get -- just give them an e-mail address and ask for an invite.)

But as of the beginning of this month, you can poke your head in and see what's happening. And it's kind of exciting. Kind of like Numberpedia, it's a way to organize information and search interesting data points. But it's got an interesting framework that those of us who appreciate data may enjoy. Here's a couple of excerpts from the FAQ:

Freebase is a uniquely structured database that you can easily search, add to and edit; you can also use the data in it to power your own projects. It’s a data commons in the way that a public square is a land commons—available to anyone to use.

Freebase covers millions of topics in hundreds of categories. It’s been seeded with a few million topics from open sources, including
Wikipedia and Musicbrainz, and while the first topics have mostly been in media categories like movies, music, and television, the Freebase community has already added thousands more topics on subjects from philosophy to European railway stations to the chemical properties of ingredients.

In fact, part of what makes Freebase unique is that it spans domains—but requires that a particular topic exist only once in Freebase, even if it might normally be found in multiple databases. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger would appear in a movie database as an actor, a political database as a governor and a bodybuilder database as a Mr. Universe. In Freebase, there is only one topic for Arnold Schwarzenegger, with all three facets of his public persona brought together. The unified topic acts as an information hub, making it easy to find and contribute information about him.

In addition to reconciling many facets of one topic, the underlying structure of Freebase lets you run complex queries—that is, ask questions of the data—that are difficult or impossible to run in conventional databases. For example, if you ask Freebase for Jennifer Connelly films with actors who have appeared in a Steven Spielberg movie, you’ll get a tidy list of seven movies. The extra-cool part is that if you’re a developer, or just mildly technical, Freebase offers
tools that make it easy to query and integrate the data into web apps, blogs, wikis, user pages or anything else that would benefit from an injection of structured information.

How’s Freebase different from Wikipedia? From Google Base?

Wikipedia and Freebase both appeal to people who love to use and organize information. The difference lies in the way they store information. Wikipedia arranges information in the form of articles. Freebase lists facts and statistics. Freebase’s list form is good not only for people who like to glance at facts, but also for people who want to use the data to build other web sites and software.

Does that whet your appetite? Go take a look. This may end up being an incredibly useful tool for local indicator efforts. Plus, lots of fun data. How cool is that?

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Reviewers of E-Government Sites Needed

Can you help?

Dear All,

The E-Governance Institute at Rutgers University-Newark is conducting itsThird Global E-Governance Survey 2007 in collaboration with theSungKyunKwan University, South Korea.

The Survey evaluates websites of municipalities worldwide and compares their rankings on a globale-governance scale. We are seeking to recruit volunteers who read thefollowing languages and who would be willing to evaluate one or more citywebsites worldwide.

Spanish, French, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Malay, Vietnamese, Hungarian,Latvian, Moldovan, Norwegian, Polish, Slovakian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish.

Surveyors will have the opportunity to learn about e-governance and related issues such as e-democracy, e-voting, e-bulletin boards, websiteusability and online citizen participation. Each evaluation can be donewithin two to three hours and surveyors will be credited in the published results.

If you are interested in volunteering for the survey, please email Aroon Manoharan at and he will send you further details.

Please forward this message to your friends and colleagues.

--Aroon Manoharan
Doctoral Student/Associate Director
E-Governance Institute
School of Public Affairs and Administration
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
360 Martin Luther King Blvd.Hill Hall, 7th floor
Newark · New Jersey 07102-1801
Phone: 973/353-5093(29)
Fax: 973/353-5907

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Free Access to Education Week Data

Important news from Education Week. I like having free access to data, even if it's only for 10 days:

Now that summer is over, is having an Open House to kick off the new school year! You are invited to come in and take a look around. You'll find everything you need to be up to speed on K-12 news, policy changes, commentary, analysis and more.

Our doors are wide open from September 5 through September 15. That means you'll have full access to everything our premium subscribers see daily!

Here are some of the most popular articles read by your colleagues this summer. Now is your chance to read them, too:
Reading Curricula Don't Make Cut For Federal Review - By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Learning and Earning - By Christopher B. Swanson
Teachers Say That NCLB Has Changed Classroom Practice - By Debra Viadero
Teaching Secrets: Students Behave When Teachers Engage - By Anthony Cody
Plus, you can do research using our
archives, review our special reports, and get all of the current news.

There is so much to see – all for free – and only 10 days to see it. So hurry!

If you run out of time, you can still enjoy free access to and Education Week by starting a free trial subscription. Click here to start your free trial of print and online access:

Enjoy your free access, and welcome back to the 2007-2008 school year.

Best regards,

Virginia B. Edwards
Editor and Publisher

P.S. Pass the word along about this Back-To-School Open House to your colleagues!

OK, I'm passing it along. The research center can be found at

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Index of Economic Well-Being

Last fall I had an opportunity to spend some time with Lars Osberg at a conference put on by PEKEA. The conversation about indicators of social progress was energetic and productive, which was readily apparent even though most of it was in French.

I bring this up to pass on the exciting work Lars Osberg has been doing with an Index of Economic Well-Being. He makes the point that increases in real per capita income or national GDP alone do not answer the question "are you better off today than you were four years ago?" (One of Dr. Osberg's papers, The Measurement of Economic Welfare, points out that Ronald Reagan used that line to win the U.S. presidency, even though per capita disposable income was higher in 1980 by 8.8 percent than it was in 1976.)

The Index measures four components of economic well-being:

  • Effective per capita consumption flows, including consumption of marketed goods and services; government services; effective per capita flows of household production; leisure; and changes in life span.
  • Net societal accumulation of stocks of productive resources, including net accumulation of tangible capital; housing stocks; net changes in the value of natural resources stocks; environmental costs; net changes in the level of foreign indebtedness; accumulation of human capital; and the stock of R&D investment.
  • Income distribution, including the intensity of poverty (incidence and depth) and the inequality of income.
  • Economic security from job loss and unemployment, illness, family breakup, and poverty in old age.

You can read a series of talks, articles, and presentations from Dr. Osberg on his website.

The question "are you better off?" is a personal one, and can really only be answered by individuals. The real question for social policy (and for the social indicators that support or direct that policy) should be: "is the community better off?"

That's what indicators of social progress are trying to measure, and Dr. Osberg's Index provides one way to answer that question. It's worth checking out.

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Bicycle Indicator Update

Last month we talked about female bicyclists as an indicator of community strength. Now the same indicator is in the news again.

In a New York Times article today, we learn of increased government oppression in Iran. What measures does the author use to make the point? Read for yourself in the opening paragraph:

Rents are soaring, inflation hovers around 17 percent, and 10 million Iranians live below the poverty line. The police said they shut 20 barbershops for men in Tehran last week because they offered inappropriate hairstyles, and women have been banned from riding bicycles in many places, as a crackdown on social freedoms presses on.

So besides a measure of growth management, urban renewal, transportation alternatives, public safety, and public health, female bicyclists are now an indicator of social freedom. Keep me updated on any other uses you find for this indicator!

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Myth-Perceptions and Public Policy Implications

With apologies to Robert Asprin, the headline from the Washington Post (Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach) raised some interesting questions about how we use data in decision making and create energy around community improvement.

The research behind the article suggests that correcting misinformation reinforces the misinformation. If you directly confront falsehood by rebutting it, people remember the falsehood as true -- and they'll claim you were the source! From the article:

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views and labeled them either "true" or "false." Among those identified as false were statements such as "The side effects are worse than the flu" and "Only older people need flu vaccine."

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

Younger people did better at first, but three days later they made as many errors as older people did after 30 minutes. Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.

The psychological insights yielded by the research, which has been confirmed in a number of peer-reviewed laboratory experiments, have broad implications for public policy. The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.

For those of us involved in community indicators work, this is troubling news -- perhaps as discouraging as learning that facts and figures make us care less.

Denials don't work, according to the article -- they only reinforce the myth. Silence doesn't work either:

So is silence the best way to deal with myths? Unfortunately, the answer to that question also seems to be no.

Another recent study found that when accusations or assertions are met with silence, they are more likely to feel true, said Peter Kim, an organizational psychologist at the University of Southern California. He published his study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

So what can we do about it? One approach may be to create a new story, where the data are integral to the story itself -- like the Three Little Pigs. The answer may not be to combat the false information directly, but to crowd it out with a new story -- which, through repetition, becomes lodged as fact.

But be careful -- we used a number to draw attention to the problem of adult functional illiteracy in our community, and that number took on a life of its own -- soon that particular percentage point was used to point out how horrible illiteracy was in our community, and without reinforcement that number was used for the next seven years as a rallying point to bring the issue to the front. (We grew to hate that number, because its significance was lost as it outgrew its context. And no, I won't repeat the number!) Only by telling a different story without referencing the original number (and quietly talking to those who were repeating it the loudest) did the conversation change.

What other successful strategies have you used to displace myth with real data in your community?

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Data and Mapping for Prisoner Re-Entry

Back in 2001, my organization took a look at services for ex-offenders and the challenges involved in prisoner re-entry.

Now there's a new report on using data and mapping technology to help communities address these same issues. The report, Mapping for Community-Based Prisoner Reentry Efforts (PDF), is produced by The Police Foundation and is subtitled "A Guidebook for Law Enforcement Agencies and Their Partners." But the report doesn't concentrate only on community safety issues (though that's one of the primary concerns of the report.) It also looks at how mapping re-entry services, housing opportunities, and the like can help people not re-offend.

Beyond the specific subject material, however, the report is a good example of the power of community-based solutions using data, trendlines, and mapping technology. If you don't read it for the content, read it for the process used to develop its answers -- and think about how your community processes could benefit from a similar approach.

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