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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, October 31, 2007

Pikes Peak Quality of Life Indicators

Back in March of 2005, I had the opportunity to talk with some concerned community leaders in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Pikes Peak United Way was looking into creating a community indicators report, and we had a wonderful conversation with people throughout the community on how open access to shared data could help improve the quality of life in the area.

Now the United Way has released the 2007 Quality of Life Indicators for the Pikes Peak Region (PDF) report, and it looks marvelous. What's been interesting about the report is the way it just got used to refute stereotypes promulgated by The New York Times.

The story, as told in today's Colorado Confidential, goes something like this:

The New York Times travel guide featured Manitou Springs, an apparently charming hippie-haven kind of place. Here's what they said:

Manitou is also defined by what it is not — its neighbor Colorado Springs, a sprawling, chain-stored center of conservative evangelical Christianity looming just beyond the Garden of the Gods, a 1,300 acre array of Gaudíesque red-rock formations that acts as a sort of buffer between the towns.

“Manitou is very different from Colorado Springs,” said a soft-spoken Manitou restaurant manager, Frog Rainbowstar (not quite his real name — that, according to his Colorado driver’s license, is Purplefrog Eightoak Rainbowstar).

Colorado Springs wasn't going to take that description lying down. The Colorado Springs Business Journal replied with an open letter to the New York Times telling them just what kind of community Colorado Springs was. The proof was in the indicators.

In the Quality of Life Indicators report, in a section called "Fostering Community Engagement," was an indicator on religious engagement. Turns out that Colorado Springs had lower church membership than Denver, or Colorado, or the United States as a whole. Rather than a "chain-stored center of conservative evangelical Christianity," Colorado Springs could be described in a number of different ways, including as "a bustling metropolis [that] has approximately two more patents registered per 10,000 people than the State of Colorado or the United States as a whole."

We've talked about using data on religious activity as part of a community indicators report before, and Colorado Springs used The Association of Religion Data Archives for their data.

All in all, this is an interesting way to use community data, coming on the heels of a highly successful first indicators report. Comments?

Read more ...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

SCOPE in Top 100 for Award

SCOPE has been selected for the Top 100 projects in the first ever "Make it Your Own" awards from the Case Foundation. Over 5,000 projects were submitted from across the country for this innovative grant-making strategy. To read more, visit the Case Foundation's "Make It Your Own" Awards website.

SCOPE entered a project for the upcoming Community Report Card-related events, which will be a face-to-face opportunity for Sarasota County residents to connect indicators with action. For more on SCOPE's newly-revised Community Report Card, visit SCOPE's website.

SCOPE's been doing some truly innovative work in the world of community indicators. This effort is part of their work to galvanize community efforts around the indicators; to learn more, read the project description they submitted for the award. They also have a blog for their indicators work.

They also have one of the best e-mail newsletters for community indicators practitioners I've seen. You may want to sign up to stay on top of the good work they're doing. For those who have seen the result of the innovative partnership SCOPE had with the Ringling School of the Arts in illustrating their indicators, you understand why I consider this organization a shining light in the community indicators field.

Read more ...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Regards to Rural Conference Wrap-Up

I wanted to finish our earlier conversations about the Regards to Rural conference. Some highlights and information about interesting indicators efforts in Oregon rural communities follow.

First of all, a gentleman came up to me after my presentation on community indicators. I had spoken of the erroneous assumption that people don't like data, and had referenced the kinds of data that populate the news, such as sports statistics, business trends, and weather charts. He suggested the reason information was so important to communities was that "data starts conversations."

Mike Stolte was at the conference, from the Centre for Innovate and Entrepreneurial Leadership (CIEL). CIEL has a Business Vitality Initiative (BVI) which "gauges the perceptions of citizens and community leaders on 100 key indicators that are known to affect business." They've recently added the Community Vitality Initiative (CVI), which uses a series of statistics, online surveys, and more to measure a community's quality of life. They also have an interesting Communities Matrix that measures leadership, social connections, strategic capacity, and more to help a community understand where it is in moving toward comprehensive community action. Interesting work and worth checking out.

CFED (Corporation for Enterprise Development) has state rankings available on its Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, which was an interesting way to use data to move an agenda. You can look up your own state, if you live in the States.

Oregon State University had some of the most interesting rural indicators initiatives, however. The Oregon Community Indicators Project run out of the OSU Rural Studies Program brings together a series of indicators from different reporting sources (such as the Oregon Progress Board, the Community Economic Toolbox, Regional Asset Indicators, Northwest Area Foundation Indicators Website, Northwest Income Indicators Project and the U.S. Census) to help communities access information easily. The next step is the Oregon Rural Communities Explorer, still in early beta stage, that will provide public access to social, demographic, environmental, and other indicators for rural communities.

All around were discussions on using data for community change. The breakfast roundtable session on community indicators was well-attended as the group wrestled with community-level and timely data for rural communities with low or very low populations (under 500). We discussed opportunities for locally-generated information to address local topics of interest, and found a number of different ways to get at the kind of information needed -- from volunteers timing their own commute times to community satisfaction surveys.

The conference left me feeling energized, especially with the number of youth participating in the discussions. Congratulations to Rural Development Initiatives for an exciting and well-run conference.

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Position Announcement: Metro Council, St. Paul Minnesota

Position: Manager, Research
Job Posting No: 291125
Salary Range: $59,082 - $88,623
Department: Community Development
Posting Date: October 26, 2007
Deadline: November 9, 2007

Position Summary
Plans and directs the operations of the research business unit; acts as business unit advisor in the interpretation and application of research findings. Directs, coordinates and evaluates research and GIS programs and projects, assigned to and carried out by research and GIS staff.
Manages the analyses of economic, fiscal, socio-demographic, and land use data to policymakers and the public by supervising the research and GIS operations and staff in the Planning and Growth Management Department.

Education/Training & Experience Requirements

  • Bachelor's degree in Planning, Geography, Economics, Demography or related field.
  • Six (6) years of progressively responsible related work experience of which four (4) years must include a combination of supervisory and project management roles. A combination of education and years of relevant experience may be considered.


  • AICP preferred.

Selection Process

Candidates will be selected for interview based on the results of:

  • Education and Experience Rating (review of applicationmaterials)

How to Apply

For consideration, applicants must complete:

and submit by email (preferred), fax or mail by the deadline date to:

Metropolitan Council
Fax: 651-602-1071
Mail: Human Resources, 390 Robert St. N., St. Paul, MN 55101

Please visit our website at for more information about this position and for employment application forms.

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Vacancy Announcement at BNIA

UB Vacancy Announcement
Data Manager
Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance - Jacob France Institute
Vacancy #: 2008-042B
Regular exempt position with benefits package
Open Date: 10/26/07; Closing Date: 11/9/07
Annual Salary Range: $45,000 - $55,000

The Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance – Jacob France Institute (BNIA-JFI) is a unique research center that is part of the University of Baltimore. We are a member of the Urban Institute National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) that is dedicated to collecting, analyzing and disseminating community and neighborhood level data. For more information about BNIA-JFI, visit

TO APPLY: Include your Vacancy Number on all correspondence and in your e-mail subject line. Submit resume and cover letter to, or mail to:
Human Resources, VA 2008-042B
University of Baltimore
1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

The Data Manager is a full-time, technical position responsible for the day-to-day technical leadership of BNIA-JFI’s database environment and design and maintenance of a neighborhood level database warehouse. The Data Manager works with BNIA-JFI staff to develop and maintain all data, monitor datasets, provide quality control, and plan for future data/technology needs. Duties include:

  • Develop and maintain the Vital Signs data warehouse, documenting and integrating data from a variety of primary and secondary sources.
  • Work collaboratively with BNIA-JFI staff to identify and secure appropriate data sources to incrementally expand the data warehouse. Determine data protocols to address confidentiality issues. Work with staff in data analysis strengths/limitations, and best data dissemination techniques.
  • Processes, geo-codes, and “cleans” data as needed.
  • Ensure that data are properly geo-coded, reliable, and complies with federal and state standards in regards to accuracy and confidentiality.
  • Work with staff to integrate data warehouse data sets into GIS format.
  • Work with staff to develop the BNIA-JFI website including interactive mapping capabilities and datasets.
  • Work with staff to fulfill data requests and provide assistance and training where required
  • Staffs BNIA-JFI’s Data Committee

Requires a bachelor’s degree in social research, geography, information systems, planning, or a related field and 2 years of experience in database management, spatial and statistical analysis. Advanced degree preferred. Required skills and knowledge include: web design and programming skills, knowledge of GIS mapping applications, proficiency in MS Office Suite and statistical software, ability to communicate data and technical issues to persons with a range of data expertise, ability to work both independently and as a team-member within tight timeframes, and excellent writing and interpersonal skills. The ideal candidate will have interest in issues related to urban areas, neighborhoods, housing, education, health, and other social issues.

· Excellent State Health benefits packages, including health, life, disability insurance
· Choice of retirement plans
· Tuition remission at any University System of Maryland institution
· Generous leave package includes 15 sick days, 22 vacation days, 3 personal days and state holidays

TO APPLY: Include your Vacancy Number on all correspondence and in your e-mail subject line. Submit resume and cover letter to, or mail to:
Human Resources, VA 2008-042B
University of Baltimore
1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

UB is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action/ADA Compliant Employer & Title IX Institution.

Read more ...

Friday, October 26, 2007

More from Regards to Rural Conference

Good morning! Last night as part of the Regards to Rural V Conference we had a chance to hear from Frances Moore Lappé, author of books like Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage in a World Gone Mad, Democracy's Edge, and You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear.

What she had to say wasn't about indicators, but about community. Yet there were a few thoughts I thought that community indicators practitioners might want to pay attention to.

Democracy, she suggested, wasn't merely elections plus free markets, some structure or set of institutions inherited from the past that continues unaided into the future. Instead, democracy is something we do; democracy isn't a system, it is a set of shared values that undergird how we make decisions that matter for the community. There are plenty of examples of systems that use the forms of democracy without really engaging the people in making decisions that matter.

Important for democracy, then, are institutions that act in a convener role, and that engage citizens in acts of power. To get there, we need to rethink power. Power is not a thing, it is the capacity to act, and power is always relationships.

We need to rethink fear, because perhaps the only real problem we have to overcome is citizens feeling powerlessness.

So how does this fit with communtiy indicators efforts? As we engage communities in identifying what matters, and measuring our progress towards real and actual change, we are engaging citizens in acts of true power -- building relationships, enlarging the capacity to make change.

And when we succeed, which we often do in quiet and marvelous ways, we need to do a better job of telling our stories. Frances Moore Lappé says that we become part of this "living democracy" through shared story-telling, seeing the examples of democracy-in-action, and creating new norms for our communities. We've been talking quite a bit here about the importance of storytelling, and here's another reason to get better at telling our stories: not just to move the actions we're working on, but to inspire others with a greater sense of capacity to act (power) so that they too can do much good in our communities.

What do you think?

Read more ...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

URISA Leadership Academy

The program for the inaugural and groundbreaking URISA Leadership Academy is now available. The Leadership Academy will be held December 5-7, 2007 in New Orleans, LA. The Leadership Academy, the only leadership training program of its type, is tailored to industry leaders and practitioners faced with unique challenges of GIS leadership and management and who want to make an impact leveraging the power of GIS. Register today!

(Hat tip: NNIP listserve)

Read more ...

Community Indicators in Rural Communities

I'm at the Regards to Rural V Conference right now, and I'm struck once again by the growth of community indicators projects in rural communities. We've seen tremendous, sustained efforts in places like Yampa Valley, Colorado. We've seen resources like the Northwest Area Foundation's Indicators Website made available (I just saw Karla Miller at the conference and was reminded again of the great work that they do.)

And we're seeing interest in indicators popping up in rural communities around the globe. So why do indicators projects make so much sense for rural communities?

I'll be exploring that question in a session tomorrow morning as we talk about our experiences in Walla Walla, Washington. I'm interested in what I'm going to hear from those who come to the session. In the meantime, here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. Rural communities have identities.
  2. Rural communities, like the rest of the world, are in a state of change.
  3. Change can be scary. Unmanaged change can be catastrophic. Some rural communities have not managed change well and effectively lost their pre-change identities.
  4. Change can be exciting. Managed change can be transformative, in a positive way. Some rural communities have managed change well and kept their core identity while becoming something stronger and more sustainable.
  5. Information is power. It is nearly impossible to manage change without it. Knowledge of what the shared vision of the community might be, and where the community is in relationship to that vision, is an essential part of determining how to manage change. Using data as an accountability tool helps avoid the problems with broken promises later.
  6. Sharing information, by itself, creates cohesion, connection, and identity.

    What are your thoughts? I'll share what I hear in the sessions tomorrow and see what others think as well.

Read more ...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Knowing Your Data Vital to Preservation

Najwa Lyons in a blog entry on sustainable development says, "Knowing your data is vital to preservation." Our friends in Canada certainly seem to feel that way -- they just released Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators.

From the press release:

Canada's environment continues to face challenges with respect to air and water quality and greenhouse gas emissions, according to the third annual report of environmental sustainability indicators.

The report found that the indicator of exposure to ground-level ozone, a component of smog, has increased over time.

Greenhouse gas emissions remained at nearly the same level in 2005 as in 2004, but are still significantly above 1990 levels and Canada's target under the Kyoto Protocol. However, the report found that the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions—that is, the amount emitted for each unit of economic activity—continued to decline in 2005. Nevertheless, total emissions increased over the 1990 to 2005 period, due to increased economic activity.

As in last year's report, the water quality indicator shows that guidelines for protecting aquatic life were not met, at least occasionally, at many monitoring sites across the country. Phosphorous, a pollutant derived mainly from human activities, was a major concern for the quality of surface freshwater in Canada.

The indicator results are partly due to the growing Canadian population and economy. Between 1990 and 2005, Canada's population increased by 17%, to 32.3 million. This increase, coupled with economic growth, led to greater resource use and waste production, increased greenhouse gas emissions and, in certain cases, more air and water pollution.

This release is based on highlights from the third annual report of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators, prepared by Environment Canada, Statistics Canada and Health Canada. A full report is scheduled for release in December 2007.

This report provides updates on four indicators in the following three areas: air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and freshwater quality. The indicators are intended to provide Canadians with more regular and consistent information on the state of the environment and how it is linked with human activities.

These indicators, first reported in 2005, have now been updated for a third year.

Environment Canada, Statistics Canada and Health Canada are working together to report and continue the development of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators. This effort has benefited from the cooperation and input of all the provinces and territories.

The air quality indicators track measures of Canadians' exposure to ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter.

The greenhouse gas emissions indicator tracks the annual Canadian releases of the six greenhouse gases that are the major contributors to climate change.

The freshwater quality indicator uses the Water Quality Index endorsed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment to summarize the status of surface freshwater quality.

Read more ...

Friday, October 19, 2007

How Creative Is Your County?

When Richard Florida first began talking about the Creative Class, it appeared to be an urban phenomenon (with some nods to college towns). Now David McGranhan and Timothy Wojan suggest that creative class indicators can be used to measure both metro and nonmetro counties across the United States.

The authors of this piece use 1990 and 2000 employment classification data to determine total employment, employment in "creative' occupations (scientists, engineers, authors, and artists, or anyone whose occupation requires creative thinking for problem-solving), arts employment, and a "bohemian index" (the share of employment in arts occupations.) Their methodology is available here, as well as their data documentation. For a listing of counties and the data sets for each (look up your own!), click here (Excel file).

I found it interesting to be able to think about rural communities in terms of creativity, and not just urban competitions for who's the hippest. This appears to be a useful beginning for translating a new kind of indicators into the less-urbanized environment. I'm interested in hearing from those who are implementing this idea in their communities, and what they're finding.

If you're interested in exploring "creative class" indicators further, here's a few more data sets to consider:

NSF's Science and Engineering Indicators
Americans for the Arts' Creative Industries Reports

Hat tip: DocuTicker

Read more ...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cleaner Air in Pittsburgh?

For those of you who went to the Community Indicators Consortium conference in Jacksonville, Florida (conference proceedings available here), you'll remember meeting John Craig from Pittsburgh Today. This is an interesting regional indicators effort that's getting some local recognition.

Recently, Harold Miller's blog, Pittsburgh's Future, wrote up the progress the city has made in cleaning up its air and the usefulness of Pittsburgh Today's indicators as measurement tools.

From the blog:

The American Lung Association claims that the Pittsburgh Region’s air quality is the second worst in the country. However, their methodology is misleading, because it is based on the unusually high PM2.5 readings at the air pollution monitors in Liberty Borough and Clairton. (PM2.5 consists of soot particles less than 2.5 microns in size, which can cause heart and lung damage.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized that these monitors were not representative of the air quality in the rest of our region, so it designated that portion of the Mon Valley as a separate non-attainment area for PM2.5 pollution.

Much better measures of air quality have been developed by the Pittsburgh Regional Indicators Project ( They average the readings from all of the pollution monitors in the region to determine the air quality that the majority of regional residents are breathing.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative

Many of you are probably already familiar with CAHMI, the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. They've got a new website,, and just sent out their Fall 2007 newsletter.

Of particular interest to those of us working with community indicators are the new features at their Data Resource Center. Here's an excerpt from the fall newsletter to bring you up to date with what's happening.

The CAHMI Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health ( ) supports the easy and effective use of data from the National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs (NS-CSHCN) and the National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH). The user-friendly Data Resource Center (DRC) website provides direct access to national, state and regional data results from the NS-CSHCN and NSCH. Technical assistance on using data from these surveys is always available by phone or email from DRC staff. Other website resources include educational materials about the surveys and examples of how others are using the data to inform, stimulate and track improvements in child health, health care and community-based services. The DRC is supported through a cooperative agreement from the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

The data from the much anticipated 2005/2006 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs are undergoing the final stages of clearance for public release. It is expected that the formal release of the national, state and regional results on the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health website will be early December.

To receive notification of the public release of the 2005/2006 NS-CSHCN. Go to: and enter your email address in the box provided.

The launch of the new 2005/2006 NS-CSHCN data on the DRC will be accompanied by tools and resources to assist in interpretation and comparability of these data with the 2001 NS-CSHCN. The DRC team will be available to provide technical assistance and answer questions about the new data.

The DRC seeks to continually improve easy access to national and state data on child health and health care services. Several new features are in place to help users get the data and information they need:

The NEW Customizable Profiles feature lets users select numerous indicators at a time to create their own state profile. These reports can be downloaded in a ready-to-present format. This feature complements the "all states comparison" feature (compare all states on one indicator) and the interactive query tool that allows users to make multiple, iterative comparisons on indicators across two geographic areas and by population subgroups.

Resource information improvements include the addition of "Pop out" menus that allow resource information to be accessed from any page in the data query as well as a new and improved Glossary, Search tool and Frequently Asked Questions.

Tell us what you think about our new updates and share ideas for future enhancements by emailing us at .

Read more ...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Sometimes this blog focuses on the technical aspects of measurement issues, and points out articles like the Special Issue of Ecological Economics (Journal): Sustainability and Cost-Benefit Analysis, with pros and cons of monetizing ecological values in order to track trends for policy analysis. But as fascinating as reading about Charter Sustainability Procedures in industry can be, that's not all we talk about here.

Today is Blog Action Day, where thousands of blogs commit to write about environmental issues at the same time. We've been talking about environmental sustainability for some time now, but today's a good day to remind ourselves of the importance of using data to move forward.

If you haven't read Maureen Hart's explanation of sustainability and the importance of sustainability indicators, please do so today. As community indicators practitioners, she reminds us that it's not enough just to measure indicators in the areas of the economy, environment, and society. If we measurethem separately, we treat them separately, and pit the issues and solutions against each other in a struggle for available community attention and resources to address them.

A different view of sustainability, as she proposes here, changes that view -- and changes how we choose the indicators used to measure progress toward a sustainable future.

Check it out, then check back here to share your stories in working towards a sustainable community.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Global Trends, Local Impacts

I was looking at the maps available at Mapping Worlds and I came across this visualization of the world's population:

I'm becoming more intrigued by global change and the impacts those changes are having and will continue to have on local communities. Getting our arms around these issues may require rethinking what we're measuring and how we expect those trend lines to move in the future.

That's why I'm so excited about an upcoming conference, Global Trends, Local Impacts, being put on by the National Association of Planning Councils. Someone once told me that truth=facts+context, and when we look at our local communities, to get at the truth we really need to get at the global context within which we hope our communities can thrive.

Earlier I had posted this video about some of the shifts happening in the world today. I recently attended a presentation in Tulsa, Oklahoma that added on to the global trends in population demographics, workforce, technology, and more that are reshaping the world as we watch.

Mark your calendars for May 7-9, 2008, in beautiful Clearwater Beach, Florida. I hope to see you there!

Read more ...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Measuring Racial Disparities

On April 16, 1963, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote the following in a Letter from the Birmingham Jail: “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: 1) collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; 2) negotiation; 3) self-purification; and 4) direct action.”

Today, we're relearning the same lessons. We've talked about the importance of measuring racial disparities in a community, because you can't solve a problem until you admit it exists. We've also talked about resources available to begin 'collecting the facts to determine whether injustices exist'. We've even talked specifically about data sources for small-area economic disparity indicators.

Now a new report from MP Associates and The Aspen Institute, "Community Change Processes and Progress in Addressing Racial Inequities", dives deeper into the need to measure indicators of racial disparity to assess need and track progress toward addressing structural racism in communities.

From the report:

A multi-pronged strategy moves sites toward long-term outcomes. Racial equity is a complex issue that requires a many-faceted response. The variety of tactics used by most sites in our sample include: public policy advocacy, report cards to track progress, community convening and engagement, technical assistance, policy assessment, skill-building workshops, and focus groups.

Data are an essential tool for change. Data help to engage residents and policy makers in CCIRs [community change initiatives that focus explicitly on racial inequities] by exposing racial and ethnic inequities within the community. The process of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data—on housing, health care, education, and other social justice issues—helps to make strategies and interventions more focused and results-oriented.

Data development requires an investment of time and expertise. Often, data on racial disparities at the community level aren’t readily available or widely known. CCIRs overcome this hurdle by collecting their own data, through focus groups or surveys, and by organizing community events where they share the information and stimulate broad ownership of the community-change effort.

The report also suggests the following questions, in a section entitled "Challenges From the Field":

Using data accurately. Data can be intimidating and daunting to people unaccustomed to working with statistics. Data can also be manipulated to reinforce stereotypes and blame the victim. Major issues in using data are:

  • What sources of support (government, media, organizations) are trying to advance their agenda through the data? Who trusts these sources and who does not?
  • Some people find meaning in what they hear and observe, while others rely on statistics. How do the data represent people’s learning styles, worldview, and culture?
  • Who is posing the questions behind the data? Who is analyzing the data? Who is interpreting the story based on the data?
  • Are the data being aggregated by racial and ethnic subgroups within major racial categories to determine whether strategies need to be different for different groups?
  • To what degree are residents involved in determining what data to collect; in collecting, analyzing, and framing the data; and in determining a response?

Maggie Potapchuk has done a tremendous job in this report identifying the need for and challenges with using data to create community change around the issues of racial inequities. The timing couldn't be better, as we're putting together our annual update of our Race Relations Progress Report right now.

Do you measure racial disparities as part of your community indicators project? Do you have a separate report card on race inequalities? E-mail me with links to your reports and we'll see if we can build a community of practice around these issues.

Read more ...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

South Carolina Indicators

Andy Brack reports on South Carolina indicators and says, "A look at statistics about South Carolina can be as discouraging as encouraging."

He begins the article with:

In some areas - - the unemployment rate, child poverty and child deaths - - the state has improved marginally. In other areas, such as overall health care and violent crime, things aren’t better. Two years ago, we offered a look at various statistics to highlight how conventional wisdom about the state - - that it ranks high in things that it should be low in, and low in things it should excel in - - was mostly true.

These numbers are important because politicians could use them as motivation to work on the big problems that impact South Carolinians - - health, education and crime - - instead of fiddling with more marginal, hot-button issues to get elected.

This isn't an in-depth report -- mostly, it's a series of rankings -- but what's interesting about this article is the increasing trend to call for data-based decision making and consistent attention to broad-spectrum trend line monitoring. And that the calls for this kind of attention to indicators comes not from the policy makers but from the community.

Brack concludes his piece by saying, "Bottom line: We can do a lot better, but we need leaders who focus on the big stuff, not specialized issues to help their electability."

Sources for the report can be found here (South Carolina Statehouse Report) and here (South Carolina Indicators Project).

There's an opportunity in these kinds of comments to connect community indicators with policy making in a much more intentional and effective way. Those who are doing well in this area, please pass along your suggestions, either as comments to this post or direct e-mails to me (just click on my profile link) and I'll sum them up in a later post.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Webinar: Getting the Public, the Press (and Public Officials) to Focus on Performance

Getting the Public, the Press (and Public Officials) to Focus on Performance: a Webinar
Join Governing's Jonathan Walters for a special Web seminar on this topic on Wednesday, October 17, at 2 p.m. ET / 11 a.m. PT. Joining Walters will be Bob Allers, health and human services commissioner in Dutchess County, N.Y.; Larisa Benson, director of Washington Governor Christine Gregoire's Government Management Accountability and Performance initiative; and Mary Lou Goeke of the United Way in Santa Cruz County, Calif.

They'll talk — and then they will answer your questions about how you can adapt their strategies to reach your goals. To register, click here.

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Governing Magazine Discusses Indicators

Jonathan Walters, in Governing Magazine, highlights community indicators and government performance benchmark projects that have been successful in getting the public to take notice and affect public policy.

He says, "[T]here are a growing number of examples where savvy players in public policy are having some significant success in getting key audiences to focus on performance measures," and then he highlights some of the projects which had received innovation awards from the Community Indicators Consortium.

This isn't the first time Governing Magazine has discussed using data, indicators, or performance measures to get results. Ellen Perlman's article on Stat Fever was quick to point out how "the practice of collecting data to monitor and improve government performance continues to gain momentum and evolve." But this article, interestingly enough, highlights non-governmental approaches to measurement that are changing public policy. And there are a number of lessons in the article community indicators practitioners need to pay attention to, in addition to knowing that data is important for quality decision-making in public policy.

  1. The presentation of the data must be "clear and concise."
  2. The data must "tell a story."
  3. The data must be presented in a way that's meaningful for their target audience -- the people who care about that story.
  4. Involving the whole community is critical.
  5. Never forget the reason for the indicators is to get things done. They quote Donna Sines from Osceola County's Community Vision project: “It’s so much more than looking at evaluation or outcome data,” says Sines. “It’s about bringing the right people in and putting them around that data and then bringing the resources to bear.”
  6. "Flesh out the data with personal stories."
  7. The messenger is as important as the message. Mary Lou Goeke, with the Santa Cruz County United Way, says, "Who actually delivers the data and the message to policy makers matters a lot."

There's plenty more in the article -- I highly recommend reading it. Then let me know what I left out of the summary -- or what you would add to the article as key tips for moving public policy using data.

Read more ...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Committee on National Statistics and Data Sources

The Committee on National Statistics is a group that "serves to contribute to a better understanding of important national issues by working to improve the statistical methods and information on which public policy decisions are based."

Housed at The National Academies as part of the U.S. Federal Government, CNSTAT quietly is doing a lot of interesting work. Here's a list of their current projects, and another list of completed projects.

Of particular interest to community indicators practitioners in the United States is this set of links to statistical agencies. It's a treasure trove of information (hey, how did Statistics Canada get in there?) If you haven't seen the list before, poke around -- I went to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services' Data Council Gateway to Data and Statistics and almost immediately found data I needed for an upcoming race relations progress report.

Take a look, and let me know what you find useful.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

New Data Search Engine Released

A new data search engine and visualization tool was just released in beta form. Graphwise describes itself as "a search engine for table data. We search the Net for files with tables, then show that data in graphic form. You can use this site to search for: graphs made from table data found on the Web, and custom graphs made by other users. Our site will be constantly improving, with new features added every week."

In their press release, they explain more about what they're trying to provide.

The Graphwise online solution is designed to locate, extract and visualize data, creating the opportunity for those in search of relevant data, like students, researchers and analysts, to quickly find, compare and extract facts, figures and statistics and view them in powerful 3D graphs and charts.

"Graphwise is the only search engine that quickly finds relevant results with tabular data," said David Weitz, Chief Technology Officer of Graphwise, "Google, Yahoo!, Ask, and MSN cannot search, visualize and compare data, nor can they give me relevant data search results. In addition, if you have data, or want to identify, extract and visualize data from your desktop or a web address, we also offer the options of uploading or crawling any URL that you enter."

"GraphWise's vision is to be the leader in the next generation of tabular data search. Our back end technology with its broad platform and ubiquitous application will allow users to have a more relevant and powerful search experience," said CEO Bruce Lamont. "GraphWise is unique in the world of search engines that until recently only returned text-based information. In today's environment of search engine specialization if you want to search for videos you go to YouTube and if you want music you go to iTunes. If you're looking for tables of data we hope you go to GraphWise."

Check it out!

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Developing a Public Sector Balanced Scorecard

The University of Florida Leadership Development Institute is offering trainings on developing a public sector balanced scorecard on November 14, 2007 in Ft. Myers, Florida and December 4, 2007 in Tallahassee, Florida.

The workshop primises to cover how to set proper objectives, link objectives to measures, identify key measures, collect and analyze data, and set targets.

For more information about the workshop, contact the Leadership Development Institute at 800-835-4104 or visit them online at (though I couldn't find seminar registration information at their website).

If you know of other seminars in your area which may be of interest to community indicators practitioners, please drop me a line and we'll share it on the blog.

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Economic Prosperity and Happiness

I think we understand that a one-dimensional look at "progress" through the lens of economic development doesn't serve us well. In a recent article on happiness and wealth, Michael Rustin argues for a greater focus on well-being.

In the article, titled "What's Wrong with Happiness," Professor Rustin says:

Societies like ours are getting richer, but are they getting any happier? This is now becoming a major topic of debate, with a growing literature. It is argued that the connection long assumed to exist between increased affluence and happiness or ‘subjective well-being’ is actually weak for countries above a fairly basic level of prosperity – defined at an annual average gross national product of around $15,000 or $20,000 dollars per head of population. Since many governments in rich countries make continuing economic growth their primary political goal, the evidence that this does not lead to improvements in people’s well-being is, or should be, a serious matter for public policy.

There have been many studies of self-reported happiness, or subjective well being, in different countries, from 1950 onward; and nation-by-nation comparisons show only a small correlation between income levels and selfreported well-being, once countries reach the GNP level mentioned above. Countries where average per capita income is between $20,000 and $35,000 have satisfaction rates only a few percentage points above a whole range of countries where income is below $10,000 (see Richard Layard, Happiness, p32). Though the lowest satisfaction rates are in the poorer countries, a number of nations where average income is under $10,000 have average happiness levels close to those of much richer countries.

As we think about new ways of measuring well-being in communities and nations, figuring out what we mean by well-being is critical. Getting beyond GDP as an indicators of progress is becoming more and more important.

Here's the rest of the article.

(Hat tip: The Jingoist)

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Focus on Social Indicators

In India, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry heard that social indicators eclipse India's economic growth. The President of the Papua New Guinea Chamber of Commerce called out the government, saying “We need to improve our social indicators … and we have to make the bulk of the community feel they are involved. Now is the time for action …” And in Nigeria, the chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission observes that Nigeria's oil wealth means little when "the country's basic social indicators place it among the 20 poorest countries in the world."

So what are these news stories telling us?

Increasingly, economic development is being seen as part of the larger picture of progress, and not the picture itself. That's one reason why we're seeing increased empasis on measuring and tracking social indicators as a key responsibility of governments and NGOs.

One such report was just released by the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE). The Summary of Social Indicators 2007 – An Analysis of Life Conditions of the Brazilian Population – is mainly formed by data from the National Household Sample Survey (PNAD) and contains specific chapters on: Education, Households, Families, Marriages, Judicial Separations and Divorces, Color, Women, Elderly Persons, Teenagers and Youngsters.

While some indicators show improvement, the survey found 235 thousand children aged 10-17 who were working in the streets. The employment rate of children was higher in families headed by women: 44.1%, versus 40.3% in families headed by men. At the same time, school attendance for children aged 4-6 years increased over ten years from 53.8% to 76.0% -- a remarkable improvement, but with plenty of room for improvement.

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Media Reporting of Community Indicators Reports

Two recent editorials in two very different cities commenting on community indicators reports got me thinking this week. When we prepare an indicators report for the community, how well do we convey the message of the report? How does the local media understand the report, and what do they say?

The Calgary Herald called the recent Vital Signs report "A brutal report card on Calgary's failing quality of life" that "could be the watershed moment that defines our future." The Boulder County Business Report said the recent Healthy Community report "left me a bit bewildered" and added, "I'm not one for mincing words when I think something's not up to par. I don't think our community indicators should either."

Those are a couple of extremes in reporting on indicators -- "brutal" or "minced." How do we get our message across in a way that's strong enough for people to take notice, but in a way that still inspires action and not defeat? How do we make sure the message doesn't come across as too hot or too cold?

A couple of years ago, our local newspaper took our Quality of Life Progress Report and used an editorial cartoon to describe how they saw the value of the report.

Here's Jacksonville, Florida's skyline:

And the editorial cartoon:

This is how the newspaper described the report: "For most citizens, Jacksonville is a wonderful place to live. To keep it that way, the community needs to deal with an underclass that is poorly educated and has little hope in the future. There is no better summary of challenges than the new Quality of Life Progress Report from Jacksonville Community Council Inc. JCCI's annual report has become a valuable tool to use to chart progress in Jacksonville and prioritize challenges."

And again: “In some ways, the best news for Jacksonville is the [Quality of Life Progress] Report itself. The very premise of the report, and of JCCI, is the belief in Jacksonville as a community where the problems of some are the responsibility of everyone.”

Sometimes, as Baby Bear might say, they get it just right. That's the message of our report, and they nailed it.

Different reports have different messages, and so "just right" may mean something different in your community. Your community may need "brutal" -- the editorial in Calgary ended with, "The initiative is a commendable example of community action at the grassroots level. It's this sort of leadership that will put pressure on our elected leaders to strive for and help create a better city."

Certainly it needs clarity. While we would all hope indicators would spark reflection and conversation, reporters often require the message spelled out for them. From Boulder again: "But the report, despite a concise summary section and updates from the last community indicators in 2005, left me a bit bewildered, scratching my head about what's important and what's not."

Don't make them (or let them!) guess as to the message of the report! Otherwise, the newspaper article will end up repeating the following: "It's a mixed bag -- some things are doing worse, some doing better. Overall, lots of progress has been made, but there's more to do. The report points to a need for more leadership and citizen involvement to make this a better community." Sound familiar? I can point to a dozen articles in Jacksonville that looked like that (and were usually found on page B-6 in the process) before we learned how to involve the media in understanding the message. And when they get it, the community gets it -- when they don't, the community misses an opportunity to engage with the data to understand where they are in relation to where they want to be and get energized for action.

What are your tips for working with the media?

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

World Freedom Atlas

The World Freedom Atlas describes itself as "a geovisualization tool for world statistics. It was designed for social scientists, journalists, NGO/IGO workers, and others who wish to have a better understanding of issues of freedom, democracy, human rights, and good governance. It covers the years 1990 to 2006."

What it is, is a pretty cool Flash-driven tool that lets you choose variables out of 12 different data sets regarding political freedom and human rights issues and it displays the results on a world map. You can also choose which year to represent to see how some things change and others remain the same.

Thanks again to the Social Science Statistics blog for the heads-up. You'll want to read their description of the site and the associated comments for a professional's-eye view.

The map is really quite interesting -- picking an issue and clicking through the available years lets you observe the changes beginning in 2001, for example, or the shifts in Russia that are now beginning to make headlines. Play around with it and let me know what you think -- about the information, the ease of use of the data display tool, and how such technology might be adapted to your community indicators set. (I'd love to see an option to set the map to run through the years automatically for a given indicator, to get a visual flow of the trends without having to click through. Can you imagine a twenty-year visual map of changes in economic conditions or social variables in neighborhoods in your community displayed on such a map? Somebody program one for me to highlight here!)

Good work, Zachary Johnson!

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Welcome, Visitor Number 2,000

It's probably not surprising that, while writing for a blog that concerns itself with data and trend analysis, I check in often on data about the blog and its recent trends. The tool I use for statistics is Google Analytics, and I've been pleased with the depth of information it provides as well as the ability to easily set the date ranges I'm interested.

According to the trend lines, then, sometime by 7:00 a.m. on the east coast of the United States the two thousandth unique visitor will stop by to see what this blog is all about. Welcome, Visitor 2,000.

So far visitors have come from 69 countries and 787 cities. Together, you've viewed these pages well over 5,000 times, with a core group of you coming back over and over again (400 of you have been here 10 or more times since we launched.)

It's a start, and I just wanted to recognize this milestone. We were in mid-August before we reached 1,000 unique visitors. I suspect we'll see the pace of new faces continue to accelerate.

If you enjoy this blog and find it useful, please feel free to tell your friends and link to it. Viral marketing is always appreciated -- pass along a post you find interesting or helpful (or even both!) And let me know what we could be doing better in providing timely and useful information for those interested in community indicators.

Thank you for your interest.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Community Matters 07 Conference

The Community Matters 07 conference will be held October 23-25, 2007, in Burlington, Vermont. The theme is "Growth and Character: Having It All." Many of the sessions will be of particular interest to community indicators folks who want to know more about how to identify data sets and use that data for planning and community building.

Among the presenters are Maureen Hart, from Sustainable Measures; Doug Walker, from Placeways; and a bunch of really interesting folks from GIS and geographic web organizations. You can see the full program here.

If you're going and would be willing to share your experiences at the conference, please leave a comment here. Unfortunately, I'll be at the other corner of the U.S. at the Regards to Rural V conference. (Not that it's unfortunate to be at that conference -- I'm pretty excited about it, actually -- but I can't do both.)

The PCJ +plus blog will also be providing some conference feedback, and I'll provide a link when that's available as well.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Call for Papers: ESRI Conference

The Twenty-eighth Annual ESRI International User Conference will be held August 4-8, 2008, at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. They are calling for papers from those willing to "share your knowledge and experience by giving a presentation that communicates your real-world GIS solutions and insights directly to this respected audience" -- said audience anticipated to be about 14,000 people.

The deadline for submitting an abstract is November 2, 2007. You can find out more information about the Call for Papers, including guidelines and submission policies, by going to

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Speaker List for PPMRN Conference

The First Annual Public Performance Measurement and Reporting Network Conference will be held November 2-3, 2007 (see link on left-hand panel under "conferences"). PPMRN has just released the list of speakers and topics for the conference:

  • Dr. MARC HOLZER Dean of the School of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers, Campus at Newark Roundtable Discussion “The Increasing Momentum for Performance Measurement and Improvement”
  • MIKE LAWSON Executive Director, ICMA Center for Performance Measurement "Leadership, Management and the Role of Performance Measurement"
  • HOWARD ROHM Executive Director, The Balanced Scorecard Institute "Managing for Results Using the Balanced Scorecard"
  • MICHAEL JACOBSON Performance Management Director, King County Executive Office "Integrating Community Indicators and Agency Performance Measures: King County's AIMs High Website"
  • STEVAN GORCESTER Executive Director Washington State Transportation Improvement Board "Transportation Improvement Board Dashboard: Performance Measurement Software"
  • EMIL TURC AND MARCEL GUENOUN Institut de Management Public et Gouvernance Territoriale "Benchmark Implementation in Inter-organizational settings: A Study of Emerging Comparative Practices in French Inter-Communal Organizations"
  • BILL TOMES Institute for Public Service and Policy Research University of South Carolina, "Performance Measurement Project with EMS Providers in South Carolina"
  • BARBARA COHN BERMAN Vice President, Fund for the City of New York "Citizen Participation in Performance Measurement"
  • MICHELLE THOMAS Director of Innovation and Performance Management, City of Newark, New Jersey "Newark Performance Measurement Initiatives"
  • EVEANNA BARRY Director of Performance Reporting, Advancing Government Accountability "Service Efforts and Accomplishments (SEA) Reporting Program"
  • DR. ERIC SCORSONE Michigan State University "Impact of State Mandates and Administrative Discretion on local Government Benchmarking Performance"
  • REAGAN BURKHOLDER Summit Collaborative Advisors "Pitfalls and Problems of Making Comparisons Among Municipalities"
  • DR. KATHE CALLAHAN, DR. KATHRYN KLOBY, And CHARLOTTE KAHN Rutgers-Newark, Monmouth University, and Boston Indicators Project "Internal and External Perspectives: Collaborating to Strengthen the Relevance of Performance Measurement"
  • CHERYL HUBER Director of Research, New Yorkers for Parks, The Arthur Ross Center for Parks and Open Spaces "2007 Report Card on Beaches"
  • DR. KENNETH A. SMITH Willamette University "Evaluating Performance Reports with AGA Criteria"
  • THEODORE E. SHOGRY Performance Improvement Manager, City of Albuquerque "Strategic Planning and Budgeting, Citizen Participation, and Performance Measurement"
  • DR. YUKO J. Nakanishi Nakanishi Research and Consulting "Strategic Benchmarking: Methods and Practices"
  • ALICIA SCHATTEMAN Rutgers-Newark "Lessons to be learned: Municipal Performance Reporting in Ontario"
  • RON PERRY, Deputy County Auditor, King County, Washington "Performance Measurement in King County, Washington State"
  • CONSTANCE B. BOWENS Baruch College "Improving Public Higher Education Systems through Performance Management: An Examination of the Kansas Board of Regents' Performance Agreement Project"
  • HYUN AH CHO “Application of Expectancy Disconfirmation Model of Citizen Satisfaction to Community Policing"
  • DANIEL BROMBERG & SUNJOO KWAK National Center for Public Performance "New Jersey Municipal Performance Measurement System: Development and Implementation"
  • NEW JERSEY MEADOWLANDS COMMISSION "Implementing a Strategic Plan: Goals, Indicators, Tracking”

This looks like it will be a fantastic conference. Here's the registration information:


Please send an email with the following information to:

Information to include in email:

Name of Attendee(s) / Title(s)
Mailing Address
Phone Number
Email Address

An Invoice will be emailed (please specify whether a hard copy is required by your organization)

Rates include a continental breakfast and lunch on both days of the conference, and a reception on Friday evening
Individual Rate $95.
Group Rate $75.(3 or more )
Student Rate $25.

*Conference registration requires a free Network membership. By registering for the conference you will be automatically registered for the Public Performance Measurement and Reporting Network (

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Call for Chapters Deadline Extended

The deadline for the call for chapters for the Community Quality-of-Life Indicators: Best Cases IV book has been extended to December 30, 2007. Here's a great chance to tell your story. For more information, see the previous post or contact:

M. Joseph Sirgy
Department of Marketing, Pamplin College of Business
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0236, USA.
Tel: 540.231.5110.
Fax: 540.231.3076.

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Call for Papers: Government Performance Indicators

From the PPRMN listserve. Government performance indicators are below (number 4 on the list):

The Fourth Sino-US International Conference on Public Administration
Call for Papers

Theme: Improving Government Performance
Time: June 7th to 8th, 2008
Place: The State University of New Jersey (Rutgers)-Campus at Newark
The American Society for Public Administration
School of Public Affairs and Administration, The State University of New Jersey (Rutgers)
School of Public Administration, Renmin University of China

Dear Colleagues,

The American Society for Public Administration, the School of Public Affairs and Administration of The State University of New Jersey (Rutgers)-Campus at Newark, and the School of Public Administration of Renmin University of China will jointly organize the Fourth Sino-US International Conference on Public Administration on the Rutgers-Newark campus (Newark, New Jersey-adjacent to New York City) from June 7th to 8th, 2008.

Since 2002, The Sino-US International Conference on Public Administration has been held every other year, with the widest scope and the largest number of attendees among conferences and exchanges between China and the US in the field of Public Administration. In the years 2002, 2004 and 2006, almost 500 experts have participated in the conference.

The proceedings of the 2002 and 2006 conferences were published by China's Renmin University Press in Beijing, and the 2004 proceedings by the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers-Newark. The 2008 collection will be published in the US after the conference. Selected papers will be invited for submission to the Chinese Public Administration Review (

Theme: Improving Government Performance
1. Strategies and comprehensive plans for improving government performance
2. Theoretical framework for government performance management
3. Technical innovations for government performance management
4. Indicators and benchmarks for government performance evaluation
5. Performance management based on E-Government
6. Data collection methods and analysis of performance evaluation metrics
7. Comparative research on international experiences in government performance management
8. Construction and optimization of operational processes in governmental sectors
9. Performance appraisal and evaluation of public servants
10. Central (Federal) government performance evaluation and management
11. Local (municipal) government performance evaluation and management
12. Government purchasing policies and government performance (contracts and oversight)
13. Human Resource investments (training, personnel evaluation, etc.) in improving government performance
14. Public-private networks
15. Non-profit organizations: development, performance and evaluation

Although a preference will be given to papers and/or cases related to the above sub-topics, other papers and case studies in all fields of public administration will be considered. Please indicate the sub-topic you choose when submitting your abstract.

How to join the conference

Please submit an abstract before December 1, 2007. Drafts of complete papers will be expected prior to January 31, 2008. The Organizing Committee will release the formal participants list by March 15, 2008 and send formal invitations by then. For each paper, only one author can be invited. About 70 experts from China will attend the conference, and an equal number of US participants are anticipated.

1. Hotel: Participants are responsible for hotel charges themselves. The Organizing Committee will help participants to reserve rooms if needed. The charge will be about $125 per night.
2. The Organizing Committee will provide working meals during conference days.
3. The Registration Fee is $40. (Accepted U.S. and International participants should send their registration and fee to Rutgers University by April 15, 2008)

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Greenest Countries and Cities

Matthew Kahn and Fran Lostys wrote the October 2007 Reader's Digest article, Living Green: Ranking the World's Best (and Worst) Countries.

The title doesn't quite fit the article. Kahn and Lostys measure both countries and cities on a series of indicators, many of which (but not all) are environmentally focused.

Kahn writes about the article:

To be serious for just one second, what I think we did right in this October 2007 Reader's Digest piece is to incorporate data on economic opportunities, local pollution levels, and global "good environmental" citizen indicators and create a ranking index based on all of these criteria. While people may quibble about our index weights, this approach builds on Sen's work on the Human Development Indicators report. A city or nation that scores high on our index offers economic opportunities, high environmental quality of life and one doesn't have to feel guilty that your lifestyle is exacerbating global public challenges such as climate change via producing more greenhouse gases.

The data sets used differ for countries and for cities. For the city rankings, sources included "The Millennium Cities Database for Sustainable Transport (2001) by Jeff Kenworthy and Felix Laube of Australia's Murdoch University, the World Bank's Development Economic Research Group Estimates, and our own reporting on local environmental laws, energy prices, garbage production and disposal, and parkland."

For the country rankings, here's all I could find that the article had to say:

We analyzed data from two top sources covering 141 nations to rank the planet's greenest, most livable places. Our analysis delved into social factors (income and education, for instance) and environmental measures (see our chart for who scores highest and lowest for some of them, and how the United States, the best overall, and the worst overall stack up).

I'm trying to track down the source data -- if anyone knows, please pass on the information. ETA: I received a nice note from Matt Kahn. The primary data source was the Environmental Sustainability Index hosted at Yale. He adds, "We used a subset of their variables for the national rankings and used several different data sets (including a RD survey) for the city level analysis." Thanks for the quick response!

The good news is that this is more mainstreaming of indicators information -- I think we're seeing increased activity in the popular press around measures of the quality of life in communities. How we leverage that comfort level with publicizing our own community indicators projects is up to us.

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Indicators of Nonprofit Impact

Many of us have tried to find a good indicator or two that describes the nonprofit sector in our community. We try surveys of volunteer activity, measures of philanthropic donations (sometimes from self-reports from federated campaigns, sometimes through IRS records.) Every now and then we conduct an economic impact study and tout the importance of the nonprofit sector.

But the strength of the nongovernmental, not-for-profit, civil sector tends to get missed. We know it's an important factor in the social well-being of the community, in the social capital in the community, in civic engagement, in community health, and more. But strong indicators are few and far between.

Good news is on the horizon. The Miami Herald reports on a new Johns Hopkins study of civil society. From the article:

In the United States, nonprofit groups and volunteers represent 7.2 percent of the gross domestic product -- making the sector larger than the construction, transportation and utilities industries, the study found.

The report, which was released last week, comes after eight nations -- including the United States -- began implementing United Nations' guidelines that measure nonprofit economic contributions, including the value of volunteer work.

''We now have an officially sanctioned method for capturing the economic scale and importance of civil society and volunteering around the world,'' said Lester Salamon, the report's author and the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies. ``What it is revealing is that this set of organizations is far more important than we have realized.''

Read the article for more good news. This may be a beginning for better indicators of the nonprofit sector.

How do you measure nonprofit activity? Share your indicators by commenting on this post.

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Triple Bottom Line Blog

Andrew Savitz and Karl Weber, who wrote the book The Triple Bottom Line, now have a blog about triple bottom lines.

We've talked about the triple bottom line approach before. This is the effort to develop corporate sustainability reports that measure the company's economic, social, and environmental results.

The link to community indicators efforts is tantalizingly out there. We're measuring community progress in these same areas -- whether we call it a sustainability model or a quality of life model or a healthy community model or a performance benchmark model, we tend to report indicators of economic progress, environmental protection, and social well-being -- though we also may create other sections in our reports to cover aspects like civic engagement. Sometimes we rename the elements we measure as "people, place, and prosperity." But it's all related concepts.

So why should we pay attention to corporate sustainability reports? First of all, we're starting to realize that private and commercial data sets may be tremendously useful for measuring community trends, especially since corporate data tracks more information about us than government.

Secondly, the efforts to standardize corporate sustainability reports through the Global Reporting Initiative is a model community indicators practitioners could well follow. I suspect we'll be talking more about this later, so now's the time to get familiar with CSR's and GRI.

And third, this is just really interesting stuff with tremendous community impacts, which is what we're all about. For example, this blog entry about a regulatory race to the top shakes up convential wisdom on the impact of globalization on environmental and labor-law regulation.

I've added a link to the Triple Bottom Line blog in the blog section on the left of this page. Take a look and let me know what you think.

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