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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

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.


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