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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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


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