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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

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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