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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, December 17, 2007

Community Indicators in Wenatchee

Dave Meany over at Eagle Wire alerts us that Patrick Jones is spreading the conversation about community indicators. A recent newspaper article begins:

Something fascinating happened at Wenatchee's Confluence Technology Center last Thursday.

A diverse group of more than 40 leaders representing social service agencies, local governments, businesses and education institutions came together to hear a presentation about developing a database of community indicators to help assess how our communities are doing on key economic and quality-of-life issues.

At the end of that three-hour discussion, they passed around a microphone and every single individual endorsed the concept. Getting that much support that quickly is almost unheard of.

The more people hear about community indicators, the faster the movement grows. Let me know about other community conversations around indicators and I'll share them with the larger readership.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Telling Stories with Data - New Tools!

I've been playing around with a new tool I found online at

It allows you to do some really interesting things with words (click on the picture above if the text is too small to read).

When done, clicking "print screen" and then copying the picture into an image editing program (paint, PhotoShop, etc.) allows you to customize it.

The same site has other tools like Document Arc Diagrams, Shared Word Diagrams, Text Visualization Tools, and Topic Flowers.

I'm not sure how to best use these yet for a community indicators project. But they're certainly fun tools to play with, so I'm passing them on to you.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Civic Health Index

I'm a little late bringing you the update to this earlier article. However, better late than never -- and the data are interesting.

From The National Conference on Citizenship:

The National Conference on Citizenship's 2007 Annual Conference on October 4, 2007 released the nation's second Civic Health Index. The principal findings are based on a comprehensive national survey conducted by Harris Interactive and various government data sources.

Our new survey and data collected by the government suggest that there has been no recovery in 2007. In fact, there is evidence of further decline in some indicators, such as trust in other people and levels of charitable contributions. We also know that some of the few hopeful signs we saw emerge after 9/11 and that continued for a number of years, such as a wave of volunteering particularly among young people, have now fallen back to earlier levels. Our civic stocks are low, which is unusual in a time of war.

A closer look, however, gives us a foundation from which to build. This year's report identifies three important points that complicate the story of decline and may stimulate constructive ideas for how to move forward to improve our civic life.

Learn about these signs of hope and more inside this year's Civic Health Index.

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Call for Papers: Performance Measurement

From the Public Performance Measurement and Reporting Network:

On-Going Call for Papers for PPMR newest section:
Emerging Issues in Performance Management

Public Performance and Management Review is pleased to announce its newest feature: Emerging Issues in Performance Management. The goals of this new section are to identify critical issues facing government and nonprofit agencies as they improve their performance and accountability, and to encourage future research on those issues. The manuscripts in this new section are expected to be approximately 4000 words long, excluding references.

We are looking for papers that deal with:

  • performance measurement;
  • performance reporting;
  • uses of performance measurement;

All articles in this section will be peer-reviewed. Please send your submissions for consideration by e-mail to:

Dr. Patria de Lancer Julnes, Section Editor
Patria.julnes [at]

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Regional Equity Conference

Sarah Treuhaft, at PolicyLink, sent this message to the NNIP listserve:

The early bird deadline is fast approaching for Regional Equity '08: The Third National Summit on Equitable Development, Social Justice, and Smart Growth, in New Orleans from March 5-7. Hosted by PolicyLink, the summit will gather over 1,000 leaders from the nonprofit, public policy, philanthropic, business, and academic arenas to explore critical issues and trends and share innovative policy and organizing strategies to advance social and economic equity. The summit will also provide an arena for discussing where we are as a field and how to scale up our efforts to have greater impact. Confirmed speakers include Joan Walsh, Van Jones, Tavis Smiley, Manuel Pastor, Gilda Haas, Myron Orfield, and dozens more inspiring leaders and practitioners.

The third summit, like the previous two events, has much to offer to people working within the data and indicators field. Context-setting sessions on major trends in housing, community health, poverty and inequality, development patterns, federal and state policy, and more will provide the big picture. Information-sharing and skill-building workshops will focus on specific topics like transit-oriented development, access to healthy food, and community benefits agreements as well as research, coalition-building, organizing, and policy strategies.

A number of sessions on data, mapping, research, and neighborhood information systems will focus on trends and innovations in the field, including:

- The Latest Research to Make the Case for Regional Equity

- Using Data and Maps to Support Equitable Development

- Show and Tell: Test Drive Neighborhood Information Systems

- Pre-Summit Equity Institute Training on Parcel Data Systems

Please join us at the event! The early bird $66 discount will expire December 17th. Scholarships are available for representatives of grassroots organizations. Go to to find out more, register, and spread the word.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Graphing Tautologies

OK, so it's a little silly.

Let me know if you use the graph in your next indicators report, though.

Special thanks to Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comics.

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Philanthropic Giving Made Personal

Check out this graphic from

From the article:

If you are still of the opinion that philanthropy is only for big foundations and the super-rich like Bill Gates, check out the pie chart above. According to the folks at GiveWell, “individual donors give over 100 times as much as the Gates Foundation and over 6 times as much as all foundations combined.”

I liked the presentation of the data -- the story it tells is one of citizen efficacy and the powerful nature of individual philanthropic giving. The graph seems to say, "Feel good about giving! You and me together give way more than Bill Gates" (which is true as long as the "you" is highly inclusive and involves a hundred million other people.)

But there's an element of story-telling in the graphic that adds a personalized, recognizable touch to the data -- puts a face and context on a part of the numbers -- which makes it easier to connect to the information. I suspect there's a lesson in this for those of us working with community indicators.

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The Science of Indicators

I'd like you to take a moment and read this article by Mallen Baker on indicators and communication. It comes from a business perspective rather than a community perspective, but the processes and principles should seem really familiar.

In the article, called "Responsibility reporting – Now write a shorter letter, better," Baker discussed how people are determining which indicators to report.

The clincher is found in the last paragraph -- "The question is whether we have been trying too hard to make this kind of communication into a science, when really it is art."

What's your feedback? Are we working on the science of community indicators, or the art? In my experiences, the art of community indicators consists in transforming a largely academic exercise into something that resonates with the community. How have you seen that happen?

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Big Cities Health Inventory

The Big Cities Health Inventory 2007: The Health of Urban USA provides city-to-city comparisons of leading measures of health, presenting a broad overview of the health of the 54 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. Produced with funding from NACCHO's Metro Forum, this report is the fifth edition of a compendium of health status indicators designed to provide usable information for evidence-based decision making.

To download a free PDF of this publication, visit:

From the introduction from NACCHO (National Association of County & City Health Officials):

We are very pleased to release the fifth edition of the Big Cities Health Inventory (BCHI), a compendium of health status indicators produced in a comparative format for the 54 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. This report fills an information gap that, despite great advances in information technology over the past decade, still persists today. Data on the health of our communities are probably more widely available at this time than at any point in the past. The Internet has become a vast repository of statistics on a variety health conditions. But less progress has been made in turning these raw data into usable information, especially for the nation's largest urban areas which face higher rates of poor health status and racial/ethnic disparities in illness and access to health care services.

Several key principles of public health practice depend on having reliable and current information regarding the health status of the community. The most obvious of these principles is evidence-based decision making and the core science of public health, epidemiology, is grounded in the collection and analysis of data.

Perhaps an even more fundamental principle is social justice and the recognition that eliminating health disparities is critical to improving the health of the overall population. For highly diverse urban populations, understanding the root causes of health disparities, including the synergistic interplay of social and environmental stressors that contribute to the erosion of resiliency in many of our nation's urban communities, is necessary to accomplish this goal.

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Globescan Survey Results

In a survey prior to the Beyond GDP conference, GlobeScan asked 1,000 people in 10 countries which of two points of view was closest to their own:

  • that governments should measure national progress using money-based statistics because economic growth is the most important focus for the country; or
  • that health, social and environmental statistics are as important as economic ones and that governments should also use these for measuring national progress.

Here are their results:

Support for the ‘beyond GDP’ statement is especially strong in developed countries. The French and Italians are most enthusiastic, with 85 percent of people supporting true wealth measures from health and social statistics. Only 10 percent support purely economic indices. In the developing nations of India and Kenya, around 70 percent agree with the broader growth measures, but a significant minority of 27 percent still believe in economics alone.

This survey was conducted by GlobeScan, on behalf of Ethical Markets Media, in June to August 2007, and looked at opinions in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Italy, Kenya and Russia. Alignment in the United States seems likely. Previous studies (from the Americans Talk Issues Foundation) have shown up to 79 percent approval of a ‘scorecard’ of quality of life indicators in the United States.

For more information, see GlobeScan.

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Corporate Sustainability Reports and Sustainable Investing

I enjoyed the conversation at the Beyond GDP conference on socially responsible investing. If you like the topic, here's a blog you might like.

The KLD Blog is geared towards conversations around sustainable investing, which they call "the integration of environmental, social and governance factors into security analysis and the investment process."

I liked the updates on mandatory CSR reporting in Malaysia and a conversation about putting CSR in a historical context of public purposes and corporations. It's an interesting conversation.

Ron Robins suggested we also look at, which also looks interesting.

My focus is on community-based indicators, and so what I'm more interested in is how the information market is shifting to provide more privately-generated data about social and ecological impacts. If we can find a way to tease community-focused data out of the developing CSR formats, I think we may be able to get something icredibly useful for our community work.

In the meantime, I'm interested in hearing from you if there are other places we should be looking at to understand what's happening in the triple bottom line or corporate sustainability reports movements.

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Using Indicators in Memphis

I ran across this blog article from Memphis and enjoyed its call to action on community indicators.

From A Field Guide to Urban Memphis:

part of the problem is the one of the mosquito in the nudist colony... where to start?

part of the problem is connecting people in need with institutions and programs that work. there are so many good programs - best practices - that we know work locally and nationally. we know that investing in early childhood is one very financially and socially responsible answer to the problems our community faces.

part of the problem is that we have no grasp of what the future holds. we know some trends in our community - decreasing pregnancy rates, rising crime rates, and community indicators (like being the most obese and sedentary city in the country) that show the health and well-being of people here. what's interesting is that we do know what the city will look like in the future if we do nothing. we'll have more of the same. more poverty, increasing disparity between the rich and poor, more segregation, more disenfranchisement, more immigrants, more people with higher incomes exiting the city and county for locations within the MSA... in short, we'll look the same, only worse. if we do nothing, current trends will continue.

however, if we do what we know works, our city can look vastly different in twenty years.

That's straightforward. "If we do nothing, current trends will continue." I like it.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Gross National Happiness Convention

We've been talking about measuring happiness and Bhutan's Gross National Happiness index. Last week was the Gross National Happiness Convention, and here's what some folks had to say about it.

Besides calling GNH "rhetoric we use to impress foreigners", a local editorial said Bhutan's efforts to concentrate on happiness are critical but incomplete:

As an inspiration it has worked. The challenge is for us to construct the academic structure around GNH and to make it a practical basis for our planning process. As development experts say, we must “operationalise” GNH. Because Bhutanese people in general, and that includes the so-called educated section of society, do not read academic papers, GNH has to be operationalised by the small community of academics and decision-makers.

When His Majesty the King addressed the university graduates of 2007 in October, he said that Bhutanese must not just love our country but love our country with intelligence. That is it.

GNH must stir conscious intellectual thought. It is the use of reason to find reasonable solutions to the problems we face. We are essentially trying to make educated decisions in our policies. We are using common sense and ethics and imagination in our decision making process.

As we sit in an international conference, Bhutanese participants are acutely conscious that we are not going out to preach Gross National Happiness. We are not out there to solve the world’s problems. As much as Bhutan is praised for its enlightened development approach, we are not yet in a position to offer the alternative development paradigm that the world is seeking.

p2pnet quotes Bhutanese prime minister, Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji, as saying, “It is important to note that a considerable space exists between the inspirational ideal of GNH and the every day decisions of policymakers.”

The AFP quotes World Bank managing director Graeme Wheeler in saying, "Other countries need to follow Bhutan's lead in promoting Gross National Happiness as a gauge of national wellbeing."

For some in Bhutan, the key is volunteerism. Bhutan Majestic Travel (what a great name!) reports on a showcase of volunteer experiences, and makes this point:

Her Royal Highness said that Bhutan has always had a rich tradition of volunteerism, especially in the construction and preservation of community lhakhangs and chortens - as people believe in merit earned from such activities. “While volunteerism is not a new concept for Bhutan, the context, in which it can be made more relevant to developmental initiatives, needs to be looked into.” ...

B B Misra, a Bhutanese volunteer, said, “What United Nations volunteers are doing to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals, Bhutanese volunteers do to achieve Gross National Happiness.”

I'm looking for someone who attended the convention to drop me a note (or guest article!) about what they learned. (I've heard from one person it was fantastic, but I need more detail!) Is the GNH concept advanced far enough along to implement in a community indicators report? Why or why not?

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dashboards and Community Indicators

I've had a couple of requests recently for a discussion of community dashboards. We tend to use the term in two different ways. The first is to talk about community indicators projects in general, where the indicators themselves serve as gauges of progress in the community, and the set of indicators is the "dashboard". Under that definition, any indicators project is an example of a dashboard, though not all label them as such.

The second definition tries to get at a functional single-page image-intensive picture of community progress -- sort of community progress at-a-glance. There's some interesting work being done on these kinds of initiatives as well, and I thought I'd share a couple of my favorite examples.

One at-a-glance dashboard I like is in St. Louis with a group called RegionWise -- it’s their Wheel of Progress that I find so interesting. See for how they depict progress in each of their indicator areas in a picture that manages to convey an extraordinary amount of information in a simple design.

Randal Son, of Many Waters in Walla Walla, Washington, has an intriguing dashboard he’s interested in talking to more people about. You can see it at -- I really like how much information it displays with simple symbols.

Our friends at iisd have a free dashboard they’re trying to get others to use. It feels a little jarring to me, unfortunately, but it may be helpful for others in designing their own dashboards. See

Here’s The Florida Department of Children and Families dashboard -- -- it’s the best example I know of that shows what not to do. See The point of dashboards is supposed to be to convey information with more clarity.

A warning note about dashboards -- combining too many indicators into a simple picture can be about as useful as that doggone engine light coming on. You know something's wrong, but don't know what it is or what to do about it besides just hand everything over to professionals. That response, I think, defeats the purpose of a community indicators report, which in most cases is trying to democratize information, not obscure it.

What are your favorite dashboards out there?

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More Fun Maps

There's a link to the Strange Maps blog on the left-hand column. I'd like to encourage community indicators practitioners to take a look at it, if you haven't recently.

Besides an amusing map of Montana (divided into fringe groups), there's this great map about blondness in Europe:

Why do I point out these maps? Because community indicators are about storytelling, and storytelling is often about visualizations, and because most community indicator reports have fascinating information obscured by conventional Excel-created charts and graphs.

I don't have the answers to perfect data display technology or storytelling. Dr. Hans Rosling suggests technology -- the right instrument -- is an important part of the solution.

I just know that sometimes the creative-but-silly ways other people display information can trigger a new way to look at our continuing problem of making data relevant and meaningful in the lives of ordinary people and decision makers in our community.

So take a peek -- it's fun, and I applaud the work they're doing to pull together these maps.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"Community of Opportunity"

I really liked the description of what the Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Indicators Report has to say about the community. The Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Council has been using the indicators to promote progress in the region, and asks in this article published by the Michigan City News-Dispatch, November 18, 2007:

Is Northwest Indiana a "Community of Opportunity"? If not, how do we ensure that all residents have an opportunity to succeed and achieve some form of financial well being and security?

The indicator report uses some interesting categories to advance conversation and action in the community, and supports a blog for ongoing discussion about the indicators. Blog topics include everything from income inequality to climate change. It's worth checking out.

The "Community of Opportunity" conversation continues:

The Quality of Life Indicator "Community of Opportunity" looked at issues of income and poverty in Northwest Indiana. It found that we are an area of vast economic contrasts.
The Quality of Life report urged the Northwest Indiana community to reduce poverty by 20 percent by 2010. The report acknowledges this challenge will require the public, private and non-profit sectors to work together on a solution.

Together, we can create a community of opportunity and we will all benefit in the long run. But it all starts with education!

That's a message that I think will resonate with many of us in our communities.

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Japan for Sustainability

While in Brussels, I had a chance to talk with Hiroyuki Tada, co-founder of Japan for Sustainability, I've been a fan of their work for a while, and you remember we talked about them last March.

I highly recommend subscribing to their newsletter, and checking their back issues for any of the articles you missed. The current newsletter discusses Redefining Progress' Genuine Progress Indicator (see, Gross National Happiness indicators in Bhutan, and a Gross Company Happiness measure coming from Japan as alternatives to GDP. It also discusses Eco-City contests, selling sustainability, and more.

Here's how to access the newsletter and subscribe.

The Japan for Sustainability newsletter is a free monthly newsletter tokeep you up-to-date on the latest developments in Japan. Japan forSustainability bears no liability for the newsletter's contents or use of the information provided. This newsletter is sent only to those who have registered for it. We do not rent, loan or sell this e-mailing list to any other party.If you wish to subscribe, please visit

To unsubscribe, please fill in the boxes of "Unsubscribe E-mailNewsletter" at the bottom in the form:

Back issues of the newsletter are also available.

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Call for Papers: Happiness and Capability Workshop

From the ISQOLS Listserve:

I am writing to inform the ISQOLS network about the Happiness and Capability: Measurement, Theory and Policy workshop organized by the Chair in Economic Theory and Policy at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

The aim of this workshop is to provide a platform to debate and appraise these two strands of well-being research in the social sciences in general and economics in particular. The workshop will be held in the former Augustinian convent Soeterbeeck (Ravenstein) and brings together experts-economists, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, and policy makers-working on the frontier of the theoretical and empirical characteristics of well-being.

Call for papers:

Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to submit a proposal no longer than 500 words. Submissions for sessions are strongly encouraged. Sessions would consist of three to four papers or a roundtable discussion with 3-4 speakers. A session proposal should contain, in addition, title and description of the theme of the session in up to 500 words, and the name and contact information of the session organizer.

All submissions will be considered for a planned edited volume.

Please send all your queries, abstracts or proposals to


January 31, 2008: proposal submission
February 28, 2008: notice of acceptance or rejection June 30, 2008:
completed paper

Keynote speakers:

Ruut Veenhoven, The Netherlands, (Erasmus University Rotterdam).
Des Gasper, The Netherlands, (Institute for Social Studies).
Jon Hall, France, (OECD).

For further information please see

All the very best,

Ramzi Mabsout

PhD candidate in economics and ethics
Radboud University Nijmegen
Economics Department TvA 5.1.70
Postbus 9108
6500 HK Nijmegen
tel: +31 24 36 115899

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