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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Vital Statistics Data Collection At Risk

Due to budget cuts, the National Center for Health Statistics is looking at dramatically scaling back the data sets it purchases from states, which may significantly limit data availability and potentially data collection. Take a look at this letter from Emily J. Holubowich, from the Coalition for Health Services Research, and see if you would like to make your opinion known. I'm a little late sharing the letter with you, but I think you might be able to still make your voices heard in a number of ways.

And in any case, you need to be aware of the decisions being made, because they may affect your local community indicators projects.

Here's the letter:

Dear Friends,

As some of you may know, NCHS is proposing to purchase in 2009 a limited ‘core’ set of data items from all states and territories and ‘enhanced data items’ (including most public health data items) from a limited number of jurisdictions, depending on the availability of funds. Linked birth and death files, fetal death files, and enhanced data from the remaining jurisdictions would only be purchased if other agencies provide funding for this purpose.

The Excel spreadsheets attached outline which data are currently considered ‘core’ and ‘enhanced’ for births and deaths. The attached one-pager [note: I have these documents and if you'd like to see them, drop me a line and I'll e-mail them to you] prepared by NAPHSIS describes the proposal and its implications in greater detail. For example, nearly all data items that are routinely used to monitor maternal and infant health, such as use of prenatal care, smoking during pregnancy, medical risk factors, and educational attainment of parents, would be considered “enhanced data items” and would not be collected from all states. In addition, our ability to monitor and track select Healthy People 2010 objectives—including those related to Maternal and Child Health, Tobacco Use, and Occupational Safety and Health—will be compromised (see attached summary of implications).

NCHS proposes to redirect the money currently used to purchase these enhanced data to help states and territories implement the 2003 birth and death certificates, and to get all states collecting data electronically. Today only about half of the states and territories use the 2003 birth or death certificates to collect “enhanced” vital statistics. Fewer states collect both, and even fewer do so electronically. So the national vital statistics data are “only as good as the worst state.” NCHS has chosen to pursue this approach since it is unlikely the agency will receive the est. $30 million in one-time funding needed to modernize the system. The cost of collecting the enhanced data in 2009 could be anywhere $5-$7 million, give or take (depending on ongoing contract negotiations with states).

Members of the Friends met with NCHS staff in November to express our concerns about the proposed approach. We of course agree that the current system is far from optimal, and modernizing the National Vital Statistics System will improve data quality, efficiency, interoperability, and security. However, we do not believe it is prudent to cut data collection at this time--particularly when a new administration is preparing to take office and the future of FY 2009 appropriations remain uncertain. Based on our recommendations, NCHS agreed to postpone implementation of the core v. enhanced proposal from the original January 1 date until April 1, 2009 when more is known about FY 2009 funding and the FY 2010 budget. As Ed Sondik noted:

“Based upon the concerns raised by Friends, we’ve decided to postpone until April 1 the implementation of our new plan for funding our collection of vital records. Our new plan is based upon our belief that our primary commitment is to obtain twelve months of data on core items on birth and death certificates and to invest in the infrastructure required to improve quality and timeliness of vital statistics data. We will, of course, broadly notify our colleagues in the Department and our data users of our intention to implement this approach in April. In the meantime, we will monitor developments that may affect how funds will be allocated, and we’ll be open to modifying our current approach based upon any changes to our budget. We understand how important it is to obtain information from the "enhanced" items on the certificates, and we will invite our colleagues to identify those enhanced items that they consider of most critical importance. If at all possible, we will try to find a way to collect some of these items as funding allows.”

Carolyn Mullen of March of Dimes, Mary Jo Hoeksema of Population Association of America and myself late last month met with Wendell Primus of Spkr. Pelosi’s office and Ben Abrams and Ivana Alexander of Rep. Hoyer’s office to explore the possibility of including one-time funding in the January stimulus package to allow states and territories to modernize their vital statistics programs and mitigate the core v. enhanced proposal. The staffers were concerned by the proposed cuts in both vital statistics and the surveys, but admitted inclusion of these funds in the stimulus would be "a long shot." Instead, they urged the Friends to concentrate our efforts on FY 2010 appropriations and to submit a letter to the transition committee.

Per the suggestion of House leadership, we are:

  • Drafting a letter to the transition team (and hopefully scheduling a meeting) to express our concerns about the impact of funding shortfalls on NCHS's core infrastructure and urging the transition team to also evaluate the placement of NCHS. We would cc on this letter the appropriations committees, the House and Senate leadership, and OMB. I will not collect signatures on this letter and will instead include as an attachment a list of the Friends membership. I will circulate this letter to the Friends before the end of the week.
  • Drafting a letter re: the core v. enhanced proposal to OMB/CDC through the open call for comments on the vital statistics collection ( We will cc on this letter the Asst Surgeon General, the Asst Secretary, and the NCHS’s Board of Scientific Counselors. I encourage other members of the Friends to take advantage of this opportunity to get on record re the importance of vital statistics to your community. Comments are due by December 29.
  • Meeting with staff at OMB’s OIRA to develop some internal champions, as they all use these data.

As a longer term goal, we could do a “Dear Colleague” from Members of Congress to the new CDC director outlining the challenges the agency is facing and urging them to reinvest and rebuild in data collection.

I apologize for the length of this email and for just notifying you of these developments now but I felt it important to hold back until I had the official “facts” from NCHS before going public. I am happy to answer your questions.

Emily J. Holubowich, M.P.P.
Director, Government Relations
Coalition for Health Services Research
1150 17th Street NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036
(p) 202.292.6743
(c) 202.557.9084
(f) 202.292.6843

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Update from PolicyMap

Here's a press release that should be of interest:

New PolicyMap Feature Simplifies Online Map Sharing

Online Mapping Tool Now Lets Users Embed, Share Thematic Maps on the Web

(Philadelphia) December 16, 2008 – PolicyMap, the online data mapping tool, today unveiled a new functionality that allows users to embed customized, data-driven maps into their own websites and blogs. Through this new functionality, users can easily share thematic data from on any website of their choosing.

PolicyMap offers quick and easy access to a wealth of market and demographic data for policymakers, professionals, and the general public. PolicyMap users can map and analyze by geography more than 4,000 data indicators related to demographics, real estate markets, education, employment, money and income, crime, energy, and public investments. These indicators are aggregated from a variety of sources including U.S. Census, Claritas, FBI, IRS, the Postal Service, and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

For full directions on how to embed a map, visit:

The embedded map serves as a live link to a full-scale map on PolicyMap, which provides additional information such as a complete legend and details on the data used. The embed feature is available for free to all registered PolicyMap users.

Nearly 150,000 people have utilized PolicyMap since the site launched earlier this year. To date, PolicyMap has more than 8,000 registered users. Its varied subscribers include foundations such as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, state agencies including the New Jersey Housing Mortgage Finance Agency, private entities like Comcast as well as nonprofit community organizations nationwide.

About PolicyMap
PolicyMap is an online mapping tool that makes it quick and easy to gather and analyze geocentric information. PolicyMap is a service of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), a not-for-profit leader in the financing of neighborhood revitalization. TRF developed PolicyMap to empower decision makers with better access to credible market and demographic data. To utilize PolicyMap, visit To learn more about TRF, visit

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3-Year ACS Data Available

American Community Survey Alert, Number 62

(Released December 9, 2008)

News in this Alert

* December 9, 2008 -- Release of 2005-2007 ACS Social, Economic, Housing,
and Demographic 3-Year Estimates

*The ACS Compass Products - Presentations

*A Look Ahead - 2005-2007 ACS Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) Files Will
Be Released in Early 2009

*Contact Us

(continue reading after the break)

* December 9, 2008 -- Release of 2005-2007 ACS Social, Economic, Housing,
and Demographic 3-Year Estimates

The U.S. Census Bureau today released 3-year ACS estimates for the first
time. These 3-year estimates are based on data collected from 2005 to 2007
and are published for all geographic areas with populations of 20,000 or
more. Of particular interest are data for midsize population areas (20,000
to 64,999). Characteristics for these areas have not been released since
the last decennial census in 2000.

These estimates describe the average characteristics for the 3-year time
period (January 2005 through December 2007. Guidance on how to use the new
ACS multiyear estimates can be found at:

The press release highlighting the release of the 2005-2007 ACS estimates
can be found at:
*The ACS Compass Products - Presentations

The Census Bureau has released a set of presentations as part of The ACS
Compass Products. These presentations provide important information on
various aspects of the American Community Survey and were developed for two
main purposes: (1) for individual use to learn more about the ACS and (2)
to provide a wide audience with the tools needed to conduct training on the
ACS. Each presentation consists of approximately 35 PowerPoint slides and
the accompanying speakers' notes. They will soon also be available as
multimedia files. The presentation topics are:

An Overview of the American Community Survey presents the basics of the
American Community Survey program and Website. It includes information on
content, survey methodology, and data products.

Things that May Affect Estimates from the American Community Survey
presents a discussion of sampling error and other things that affect
American Community Survey estimates, such as non-sampling error and
population controls.

Understanding Multiyear Estimates in the American Community Survey details
the definition, use, and interpretation of multiyear estimates.

Data Products from the American Community Survey presents an overview of
the American Community Survey data products, including examples of each

Geographic Areas and Concepts for the American Community Survey gives an
overview of the types of geographic areas for which data are available from
the ACS.

The ACS Compass Products may be found at:

If you have questions, comments, or identify any areas of concern with The
ACS Compass Products, we would like to hear from you. Please contact us by
email at
* A Look Ahead: 2005-2007 ACS Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) Files Will
Be Released in Early 2009

The 2005-2007 PUMS file will be released in early 2009. This multiyear PUMS
file will contain the same sample of actual responses provided in the 2005,
2006, and 2007 One-Year PUMS files, with new weights.
*Contact Us

If you have questions or comments about the American Community Survey,
please call (800) 923-8282 or e-mail

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QOL-Related Job Announcements

From the ISQOLS listserve:


1) Study Fellowship: RAND Postdoctoral Training Program in the Study of Aging
Date: 09 February 2009

The RAND Corporation is accepting applications for one or more postdoctoral fellowships in the Study of Aging. This competitive program enables outstanding scholars to sharpen their analytic skills and advance their research agenda in the field of aging. Scholars come from various disciplines including economics, demography, sociology, and psychology.

Housed within RAND’s Labor and Population Program, the program blends formal and informal training and extensive collaboration with distinguished researchers without teaching obligations. One-year fellowships are renewable for a second year and provide a competitive stipend and health insurance.Fellows must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and must have completed a Ph.D. in a relevant discipline before they begin the program. The program is open to new scholars, as well as individuals who have some research experience or are on leave from an academic position.

Application review begins February 9th, 2009. Additional information and application materials are available via weblink, or by contacting:

Diana Malouf
The RAND Corporation
1776 Main StreetSanta Monica, CA 90407-2138
310-393-0411 x6462
email: or by emailing the Program Director:

2) Senior Research Position at German Institute of Economic Research (DIW Berlin)
Closing date: 31 December 2008

The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) is one of the leading economic research institutes in Germany. We are an independent, non-profit institute involved in economic research, service and policy advice. We co-operate closely with universities in Berlin and Brandenburg and in international academic networks. The Department of International Economics at DIW Berlin is a young and internationally-oriented research team addressing policy-relevant themes in development economics, international trade and European integration.

We publish our research findings in international journals, collaborate intensively with researchers and policy makers in Europe and beyond, regularly host international visitors, and organize academic and policy-oriented meetings. The working language of our team is English. The Department of International Economics at DIW Berlin is hiring a Senior Researcher to coordinate its work on “Poverty Reduction and Economic Reform”. This work of this new research team entails understanding mechanisms of poverty reduction in middle and low income countries and how economic reforms and poverty reduction interact.

The aim of the team is to conduct high quality applied economic research, mostly using micro-level survey data, and to derive policy advice from this research. The new Senior Researcher is expected to build up the team with doctoral and post-doctoral researchers by acquiring further external grants. Applicants should have an outstanding doctoral degree in economics (especially in the fields of development economics, transition economics, labour economics and/or applied micro-econometrics), several years of relevant academic work experience in an international context, a strong track record of publications in peer-reviewed journals, and experience in acquiring and managing research grants.

Applicants with a recent PhD in economics and less experience may be considered for a position as Senior Researcher. Fluent English is a pre-requisite; knowledge of Russian, Arabic, French, Spanish and/or German would be an advantage. The position is available as soon as possible for a duration of at least three years with a possibility for a further renewal. Applicants should submit a cover letter outlining their motivation to apply, a separate two-page mission statement on how the applicant would develop the team, a detailed curriculum vitae, copies of degree certificates and transcripts, and the names of three academic referees.

Please email your application by 31 December 2008 to DIW Berlin, Management Services/Human Resources ( stating the reference number WLT-4-08. For further information, please refer to our homepage ( or contact Andrea Jonat at Human Resources (, +49-30-89789-218).

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Community Indicators and Relationships

From xkcd:

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

A number of things have been piling up in my inbox while I was doing the holiday-wedding-holiday tango. I'll be clearing out those items and sharing them with you over the next couple of days as we get ready for the new year.

To get things started, here's some items of holiday cheer for the statistically inclined:

Over at the Reporting Statistics blog, there's a series of holiday stats to make you smile.

Here's another random set of Christmas Statistics.

Data on Christmas tree sales is here.

The Junk Charts blog gave a Christmas Day greeting by analyzing the charts used by Starbucks to display holiday sale trends.

And finally, GraphJam gives us a pie chart on "Things My Cat Plays With on Christmas":

song chart memes
more music charts

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving, Travel, and Wedding Plans

Updates to this blog will be slow over the next week, as I've got another cross-country road trip planned, a large family gathering for Thanksgiving, and I'm getting married.

That won't mean that I'm not going to pass along any updates from the world of community indicators -- the Strasbourg conference is coming up this week, and I'm hoping some of the attendees will share information about what happens there. Plus I've been pulling together the final bits of data for updates to JCCI's Quality of Life Progress Report and the Race Relations Progress Report, and some of what we've found has been really interesting.

But I've been warned that blogging about data visualization techniques and community statistics while on my honeymoon is strictly forbidden. So the bulk of the updates will have to wait until the second week in December.

See you then!

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Pike's Peak Indicators Report Update

I drew your attention last year to the Pikes Peak Quality of Life Indicators Report. Now they've released their 2008 report, and there's news about their planning for the 2009 update.

From Bettina at CopperBlog:

The 2008 Quality of Life Indicators Project ... was published this Fall. Click here to read the report online. In 2009, the report will be linked to the Dream City initiative. This is an exciting opportunity because now, as we have the tools and systems in place to determine where we are now, we can link key areas of performance to methods for producing a better quality of life in the future, and inspire decision-making and action.

That's good news, because the most important part of the process of developing a community indicators report isn't choosing the right indicators or publishing your first report; it's creating a sustainable project that becomes institutionalized in the decision-making processes throughout the community. So congratulations to the United Way and all others involved in the Pikes Peak project for continuing to move the effort forward. I'm looking forward to next year's update!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chocolate Pie Chart

You can order this directly from Mary & Matt for $20. It's 70 percent milk chocolate, 20 percent dark chocolate, and 10 percent white chocolate.


(Hat tip: Flowing Data)

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

National League of Cities: Congress of Cities

Yesterday I spoke at the National League of Cities Congress of Cities, a conference in which expected attendance was 7,000 -- my workshop had somewhere upwards of 150, with some standing-room-only in the back, which meant the vast majority of people at the conference missed a great conversation on citizen engagement in performance measurement. With a topic that exciting, it's hard to believe not everyone woke up early on Friday morning to catch the session. ;^} (I suspect Thomas L. Friedman had more people at his session later in the day, but that's probably strictly due to the time of day, right?)

The title of the workshop session was Opening Doors: Engaging Residents in Outcome-Based Governance, and it was in the track of Building Economically and Fiscally Fit Cities. I'm not sure that was the best description of the session -- performance measures are important for efficiency in government, and citizen input can create greater congruence between what-is-done and what-is-expected, but it was still an odd umbrella/framework to operate under. Chris Hoene, of the National League of Cities, introduced the panelists and moderator and got us underway. Mike Kasperzak, former mayor of Mountain View, California, moderated (and did a good job.) Joining me on the panel were Jay Fountain, recently retired from GASB and an expert on Service Efforts and Accomplishments Reporting, and Karl Knapp, Director, Research and Policy Analysis for the North Carolina League of Municipalities. I was wearing three hats: the specific experience in community indicators and working with local government reporting from Jacksonville Community Council Inc., the broader network of the Community Indicators Consortium and their work to bridge performance measurement and community indicators, and the targeted successes of applying indicators to community improvement represented in the members of the National Association of Planning Councils.

Jay began by describing the Legislating for Results series of action guides developed in partnership with the National League of Cities. Including in these action briefs, all available for download, are why measurement tools are necessary, how to get good quality data, how to work with citizens and the media, and how to use the information for more effective governance.

I spoke next, and offered three points for consideration:

  1. Measuring outcomes matters.
  2. Engaging residents enhances community governance.
  3. The process is more important than the data.

Karl then provided an overview of the Citizen-informed performance measurement (CIPM) work that they had been piloting. CIPM is a management tool that incorporates solicited feedback from citizens into the design of performance measures -- you can view a PowerPoint on CIPM here.

With those brief introductory remarks, we then engaged in a conversation among ourselves, with the moderator, and with the audience about the role of citizens/residents in performance measurement. Key topics were how to get started -- inside-out (government initiated, followed by citizen outreach) and outside-in (community-initiated, with government as partner) models were debated. I suggested that the outside-in approach allowed for stability in performance measures that transcend administration turnover, and that an obstacle that government has to deal with is the lack of trust the community has in the government's ability to report truthfully about itself. Another advantage of community-involved reporting is the recognition that problems are not solely the responsibility of government, nor can they be solved with only government intervention -- community partnerships in solutions are essential, and engagin the community in defining what's important and what success looks like at the front end helps build those partnerships for collaborative problem-solving and solutions.

The time flew by, and we didn't cover all of what we had hoped to discuss. I'm going to muse on the subject further and write a longer article on resident involvement in performance measurement, and I'll link to it here when I'm done. In the meantime, Karl urged all governments to take a small step forward, at least, and have cross-department evaluation of performance measures -- people working in a separate area who can look at the performance measures and try to think like citizens and provide feedback that way.

I offer this quote from George Washington:

"Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. In one in which the measures of government receive their impressions so immediately from the sense of the community as in ours it is proportionably essential."

(And to those whom I promised to send a copy of my presentation, that should go out on Monday.)

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Neighborhood Vital Signs Being Developed in Denver

I'm passing on a note to those in Colorado who might be interested.

The Civic Canopy, in partnership with The Denver Foundation and The Piton Foundation, is hosting a new program called Neighborhoood Vital Signs Learning Exchange. Neighborhood Vital Signs helps neighborhoods develop a shared vision, work collaboratively to acheive it, and measure their progress along the way. This project is at the heart of The Civic Canopy's mission - strengthening community through authentic dialogue, rich collaboration and resolute accountability.

Here's what you need to know:

Building Inclusive, Effective and Connected Neighborhoods

· Tired of trying the same things year after year in your neighborhood but not seeing results?
· Are you interested in helping your neighborhood develop a shared vision and clear goals?
· Would you like to know if your neighborhood efforts are having a positive impact?
· Would you like your neighborhood to be more connected and engaged?

Join us at the Community Learning Exchange
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Breakfast @ 8:30am
Learning Exchange from 9am - 2pm
Manual High School - 27th Ave. & Williams St. (Childcare is Available)

Join us as we learn about the Neighborhood Vital Signs Project--a new effort to promote strong neighborhoods by giving residents the tools to create a shared vision, measure progress on what matters most, and work together to achieve their goals.

Please respond to LaDawn @ 303.996.7350 or email by Dec. 4th!


Presented by: The Strengthening Neighborhoods Program of The Denver Foundation, The Civic Canopy, Piton Foundation, City of Denver's Office of Community Planning, CiviCore, OMNI Institute, Athmar Park Neighborhood Assoc., Northeast Park Hill Coalition, and Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Report Release: Northwest Arkansas Community Indicators Report

We've been seeing a growing trend of community foundations publishing community indicators reports. This is particularly exciting because it paces private philanthropic giving within an overall framework of community improvement, and has the added benefit of encouraging even more charitable giving to address clearly identified community needs. (I think I've mentioned a few times my strong belief that only through collaborative action can we address the multitude of inter-related issues in an effective manner, uniting government, business, and nonprofit sectors.)

Anyway, what triggered this thought was the release by the Northwest Arkansas Community Foundation of the Northwest Arkansas Community Indicators Report. The report covers the social and demographic composition of the region, and has sections on indicators of income and poverty, housing and homelessness, families and households, education, health, public safety, aging and elderly, natural environment, civic engagement, and the arts.

Two thoughts about the report:

First, I liked their explanation of why they needed to look at the indicators on a regional basis. They said:

A regional perspective on the quality-of-life in Northwest Arkansas is important because many issues transcend more limited territorial boundaries. Certainly, the Northwest Arkansas region consists of multiple local jurisdictions including counties, cities, townships, and school districts, with each having their own local planning autonomy. Nevertheless, there are a number of critical problems that can only be addressed regionally. In recent times, the Northwest Arkansas Council has made extraordinary efforts to address the hard infrastructure needs of the region (e.g. air and water quality, traffic patterns, transportation, growth) by adopting a regional approach. With a regional approach new alliances can be created, new partnerships forged, and innovative strategies developed to address the soft infrastructure challenges facing Northwest Arkansas in the 21st Century. Hopefully, this report will contribute to these future dialogues.

The second thought is about their indicators of the elderly and aging populations. I've been loking for good, localized indicators of the quality of life of older persons for quite some time. What I've been able to find so far is echoed in this report, though they put the data together differently and try to draw out the story better than I've been able to in the past. They measure the number of older persons, the growth in the agining population, how many live alone, how many are employed, and then focus into how many are in poverty, how many receive public assistance, how many are in nursing homes, and then go into indicators of health and death. I'm convinced there's a much larger story we need to be telling about this new life stage besides that of poverty and dying, but I can't find good, positive indicators of the kinds of vibrancy and contributions that this new generation of active retirees -- this new life stage -- is adding to communities. I'd love your help, if you can offer any.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Show World: Animated Statistics

Wow! I've got a new favorite interactive data display website, and it's Show World. Check out this display of the size of the aging population -- click on it once to see the animation, or double-click to see it full-sized:

width='425' height='345' align='middle'>

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name='showclip' align='middle' allowScriptAccess='sameDomain'
pluginspage='' />

Or this one, showing the number of pigs raised per country:
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name='showclip' align='middle' allowScriptAccess='sameDomain'
pluginspage='' />

Over half of the pigs raised in the world live in China!

A number of indicators are available, under People (including demographics, education, health), Planet (environment, energy, crops, minerals, animal husbandry), Business (economy, technology, transport, industry, and global brands -- want to know who has the most IKEA stores?), Politics (law & order, war & conflict, migration, government), and Living (food and dining, travel, sports, and media). There's even a secion called "Your Maps" with user-generated content.

What I really like is the further reading suggestion -- the topic displays, the animation resizes the countries to represent the actual and proportionate data, and when your attention is piqued, there's a resource available for you to follow up.

I really want this resource available on a county or neighborhood level. The challenge with data is to convince the user/reader/customer/citizen/public official to bite. Something that attracts the interest and overcomes the initial reluctance to see meaning in numbers. Once the hook is set, then they can become real fans of data-driven decision-making -- but they have to want to try it first.

This technology helps do that. And mixing the serious and the flippant helps engage people, in my opinion.

From their site: SHOW® is an online informational tool launched in May 2008 by Mapping Worlds. The website offers users a new way to look at the world by resizing countries on the map according to a series of global issues.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

(Hat tip: information aesthetics)

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Report Release: Atlas of Sustainability Indicators

The Atlas of Sustainability Indicators for Rio de Janeiro has been released, and it's an interesting look at the home of Carnival. As this article says, "The Atlas of Sustainability Indicators for Coastal Municipalities of the State of Rio de Janeiro has been developed in order to publish the results of the analysis of 40 sustainability indicators, within the six ecodevelopment dimensions proposed by Ignacy Sachs (spatial, cultural, economical, ecological, social and political), as to the 34 coastal municipalities of the State of Rio de Janeiro."

It's a reminder that Rio's not all just fun and games, but also is struggling with social and environmental concerns. And the report, which also lines up with the Millenium Development Goals, gives us a look at the challenges they face as the State of Rio de Janeiro down to the neighborhood level.

The report, which can be found here, measures some interesting indicators. The spatial dimension includes indicators on land area in urbanization, in forest, and in permanent farming. The social dimension includes infant mortality, life expectancy at birth, and homicides, but also includes a variety of other indicators, including illiteracy and sufficiency of teachers.

It's the political dimension that I found most intriguing. The report measures Total Municipal Capital Expenditures, Total Municipal Current Expenses, Municipal Expenses Directed to Education and Culture, Municipal Expenses Directed to Health and Sanitation, and Municipal Expenses Directed to National Security and Public Defense -- but doesn't address any measures of civic engagement or quality of public officials. The measures are of priorities demonstrated through allocations, not measures of the effectiveness, inclusiveness, or responsiveness of government. (And I suppose voter registration/turnout doesn't make sense as an indicator where voting is compulsory.)

The report has a series of graphics and maps to further provide information. It also references the following national sustainability indicator efforts:

Australia: Environmental Indicators for National State of the Environment Reporting

Brasil: IDS - Indicadores de Desenvolvimento Sustentável - Brasil 2004

Canada: Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators

United States: Indicadores - EPA


There's also a page of useful links for the reader.

Thanks for the heads-up, and keep the new indicator report releases coming!

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Job Opening: Researcher and Policy Analyst

Here's an employment opportunity in Toronto, Canada. Details can be found at

Position Opening for Researcher & Policy Analyst
Application deadline is November 28th

The Community Social Planning Council of Toronto is a non-profit community organization committed to independent social planning at the local and city-wide levels. We work to improve the quality of life for all people in Toronto through community capacity building, community education and advocacy, policy research and analysis, and social reporting.

The Community Social Planning Council of Toronto is accepting applications for a full time research & policy analyst (35 hours per week).

The general responsibilities of the position are to conduct research, analyze public policy as it affects Toronto, and develop social reports in order to inform policy positions and strategies on major social issues affecting Toronto and its local communities. The Council conducts community-based, action-oriented research on a variety of social issues. This research supports and promotes community mobilization on social issues.

The policy work of the CSPC-T involves the analysis, the syntheses, and interpretation of government policy and legislation, particularly at the municipal level. This posting seeks a candidate who can provide research and analysis for the Council’s education/human development policy portfolio.

Key skills required:
  • Strong writing skills and effective communication skills, including the ability to produce clear language reports
  • Research and analytical skills
  • Data analysis skills
  • Excellent interpersonal skills, and the ability to work with diverse communities

Qualifications required:

  • Graduate degree or equivalent experience in education/human development field
  • At least 3 years experience as a researcher
  • Experience with both primary and secondary research
  • Experience designing and implementing quantitative and qualitative research projects, including survey and questionnaire design; focus group design, in a community-based setting
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Experience working under pressure and to deadline
  • Some knowledge of different levels of government
  • Experience with community-based research
  • Awareness of and commitment to equity issues
  • Understanding of the non-profit sector
  • A command of a second or third language would be an asset
  • Knowledge and experience with standard statistical and/or qualitative research software (such as SPSS, SAS, NU*DIST)
  • Educational policy experience, budget analysis experience and GIS mapping skills/ experience would be an asset

The CSPC-T is committed to employment equity, and welcomes applicants from the full diversity of the community.

The successful candidate will become a CUPE 1777 member. Salary range $42,500 to $58,250 plus benefits.

Interested candidates are asked to submit a resume and cover letter outlining how they meet the above criteria.

Please submit applications to:

Maria Serrano
Director of Operations
Community Social Planning Council of Toronto
2 Carlton Street, Suite 1001
Toronto, Ontario M5B 1J3
Fax: (416) 351-0107

The deadline for applications is November 28th, 2008 at 5:00 p.m.

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"Data Friction" and Community Indicators

I've been holding on to an article in my inbox for some time on "Overcoming Data Friction." In it, Jon Udell describes "data friction" as both intentional and unintentional barriers to making public data both available and usable. His article was prompted by the announcement that EveryBlock needed to hire a computer programmer to "scrape" data from public websites -- in other words (and I'm sure I'm putting this badly) writing a program to automatically get information from websites where you can find the data but where you would otherwise need to print it out and retype it for it to be of any use.

Take a moment to read the article and the responses to it. We all know the problem -- we spend too much time re-entering information from their website to our excel spreadsheets to post on our websites. It's a waste of resources that doesn't need to be that way; here's what Jon says:

Data friction can be intentional or not. When it’s intentional, you might have to file a FOIA request to get it. But in a lot of cases, it’s unintentional. The data is public, and intended to be widely seen and used, but isn’t readily reusable.

Consider the following two restaurant inspection records for Bully’s Deli in New York:
1. in
the NYC Department of Health website
2. in EveryBlock

It’s the same data, from the same source, but EveryBlock makes better use of it. In the NYC website, you can search by ZIP code and number of violations. In EveryBlock you can search more powerfully, and you can ask and answer questions that matter to you. Maybe you care about shellfish. Have any Manhattan restaurants been cited recently for use of unapproved shellfish? Yes: five since January 21.

What EveryBlock is doing is completely aligned with the interests of the NYC Department of Health. Tax dollars are paying for those restaurant inspections. The information is published in order to make New York a safer and healthier place. It’s great to have this data available in any form, and it’s great to see EveryBlock adding value to it.

Now it’s time to grease the wheels.

Here’s one way that can happen. An enlightened city government can decide to publish this kind of data in a resuable way. I’ve written extensively about Washington DC’s groundbreaking
DCStat program which does exactly that. I can’t wait to see what happens when EveryBlock goes to Washington.

But city governments shouldn’t have to go out of their way to provide web-facing data services and feeds. Databases should natively support them. That’s the idea behind
Astoria (ADO.NET Services), which is discussed in this interview with Pablo Castro. If the NYC Department of Health had that kind of access layer sitting on top of its database, it wouldn’t put EveryBlock’s screen-scraper out of a job, it would just make that job a whole lot more interesting and effective.

With the work of the State of the USA project and its opportunity to push for data format standardization, and the efforts of the OECD to bring people together in using SDMX as a statistical data exchange standard, we have more opportunities to lessen "data friction." I don't know enough on the technical side of things to understand how this works. (That's why the article sat in my inbox so long.) But clearly, using a standard for sharing statistical data makes information-sharing much easier, and can only help the local community indicator efforts.

Pedro Díaz Muñoz, Chair of the SDMX Sponsors Committee, said:

I firmly believe that the SDMX standards and guidelines provide cost-effective solutions for the production and exchange of official statistics between national and international statistical systems. As in the past, the SDMX Sponsoring Organisations encourage all interested parties at international and national level to contribute actively to the realisation of this vision by participating in the further development of the SDMX standards and guidelines as well as to its active implementation.

I think we can, in our local communities, push for adoption of SDMX standards. We can try to follow along as the process and standards are developed. Most importantly, however, in our local purchasing/development decisions, demand of our web developers adherence to SDMX standards, and help establish the international standard.

It should pay off in incredible dividends for us over time.

What are your thoughts? Is my understanding of SDMX off? What about XML? What should I have known in order to make this post more coherent?

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Geo Challenge Grants from Google

Here's a grant opportunity that might be interesting from some of you out there doing community indicators. From

Geo Challenge Grants - Overview
Apply now

At, we believe maps are a powerful tool for non-profits of all kinds to communicate issues, understand needs, and create more effective implementation plans. Many of you have come to us with compelling ways that maps can help you and your organization increase impact, and we want to help you make your mapping ideas a reality. We're offering a pilot program of Geo Challenge Grants to organizations working in areas related to our core initiatives.

Through this program, we'll be offering grants valued between US$5,000 and US$100,000, either directly from, or through grant recommendations from the Fund of Tides Foundation. These grants will be issued through an open application process - legally qualified, public charitable organizations with a compelling idea about how maps can help them work more effectively are eligible. Smaller mapping applications requiring only static data might receive US$5,000 in funding, while development of tools that enable many organizations to create maps might receive US$100,000. We're partnering with Google Earth Outreach on this program to help evaluate proposals from a technical standpoint and to help us ensure the grants are successful.

Grant goals
Well designed maps can help organizations operate more effectively. They can convey the importance of your cause in a visual, compelling way. And, they can give individuals from around the world a chance to experience the work you do. Here are a few examples:
Spread of Avian Flu
A Refugee's Life
Disappearing Forests

Through these grants, we hope to enable organizations to create maps that will enhance their work and impact. For more examples, see the Google Earth Outreach case studies and showcase.
How it works
Think of ways in which mapping tools can help you be even more effective in your work.

Apply and submit your proposal online here by December 22nd, 2008. We intend to do future submission rounds in the coming year, so if you miss this deadline, stay tuned for details on our next round.

Our panel will make preliminary decisions and contact applicants within approximately 4-6 weeks of the submission deadline. A final grant determination will not be made until a due diligence review is completed and approved, and a formal grant agreement or award letter is executed. All grants are subject to compliance with all applicable laws.

Grant recipients will receive funding and, as appropriate, information on technical resources.
After grant funds are awarded, we'll review progress in 3 months and expect grant recipients to complete their map within 6 months.

When maps are completed, we'll ask for an initial report on what what has been accomplished, and how grant recipients anticipate it will help them with their work. We'll also require grant recipients to post their maps online for anyone to see/access for free, unless there is a compelling reason why the grant recipient cannot do so.

Then, 6 months later (1 year from receipt of funds,) we'll ask for a final report with feedback and metrics to understand the overall effectiveness of the map(s).

Who is eligible

Public, charitable organizations with a good idea and non-profit status in their country of incorporation are eligible to apply. You'll be asked to provide proof of your status as a non-profit, public charity as part of the application process. Please note that applicable laws may not allow us to make grants in certain countries or to certain entities.

Grant evaluation criteria

  • Potential impact toward your organization's goals.
  • Assessment of organization/team (organization's background, their work in the areas of's core initiatives).
  • Preference will be given to layers that directly complement at least one of's core initiatives.
  • Emphasis on the geo-spatial aspect of the organization's work.
  • Precise articulation of data sources and/or realistic plans to acquire data is critical.
  • Preference will be given to proposals where either data already exists or the data collection plan is realistic and practical, given resources.
  • Quality of planning (the plan should include concrete, measurable and realistic goals given time, people, and money constraints).
  • Meets all applicable legal requirements.
  • Passes the necessary due diligence review.

(Hat tip: NNIP)

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Friday, November 7, 2008

OECD Newsletter: Measuring the Progress of Nations

The newsletter Measuring the Progress of Nations is available from OECD, and there are some really good articles in its 18 pages of information about indicators.

Highlights in the newsletter (available as a PDF here) include more information about upcoming conferences in Kyoto and Busan, and a Data Designed for Decisions conference in Paris. There's write-up of training sessions held in Siena, Italy, and explanation of the Global Peace Index, the Sustainable Society Index, and a lot more information about the measures of Gross National Happiness being pioneered by Bhutan.

Plus there's an article on knowledge societies and the need for measurement, indicators of social progress in Hungary, the British Columbia Atlas of Wellness, and more. You owe it to yourself to check out Measuring the Progress of Nations, if only to remind yourself that your local efforts are connected to a global movement transforming this planet.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

500 Articles And Still Going Strong

On March 15, 2007, I launched this blog by saying the following:

Data are exciting.

If you don't believe that, this may not be the right blog for you.

Finding the right numbers and putting them together in trend lines or maps or scatterplots or charts and seeing the picture that emerges can be amazing. And putting a set of those trend lines or charts or maps to work in a community to galvanize action or shape policy or direct funding or support action is exhiliarating.


And sometimes it's just putting a whole bunch of numbers together in the hope that data-driven decision-making will create better community outcomes than anecdote- or influence-directed politics.

As more and more information become available, and new and better technology to sort, display, and analyze the data are developed, I'm going to try to capture some of that here and share it with those that are interested. Please join me in pulling this stuff together.

Because data really are exciting.

On March 19, 2007, I added tracking software to the blog -- Google Analytics. So I know that on that date, 23 unique visitors saw the blog, and could read a little about the Community Indicators Consortium conference we had just held, as well as some excitement around two new websites, Many Eyes and Swivel.

Some of you have stuck with me since then. More of you have joined in the meantime. I've met some neat people doing really good work in their communities through this blog.

This is the 500th post to this blog. I don't think I had any idea we'd have so much to talk about. But there's so much happening today around community indicators that one blog just doesn't seem like enough.

Thousands of you have come to visit this blog, from thousands of cities around the world. I've met some of you in person in conferences and gatherings in the most unlikely places. And there are many more of you I'd still like to meet.

Take a moment, if you would, and add your thoughts to this message. Now that we've been together for a while, what do you like about this blog? What do you think we should fix? What topics are more interesting to talk about? How could we improve this conversation?

Thank you in advance for your feedback, and thank you to all those who have agreed with me that yes, data are exciting.

Ben Warner
Jacksonville Community Council Inc.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Long Island Index and Mapping Software

Here's an update from SlashGeo you may be interested in -- if you're technically minded and can wade through the jargon. Otherwise, what you need to know is that there's a new web-based indicators interface being demo'd and you can take a look.

Steven Romalewski writes: "I read Slashgeo on a regular basis (mainly from links via PlanetGS). I thought you'd be interested in a new application based on a customized integration of ESRI and open source technologies. You can access the site at ap.aspx It was developed for the Long Island Index project, which has been developing and monitoring regional community indicators for the past several years. (Here is some background about the Index itself.)

The maps are still in "beta" testing phase, so you'll need to register to access them (just a temporary thing), and it's a work in progress so feedback is welcome. We're excited about it because it leverages the combination of ESRI on the backend, OpenLayers for map navigation, and the ext.js framework for an AJAX-style interface. All of the mapped information is displayed via WMS, and much of the data is accessed using REST.

Among other things we include the ability to access Microsoft's Virtual Earth bird’s eye views based on a click on the map, and we also implemented the ext.js transparency tool to make it easy to compare multiple thematic layers and aerial imagery. The transparency tool always gets a "wow" reaction from the crowd when we demo the site, but it's also a powerful tool for visual analysis. Anyway, hope you like the site. We'd be very interested in your feedback as well as what your readers think. Thanks for taking a look!" The beta version will ask you for a name, organization and email.

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More from the Performance Management Conference

I gave you a quick update on the Fourth Annual Performance Management Conference in Seattle last week, and a link to the AGA blog where they are providing information on the sessions.

Now there's more information, courtesy of the Perspectives on Performance Newsletter from the AGA. I thought you might be interested in these reports -- see their write-up after the break.

Getting Started: Two Experts Offer Advice at Performance Management Conference

Preparing a performance report for the first time is no easy task, but two professionals who coordinated those efforts shared their experiences--the good and the bad--and offered tips during AGA's Performance Management Conference in Seattle last week.

Rebekah Stephens, Planning and Performance Coordinator for the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, TN, said the Metro government, which has a budget of $1.58 billion and covers 56 departments, had not done a performance report in 30 years when the job was taken up again amid citizens' demands for greater accountability and transparency in government. (
Read the 1976 report.)

Step one, she said, was to examine the award-winning reports under AGA's Certificate of Achievement in Service Efforts and Accomplishments Reporting, including reports published by the cities of Des Moines and Portland, OR, and the reports done in King County, WA. All mayoral departments implemented a comprehensive "managing for results" system. The Metro government team also considered its audience, and concluded that the report should be citizen-oriented.

"Brevity is the key," she said. "Citizens do not want to read through reams and reams of data to get to the point."
Read more, including insights from Sharon Daboin from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Top Minds in Performance Management Brought to PDC

Did you miss the Performance Management Conference this year? Not only was the weather gorgeous in Seattle (sunny and 65 degrees), but we had a wonderful cadre of speakers including
Ron Sims, King County Executive, King County, WA, and Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag, (left) representing state and local governments.

A conference highlight was the presentation from
Paul Posner, Director of the Public Administration Program at George Mason University and Harry Hatry, (left) Director of the Public Management Program at the Urban Institute. Both gentlemen spoke about their years in cultivating performance management and reporting for governments.

Robert Attmore, GASB Chairman, and Robert Shea of Grant Thornton LLP, former Associate Director of Administration and Government Performance, Office of Management and Budget, each gave an overview of, and insights into state/local and federal government performance reporting. Shea offered his thoughts on what the next administration's performance management initiatives might be.

Attending were 150 dedicated and passionate attendees from federal, state and local governments who believe in promoting government performance management and reporting. Our presentations covered the gamut of best practices, benchmarking, activity-based costing, getting started and sustaining a performance management system.

If you missed the conference, contact
Evie Barry for information on the conference sessions. As one conference attendee noted, "This is only performance conference that talks about performance reporting in detail." Stay tuned for more details about next year's event.

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Report Release: Twin Cities Compass

I received a nice note from Craig Helmstetter, Senior Research Scientist at Wilder Research. They've just released a new community indicators report called Twin Cities Compass. They're interested in the reaction of the indicators community to their format/structure and the indicator selection -- check out the report in PDF (two pages!) at

Here's what I find so intriguing about the report. One of the challenges we have is how to convey a lot of information quickly and clearly so that it captures the imagination and informs the public. Here they have nine elements defining progress for the region:

  • civic engagement;
  • early childhood;
  • economy and workforce;
  • education;
  • environment;
  • health;
  • housing;
  • public safety; and
  • transportation.

Each section has between two and four indicators. For each indicator, there's an arrow showing the trendline -- better or worse. There's a national comparison (one to three "compass rose" symbols showing better, same, or worse), and columns for Y or N under disparities in income, place, or race. Then there's a column for sources, and on the back a timeline of the activities that got them to this point.

The website is where you can find the actual data and more information on each indicator --

I love the attention to the disparities -- the devil's in the disaggregations, as we've mentioned before -- and the indicator set seems pretty good. There's an opportunity to use sparklines instead of/along with arrows to show trends, which might be interesting in a future report. And the compass symbols are more distracting than information -- I had to keep going back to the legend to figure out what they meant, and since it's printing in color the red-yellow-green color scheme might have worked better. And I wish there were not so many N/A's on the page -- even blank spots would have been preferable/less distracting.

But that's nit-picking. Overall, a really nice effort, especially in putting together a companion printed overview piece with a more in-depth interactive website effort. And with plenty of community engagement. Well done!

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election 2008: Recommendations for the New Administration

Redefining Progress, on the day of the U.S. presidential election, asks, "How can the next president address our most urgent national priorities in a way that assures we not only solve current crises—be they climate change, financial meltdown, or any of a number of concerns—but also prevent their recurrence?"

In answer that question, they are running a special series of essays, written by one of their experts in sustainable economics, environmental and climate justice, or sustainability indicators. This week, Andrew Hoerner, director of the sustainable economics program, discusses how taming the financial sector, ensuring sustainable health care, and creating an energy system for the future will require the right indicators, the right incentives, and the right principles of justice.
To read the recommendations, please click here. Here's a sample of what he has to say:

To be sustainable, any system needs three things:

  • The right indicators
  • The right incentives, and
  • The right principles of justice.

Indicators are needed for sustainability because you can not manage what you do not measure. A good indicator will tell you how well a system is meeting human needs, or whether its productive capacity is being improved or eroded, or both.

To read more, click here.

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New Advocacy Tool

As we all are aware, the point of community indicator efforts is not to gather data or to publish graphs. The point is to make change, and indicators are a necessary ingredient in your community change model.

Another ingredient is advocacy. And while effective advocacy isn't the primary focus of this blog, I thought I'd share a resource with you: Effective Advocacy at ALL Levels of Government

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently launched a new, online tool to help nonprofits more effectively engage in the public policy process. Using plain language, this tool explains why, what (the law), and how to engage in effective nonprofit advocacy. It includes sample strategic plans and case stories from a wide range of charities.

Keep the resources coming!

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Foreclosure Data Part III

One more update, from the NNIP listserve:

Last week, we released a report on how the tightening credit market has affected homebuyers in New York City and the country as a whole. Declining Credit & Growing Disparities: Key Findings from HMDA 2007 uses Federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data released last month to analyze trends in home purchase and refinance lending activity between 2006 and 2007. The report highlights shifts in the high cost and prime markets, and illustrates how declining credit has affected borrowers of different races.

Much of the media’s focus has been on signs of tightening credit over the past few months, but our report illustrates that the flow of credit has been slowing for the housing markets for well over a year. In New York City, we saw dramatic declines in home purchase and refinance activity from 2006 to 2007 (14% and 31% respectively). Nationally, home purchase lending declined by 25% and refinance lending declined by 24%. Moreover, we see troubling signs that New York City's black and Hispanic borrowers are bearing the brunt of this decline in credit, and it is not simply evidence of the subprime market drying up. The number of prime loans awarded to black and Hispanic borrowers fell by 23% and 15% respectively between 2006 and 2007. By contrast, the number of prime loans issued to white borrowers rose by 4% while the number issued to Asians increased by 18%. If these trends continue, and black and Hispanic borrowers are disproportionately affected by the tightening credit market, it may mean less investment in communities of color, an undoing of recent progress in bringing homeownership opportunities to black and Hispanic New Yorkers, and a reshaping of who is buying homes in New York.

We encourage you to take a look and, as always, are interested in your feedback.

Vicki Been & Ingrid Gould Ellen

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Position Available: DataHaven Project Manager

Job Opening in Connecticut:

DataHaven, the NNIP Partner located in New Haven, CT, is recruiting for a Project Manager position. Please feel free to distribute this to any qualified individuals.

A brief description of the position is located below, but the full job description can be found at:

Project Manager

DataHaven is looking for a highly motivated professional for the role of Project Manager. Specific responsibilities will include working with the Board and partners to expand the site’s utility to and utilization by the greater New Haven community by (1) working with community stakeholders to identify and prioritize data to be collected; (2) collecting, formatting and uploading data to the site; (3) developing new content to provide more context for the data within a redesigned user interface; (4) working with programmers to implement site improvements; (5) developing and implementing plans to reach out to the community and train community members in use of the site.

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So Many A Second

There's an ingenious data visualization effort to be found at So Many A Second. To understrand their description of the software, it helps to know that "mondial" means global or worlwide.

"so_many_a_second is a visualizer that shows mondial statistics on a human scale.
Depicting the ongoing stream of events, this application tries to get the user in touch with the emotional actuality of these objective data."

Translated, this means that data that we can put in some sort of timeframe or frequency, like "4.2 babies are born every second," turns into a rainshower of infants falling at -- you guessed it -- 4.2 infants per second.

It's really a fun tool that does give you a real sense of the data on a more visceral level than a static picture or graph might. Take a look and play with it -- they let you add your own data, though the choice of graphics isn't very large yet.

Data sets come from Worldometers, which we've talked about before.

Take a look! And keep those ideas coming.

(Hat tip:

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

More on Foreclosure Data

Before I left for France, I passed along this information from on foreclosure data. That prompted a nice note from Jeff over at PolicyMap, who wrote:

I know you’ve written about in the past, and wanted to again recommend it for this topic. As part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), state and local governments will be charged with creating an action plan for allocating the funds. PolicyMap can help officials to identify areas in need and map the local housing markets. In fact, they just uploaded new HUD NSP data sets to make the process easier and more data-rich.

So I checked what he was talking about, and here it is. The PolicyMap blog explains that:

As an organization either applying to HUD for National Stabilization Program (NSP) grant dollars or interested in the program, you know that HUD expects grantees to consider several specific pieces of data in preparing plans and strategies for targeting funds. To make that work easier, we have mapped all that data and made it available for you on PolicyMap, the online data and mapping tool we created to aid public and social investors in understanding places and considering investment strategies. All public data and use of the tool for this purpose is free.

So check it out! Free data is always good. (And keep the information flowing -- let me know if you have data to share with community indicators practitioners!)

Read more ...

Rennes Conference: Final Reflections

See my notes from the conference: Day One part one, part two, part three, and part four; Day Two part one, part two, part three, and part four.

I'm getting on a plane back to America in a couple of hours. It's time to leave France and get back home. I didn't even get to use my last French joke (Waiter, this isn't soup du jour! I've had du jour before, and I know it means "chicken"!) C'est la vie.

Some final thoughts about the conference and the themes I observed:

  • In 2006, when I went to the earlier Rennes conference, the primary conversations seemed to be about the technical possibilities in creating localized indicators of social progress. My message then was that they were asking the wrong questions; it wasn't a question of which data to use, but how to reach a shared vision and define together what they wanted to measure, and then get the data to answer the questions they raised. Since then, both the Brittany region and one of the local villages have developed indicators by asking just those questions.
  • The primary themes of this conference seemed to involve constructing frameworks (the technical side), participatory democracy (the philosophical side), and how to change the world (the pragmatic side). Each conversation was fascinating in itself; the movement between conversations was often abrupt, but it showed how interdependent these three themes really are.
  • In Brussels last year, the arguments were hot and heavy to reach the point where all agreed it was time to move beyond GDP as a measure of progress. Now that's taken as a given, and the question is about what to measure, not whether environmental sustainability and social well-being should be measured. That's progress.
  • Also a sign of progress: in Rennes in 2006, several political leaders were resistant to the notion of citizen engagement and participatory democratic processes. The concept of "governance" was raised, and one local official replied, "If by governance, you mean the people elect me and I govern, I'm for it. If you mean something different, forget it!" Now the comments from government leaders were thoughtful reflections on how to involve citizens, and an understanding that different levels of geography required different citizen engagement processes. It might just be different government leaders. But still, that's progress.
  • Two years ago, in CIC and in conversations with the OECD and in Rennes, the question was whether we could connect as part of a global movement. Now there is clearly a global movement, with many more examples of successful efforts. Now the conversation is about the proper tools to connect -- how can technology assist us in connecting as a global community of practice. Enrico Giovannini has done some amazing work in this regard, and the world is better for it.
  • We have much to offer each other in this global community of practice. Our communities are different. Our data are different. But the questions, the conversations, the assumption-questioning probing insights, all serve to make each of our local efforts better. I know I came away feeling I gained more than I offered. I hope others feel the same way.
  • Community indicators practitioners are in the world-saving business. This feels good.
  • Community indicators ARE participatory democracy. That's why we're so intense on the notion of democratization of data. Informed citizens have greater democratic capacity. That's important in and of itself. Sometimes we forget that.
  • I was surprised at how involved Europeans are in the U.S. Presidential election. One person remarked to me that we just didn't understand; in important ways, we were electing the president of the world. Another mentioned that who we select will affect them probably more than it effects us, and wished they could have a vote. Something to think about on Tuesday ...
  • Last thought: French pastries are amazing. Une petit brioche avec petit chocolat -- washed down with a cup of hot cocoa -- lovely. And Le Creperie in Rennes was just as good as I remembered. Vive la France!

Read more ...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Rennes Conference, Day Two: Part Four

See the notes from Day One of the conference: part one, part two, part three, and part four; and Day Two of the conference, part one, part two, and part three.

The final session of the conference was a panel discussion, led by Yves Franchet, president of PEKEA. Overall, this was an excellent conference -- thought-provoking, inspiring, challenging. The global network around community indicators is strengthening substantially -- much had changed since I was in Rennes for the 2006 PEKEA conference. I'll share more of my thoughts as I reflect on what has happened.

Your thoughts and impressions of the conference are also welcome. I will also be posting the link to the conference web page at PEKEA as soon as they get the presentations and papers available online.

Update: Notes on the presentations added. Second update: The audience questions and the panel responses have been added.

Yves Franchet, president of PEKEA, moderated the discussion. Panelists were Ben Warner, JCCI/CIC; Mike Salvaris, professor from Melbourne, Australia; Gilda Farrell, Council of Europe; Michel Renault, Director of the ISBET-PEKEA project; Enrico Giovannini, OECD; and Alain Yvegniaux, Regional Council of Bretagne. We each had the same three questions to address:

  • How can we promote the analysis of societal progress at the local level?
  • What three recommendations can you offer to build together local indicators of societal progress?
  • How can we improve cooperation between the social actors and institutions working on this topic?

We had five minutes each to cover all three questions. Gilda Farrell went first:
I think we need to consider making a place for the development of non-institutional public policy; that is, public policy developed outside of the traditional institutions. We need to work with citizens, in such a way that all who participate take off their stakeholder hats and interact as citizens, thinking about the common good. We need to drop the hat of political partisanship and political specificities in order to reach consensus for action. We need to convince the people it's that important that we do so.

We need to ask open questions about what progress is all about. We don't need to ask closed questions that forbid our citizenry to express themselves clearly and freely. We need to encourage interaction between people from different horizons. We need to encourage exchanges so that we begin to see the issues differently, from multiple perspectives.

Question 3 is more difficult. Let me suggest thinking in terms of basic human rights, including rights to recognition, second opportunities, the right to take risks, right to project one's own life, right to expression, to be creative, to be respected, to live in human and humane cities, right to not be stressed, to manage one's own time, to not feel guilty because poor people live near you. Partnerships take time. We need to dare to co-construct public policies. We also need to make sure that we have the international level in mind; we need progress here that doesn't create problems in other places.

Ben (me) went next. We have heard the sayings, “You treasure what you measure.” “What gets measured, gets done.” There is power in creating indicators, the power of turning values into measures and shaping both the community agenda and creating accountability for action. In my community, we are careful in the words we use. Too often words acquire political meanings, are embraced or attacked for political reasons, and we lose the ability to create a community consensus for action if we are only re-opening the same arguments in which everyone has already chosen a side. Instead we talk about the overall quality of life, of building a better community. No one is against a better community. But as we talk about a better community, embedded in that conversation are notions of sustainability, of social progress. And all this is part of a larger picture, interwoven with questions of economic growth and civic accomplishment.

You build local indicators first by listening. In our community, we serve as the neutral convener, the safe place for open conversation about what's important. We do not convene people to tell people they need to follow our agenda – we don't have an agenda, except that we believe in the power of letting the people decide for themselves what is important to them and how they can achieve that future together. As you listen to the people, ask yourselves, who's not here? What voices are missing? What is not being heard? Then find a way to bring them into the conversation. The dialogue is not about just what college-educated experts think is important for a community; it must be open to everyone.

In a conference in Toronto, a woman from Pakistan challenged us to think differently. Not to have one person try to represent all people of the same gender, the same race or ethnicity, the same national origin. She said too often we draw lines – poverty lines, housing assistance qualification lines, etc. -- and that above that line one is a full citizen, but below that line one is marginalized into being only one's ethnicity. And these people are not the ones who draw the lines. Indicators projects are not about numbers. They're not about statistics. They're about people, and social change. Allow their voice.

How do you improve cooperation? By bringing everyone in at the beginning, by making the indicators project everyone's project. By being a trusted information source, agenda-free, where all the community look on the indicators as a community resource they can use in planning and policy-setting and decision-making across multiple community institutions. It is a shared understanding of the problem, rather than a prescription for a single solution. The policies come later; first we need to reach consensus on what the problems are. Publish the indicators annually so that they become part of the decision-making cycles of your institutions.

Alain Yvegniaux spoke next. The best way to promote societal progress is to use the opportunity to convince civil society we are in a multi-shaped shifting crisis. We are going through an exceptional series in time. We need to seize this opportunity. Think of the future generations.
Any indicator project needs to begin with a vision, at a minimum. We need to know what we want to quantify.

Participatory democracy looks different at different levels. You can't have the same level of participation on a regional level that you have at a neighborhood level. As you design the process of civic involvement, think about the constraints on participation created by the geographic scale of the process.

Indicators are useful for comparisons, but that's not just why we need them. Indicators are useful for evolving and improving the quality of public services and the quality of life. Indicators must be very open and lead to progress. In our experience, it took a longtime to understand that the indicators weren't just about sanctions and rewards, but was about creating change, and to do that the change had to be measured.

Mike Salvaris went next. The questions describe the three levels of creating an indicators project: understanding, construction, and implementation. Analysis should lead to action. We have to start by building in a reason to be involved. The indicators might be constructed around a common project – in Australia, the community planning process is enough of an incentive to get people involved in helping create the indicators. In other places, such as some places in Brazil, citizens are involved in creating the local budget. Or it might just be the belief that they will be taken seriously. In any case, they need to feel a reason to participate. Create the conditions for involvement. Involve the media. It may require education or capacity building. But citizens need a motive and a reason not to feel rejected.

We might take some thought about creating the common ground between actors. We need to develop a common language and common assumptions among all the people we ask to participate. In Australia, we have created a network across the state among our local indicators projects, and have linked to the national statistical systems who provide support for our local efforts.

Enrico Giovannini said hat we're not really interested in statistics per se. We don't develop these projects based on indicators. Indicators are a basic ingredient in a larger system that makes the system more effective. We need to begin with a theory of change, a model for change. Then we need a narrative, a story that captures the attention. We need to show the impacts of the project. We can't preach accountability without ourselves being accountable for the results of out efforts. And if we are about long-term sustainable change, we shouldn't rush into something. Take your time. Think a lot. Engage people. Look at the risks and the challenges. Then act.

This conference shows that we have a large and growing community of practice. There is a process going on. This opens a conversation that will continue through until Korea in 2009. Later next month we will continue the conversation in Strasbourg. Next year we will have a draft guide waiting for your inputs. We will continue the conversation at the CIC conference in the United States. We have 12-15 other events scheduled between now and Korea to engage people in this conversation. This is not enough.

We need to do more to build the community of practice. We are creating a WikiProgress where we can share both data and text. We are running training courses around the word. We are working on ways to visualize statistics and indicators. We will even be creating a FaceBook page to link people together. We need to connect together in this work.

Then we turned the time over to questions from the audience. I'm not sure I mentioned this before, but the structure of these panel discussions has been to hear a presentation from each member of the panel, then ask the audience for any questions or comments that they might have. After getting all the questions in, then each panel member is given a couple of minutes as both wrap-up and an opportunity to respond to any of the questions that had been asked. From a process point of view, the exchange was interesting.

So here were the questions:
Are local indicators enough to replace the GDP? And if not, how can we use local indicators to help move us towards a new global consensus on what we should be measuring?

We need to be pragmatic – it's just not possible to reach consensus on everything. But there's not just one way to understand general interest. We all where costumes of justification, masks if you will. We have a plurality of values. It is impossible not to have a clear opposition that will keep a consensus from being reached. We will have to create compromises instead. The compromise has to be managed politically, but not by politics. But that's why we need politics and a representative democracy, because participative democracy won't really work.

We need both a participative democracy and a representative democracy, but we alos need to reach a consensus. We're full of contradictions.

Consensus is but one way to approach the issue and to name the process. I think what we need can better be described as an inclusive synthesis, where we include all opinions and arrive at something built from the inputs of all the participants.

Civil society is part of the debate already. The dialogue between representative democracy and participative democracy is a healthy one and is underway. We can achieve what we want if we provide the space for conversation – that's what I liked about M. Warner's approach, a place where people can talk together on the same footing.

We need to start from a model of change and have a story to tell. But we need to recognize that we are coming from different countries with different situations, different ways of communicating with each other and different expectations on citizen participation. Now we're trying to work at a global level. I like the idea of talking with neutral words. The environmental crisis helps us think about the discrepancies in ou society.

Maybe we should start working on ethics and how we should live together. We need to trust local citizens – belive in them. They have solutions.

We are used to democracy based on compromise but nw we are moving to synthesis.

Panel members responded. Here are a couple of highlights from their responses:

Yes, we are going through an environmental and a financial crisis. But remember that the crisis of 1929 led to the New Deal in America – and the rise of Nazi Fascism in Europe. People respond differently to crisis.

We have a silent form of violence in society. Giving citizens a voice addresses the real conflicts – we need to quit silencing the people.

Instead of talking about the quality of life, perhaps we should be talking about he quality of living together.

Community indicators are, at their heart, accessible democracy.

Consensus building is the pragmatic approach. It's not theoretical. Jacksonville, Florida has been bringing people together to build consensus around hard topics for over 30 years. Te example of the consensus built in Jacksonville on race relations, where white supremacists and black activists could find a shared understanding of the issues facing the community, was a remarkable moment that suggests anything is possible.

With that, the session (and the conference) was concluded. Special thanks to the translators – sometimes hearing something I said in English that was translated into French and then responded to with a question asked in French and translated back to English was like the old telephone game – did I really say that? And the discussions were highly technical and specific, and a great deal of conversation revolved around the meaning of specific words. I was quite impressed with the ability of the translators, who appeared to be Rennes University students, to keep up.

If you were at the conference, what are your thoughts? It's easy to respond to this message by clicking below. If you did not attend, what are your reactions to the conversation? The transitions between the technical aspects and the philosophy of participative democracy were rapid and often unanticipated, but it kept the conversation rich on two separate levels – what we are doing and why we are doing it; the role of the expert and the role of the citizen; numbers and people. All in all, an exceptional conference, and I applaud PEKEA for putting it on.

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