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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Catalog of Administrative Data Sources for Neighborhood Indicators

I am very excited about the new publication from Claudia J. Coulton titled Catalog of Administrative Data Sources for Neighborhood Indicators (PDF). This is not only a tremendous resource for neighborhood-level statistical data sources, but also a sign of the growing maturity of the neighborhood indicator movement.

The report begins with a discussion of recent developments in neighborhood indicators, and then launches into the reasons for using administrative data as a key source for very-local community indicators (one of the most important reasons being that the data are often available at the neighborhood level, which is not true of all data out there.) The report then walks the reader through a series of issues in using administrative data for neighborhood indicators, including those of geographic boundaries, confidentiality, data accuracy, metadata, matched and longitudinal files, mobility, and commercial data products.

The bulk of the report is concentrated on 42 administrative data sources on topics ranging from economy and environment to health and public safety.

I highly recommend this report as a standard for anyone working with community indicators. Go download this report right now. For an understanding on why this information is so critical, check out Neighborhoods at the Tipping Point.

Not convinced yet? Here's a portion of the introduction to the Catalog of Administrative Data Sources for Neighborhood Indicators:

THERE IS A LONG TRADITION OF USING data collected for administrative purposes to produce social and economic indicators (Rossi 1972; Annie E. Casey Foundation 2005). Indicators are measures of the condition or status of populations or institutions that can be compared over time or between places and groups. In recent years, there has been growing
interest in developing indicators for communities and neighborhoods that can be used to improve local conditions or support action by groups and organizations that work at that level.

Community indicators are employed by neighborhood associations, local governments, businesses, nonprofit agencies, researchers, youth groups, and other individuals and organizations. Indicators have been successfully used to identify problems, plan programs, stimulate action, advocate for change, target investments, evaluate initiatives, and otherwise inform the community about itself (Cowan and Kingsley forthcoming).

The data used to craft neighborhood indicators often come from administrative agencies. Administrative records are particularly useful for community indicators because they are timelier or can be applied to smaller areas than government surveys. Moreover, the application of geographic information system (GIS) technology to these records makes it feasible to calculate many indicators for small areas and to display them in useful ways. Many sources and types of data from administrative agencies can be used to produce measures useful to neighborhoods and communities.

This monograph describes these data sources because such information is not readily available in a comprehensive review elsewhere. Most databases described here are maintained by local agencies, but a few state and federal databases can also be used for small-area measures.

Check it out, and let me know your reaction to the Catalog of Administrative Data Sources for Neighborhood Indicators.

Hat tip: American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Information Highway


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