Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Community Indicators Reporting: Beyond the Numbers

Last night I had an interesting conversation with someone from the Quad Cities area (Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa, and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois) about their community indicators report, and it prompted a train of thought I thought I'd share with all of you.

Their report -- the 2007 Quad Cities Community Vitality Snapshot (pdf) -- is an attractive, welcoming piece. The data are presented in a way that is clear, and they avoid the overabundance of charts, graphs, and statistical jumbles that get in the way of telling the story.

But data aren't enough, on their own, to tell the story. Facts need context. Trends provide direction and movement. Visions provide intended destinations. Context, direction, and relationship to intended destination start shaping a story that moves beyond a snapshot into an understanding of where progress is being made -- and where it's not.

We create indicator reports for a number of reasons. Some years ago, the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. listed their reasons why community indicators were important (and how they should be used):

  • To produce an annual report card on community progress
  • To serve as a planning tool for government and private institutions
  • To educate the residents about their community and the factors they consider important to their Quality of Life
  • To increase awareness of the many components of progress and their interrelatedness, the connections between people and their environment
  • To highlight community success stories and give credit for work well done
  • To identify areas of decline or concern where community action is needed
  • To help focus community resources and efforts in the areas of highest priority
  • To encourage residents to take an active part in addressing community problems
  • To promote accountability of local governmentTo stimulate new and better ways of measuring progress
Each of those statements imply intended audiences. For an indicators report to do all of these things, its presentation is at least as important as the information. (See the conversation that began with this blog post.)

How do you tell your community's story in your indicators report? Which reports do you look at as models? Share your ideas and links below!


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