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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Historical Data As Predictor

Good morning! The worst of Fay appears to be past us, and once again external circumstances compelled me to think about ... community indicators.

Jacksonville, Florida (where I live) hasn't been hit directly by a hurricane since 1964. The Chamber of Commerce has a series of nifty powerpoint slides showing the landfalls of every hurricane since 1965 along the Eastern seaboard, and they go everywhere -- except Jacksonville. (I'm sure my friends at the Chamber breathed a sigh of relief that Fay never intensified to hurricane status as it sat off of St. Augustine for quite some time.)

So what does this have to do with community indicators?

As I prepared water, candles, flashlights, and other emergency supplies in preparation for landfall, it occurred to me that none of the charts and trend graphs supplied by the Chamber really mattered at this moment. There was going to be a storm, or there wasn't; power was going to go out (and it did), or it wouldn't; the neighbor's tree was going to fall on my house, or it would stay standing. (As of this moment, it's still up; last windstorm a branch knocked a hole in my shed, so the worry went somewhere beyond academic.)

Trend lines and historical data gave me little comfort in my preparations. Trend lines in my community indicators report say very little about the individual circumstances of someone facing unemployment, getting mugged, a teen girl having a baby. They may tell me something about how to plan for the aggregate, but very little about the personal. (Much in the way life insurance actuaries can't tell me when I'm going to die, just the age at which people-like-me tend to shuffle off this mortal coil.)

I suspect it's this disconnect between community trends and personal impact that makes it difficult to get people excited about indicators projects. (OK, let's be honest -- it's probably just one of the things that keeps Hollywood from making movies about my life and work.) The challenge we have, as community indicators practioners, is to figure out how to bridge that gap to make the information we share both compelling and personally meaningful. Any ideas on how to do that?


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