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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, September 10, 2008

Creating Community Indicators Reports

The last couple of weeks, I've been working with several communities in developing their first community indicators reports. After these reports move from draft stage to publication, I'll provide links so you can see what these communities are doing. I'm quite impressed with the depth of thinking and creativity that has gone into these projects, which clearly reflect the priorities and issues specific to their people and geography.

Seeing multiple projects come together at the same time was a welcome reminder of the importance of local input and local variability in community indicators. I applaud, as I'm sure you do, the work of the State of the USA project, which will be of tremendous benefit to local community indicators work, especially if the indicators reported are scalable local through national. The project will accelerate the use of data in decision-making and highlight the need for community indicators, as well as provide welcome data resources, spotlight the importance of tracking data for issues where data gaps exist, and decrease the upfront costs in developing local indicator sets.

The concern is, of course, that a national set of indicators may be seen as creating a homogenous template against which all communities can be compared, ranked, and tracked. The local projects I've been working with have shown once again the incredible variability and strength that comes through local communities who define for themselves what's important and how they want to measure it.

In talking with one community yesterday after reviewing their draft report, I was asked for suggestions on how to release the report to the community. I'll share with you my response, but I really would like your input as well. After a community develops a set of indicators, creates a framework for sharing them, and researches the trend lines and plugs in the data, what's an effective way to take that set of numbers and charts and graphs and present them in a way that informs, excites, and inspires a community to action?

My reply, in part, was: You have data. You have trends. You have a constellation of [a certain number of] indicators telling you something about [your community.] So what’s the story? What picture does this draw for your community? What has been the reaction of the steering committee to the numbers?

If a news reporter showed up with a camera and a microphone and asked [the community volunteer who chaired the indicator effort] what the report said about the region, what’s the 15-second sound bite?

(I see some really interesting stuff in the report, but the key story really should be drawn from the steering committee’s reaction to the data … and then from that reaction, the key phrase, quote, talking points, picture, and story can be drawn to make the data resonate in the community. [some examples here] There are several stories that jump out – what did the committee see as most important?)

[C]apturing the “a-ha” moments from the committee will be important in describing how the report is framed/translated for the community at large. The key questions to consider often are:
1. What does the data tell us?
2. Why should we care?
3. What should we do with that information? or How does that information affect decision-making in the region?

So what did I not tell them that they need to know? What's your advice to a community presenting their report for the first time -- how can they engage the community around the data in ways that make a difference?


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