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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rennes Conference, Day One: Part One

Thursday October 30, 2008

Opening session, Rennes Conference: Building Together Local Indicators for Societal Progress

The opening session began with the promised simultaneous translation available, which was of great help for those of us in the audience who did not speak French. We were welcomed by a series of local and regional dignitaries – the audience was quite pleased that Mrs. Mitterand had joined us. The speakers also shared how the work in Rennes to create indicators of societal progress had created some real change in how public policy was made and how its impacts were assessed. The session also served to set the framework for discussions for the rest of the conference.

I tried to take notes as fast as I could. Here's what I came away with – those of you who were in attendance, please let me know if I missed something important.

Jean-Emile Gombert, Vice-President of the University of Rennes: This public event is a sign of a change of direction, and as academics we will accompany this new direction, this change. Once again, I state how proud my university is of being able to host this event, because the stakes of this meeting are of utmost importance.

Daniel Delaveau, Mayor of Rennes-President of Rennes Metropole: Thanks to everyone on the panel, thank you everyone in the audience, and welcome Mrs. Mitterand who I am grateful to welcome here. You can be confident you have my support. The economic crisis today proves how dangerous and stupid an economic study and policy can be when it does not take into account the human factor. This is a city that lives in solidarity and naturally supports such a project because it believes in a planet living in solidarity. The key is to develop projects at a local level which can be implemented on a global level. This model we call the City of Ideas. We need new indicators that look beyond GDP and look at wealth creation in the context of human development and social development. The need to build new indicators depends on knowing what our values are, and this is often a political process. We need to identify our values and then develop the indicators as tools to assess our progress in implementing these values. We know that there are international values which are encompassed in charters such as the Declaration of Human Rights which is reflected in the Human Development Index. We designed our own index after a conference bringing together researchers and politicians to develop an aggregated indicator with 23 sub-indicators weighted with multiple measurement data – this barometer with three axes that each correspond to an aggregated indicator. This is a practical tool because it helps us understand our progress in every area and is easier for the citizens to understand. We need to develop all sorts of knowledge and the make that knowledge accessible. We illustrate the importance of these indicators through the implementation of policies in economics and housing to ensure that all citizens have services that meet their needs and that we identify and meet the needs for social development of the Rennes Metrople. This will build our competitiveness. We want to provide people with information and show them what our expected performance is. We share this barometer with all our staff and partners. Welcome Mrs. Mitterand and the France Liberty Foundation. I wish you a pleasant stay in our city.

Yves Franchet, President of PEKEA: He was moderating the discussion. Over the past 10 years we've seen the liberalization of trade and revolutionary technology in Web 2.0 that is going to create violent upheaval in the global trade policies. We have also seen the concentration of wealth in the most favored countries. The coordination between local, regional, national, and global is inefficient, especially on the global level, where the countries who make decisions today at the IMF and other places have not changed in the last 60 years. The European government model which is close to us has changed our role in the world but has not led us to the democratization of society we had hoped. Perhaps this crisis is an opportunity to be seized. However, the government too often devolved responsibilities to the local levels without the means or competencies to make things happen. This leads to disappointed citizens and makes them not want to be involved in political life any more. PEKEA was created to federate isolated people and bring ethics back into the mix and give people a voice. The seminar deals with a specific theme – hw do we measure progress? Many researchers have worked on this for years. Over the past years, the GDP has been called into question as a measure of progress, because it does not take into account to social dimension. What should be measured? Who defines the indicators? For us, involving citizens in the design of the indicators is an important part in designing policy to transform society.

Enrico Giovannini, Director-General of Statistics, OECD: We need to look beyond GDP and build together localized indicators of societal progress. This is a very important initiative. This is not just the statistics division that is promoting these activities. The OECD must develop new measures to measure the progress of societies. We have to move towards measuring welfare, not just output. This will constitute a major development in moving the society forward. The Istanbul Conference led to the Istanbul Declaration, and the first message to take this agenda forward is the following:

We must encourage communities to determine for themselves what progress means in the 21st Century. So the center of this progress is the community. The title of this conference allows us to answer the important questions that define for us what we must do to advance this ideal.
First, What: Build indicators
Where: At the local community level
How: together
Why: to create societal progress

The title has all the factors to help us move forward. This is a world movement. The fact that people are here from other countries is just a sign that something is going on everywhere. In Latin America, Asia, Africs, communties and countries are building round tables to determine where we are going, to build indicators to measure progress and create new policies and new socieities. This is an issue of democracy in the 21st century. Building the indicators is not enough unless we involve society and inform society. The OECD is happy to engage not-usual partners for the OECD in this kind of work. The global progress on measuring global progress involves NGOs, national and local authorities, only if we move beyond the classical separation between policy-makers and everyone else can we really attain progress.

Demand to go beyond the idea of “progress” to define where we are really going. Prime Minister of Bhutan said in Istanbul: You economists have contributed to destroying the world, because you invented GDP and got the world focused on the wrong things. You now have the opportunity to fix this problem.

Annie Junter, Co-Director of CRESS, University of Rennes: Warm welcome. The social science research center is a research unit which gathers economists and researchers to look at organizational performance, economic disparities and social cohesion and discrimination. We are an unusual research unit among the universities of France because we pull together multiple academic disciplines around a common concern and the collective construction of research, thinking about the solidarities among the academic, political, and civil sectors. Solidarity, performance, and equality are our three concentrations. Parity between men and women is also a concentration. Also happy to be part of a city which received the Equality Label last September. In the future, we want to consolidate our international and European links; most recently, we have been forging research links with Canada.

Jean Louis Tourenne, President of the General Council of Ille et Vilaine: I have great compassion for you. You know how touchy politicians are. We all want to take the floor and say a few words. I won't acknowledge the experts here, because the list would be took long. If you have time, visit this region and experience the beauty for yourself. We are a bit of masochists because we held this conference here 2 years ago and you shook our ideas and challenged what we thought. You moved us out of our comfort zone. We should have said “Enough with PEKEA!” and moved back to our comfort zone. But instead, we embraced your provocative ideas with a different vision of society than we have today. The question is, how did we managed to get where we are today? Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, we had some idea of what happened on the other side of the wall. But we had a dream in which the human being was at the heart of hope and policies in which we would build a society in which everyone would be included. When the Wall fell, the world moved forward in an ultra-liberal model around creating wealth under a market system. We agreed to that model and built our policies around this market model, and if some people got left by the side of the road, then that was an inevitable result to wealth creation. We used to say, “Tell us what you need, and we'll tell you how you can get along without it.” We got impregnated with ideas such as “wages are too high in France,” without even challenging them – immediate profit was embraced instead of thinking about what that would mean to purchasing power. We accepted a cautious taxation approach, and were ashamed of increasing taxes, as if taxes were not the ultimate expression of redistribution and sharing. This is an element of equality and equal opportunity. We were not even talking about happiness anymore. Sometimes we would blush and shyly say, “We ought to do something about well-being,” but all our measures of progress were in wealth creation and GDP. Our policies favored banks, and never production. We have not learned any lessons. Now we say, “Financial capitalism is dead. We can now focus on capitalism focused on production.” As if capitalism itself didn't create class struggle. As if class struggle was just old-fashioned. As if working to have no classes anymore was not a dream we once had. As if keeping wealth in the hands of a very few people is acceptable public policy. And the biggest injustices are done on and on and on. And we adapted social policy for eldery people or people born damaged so we wouldn't challenge the system but have bandages to make life bearable for those unable to participate fully in the system. And we had to create strict immigration policies, since after we had looted third-world countries we had to keep people out who would think they had a right to some of the wealth we had taken.

Because of the place you were born and the day you were born and the family you were born into, our current model treats you differently. We need a different policy that gives every individual a role to play in his or her territory, and have the means to do so. All individuals need the appropriate training so they have a voice and a judgment in things. We need a new world were life is not measured in acquired wealth but on human happiness. We need measures of happiness, of sustainable development, of well-being. Building indicators only makes sense if you first define the objectives you want to reach and have stated what your ideal society is, so that you can measure the gap between what you want and where you are today, so that you can design policies to get you from where you are to where you want to be.

We in local government have a great interest in PEKEA because we are in direct touch with the population. This is an opportunity to create a decent civilization. And that's all I have to say.

Alain Yvergniaux, Regional Council of Bretagne: I want to welcome you here, and I share what Mr. Delaveux has just said. I used to be on the Rennes-Metropole council and worked with PEKEA then. Let me tell you of the interest that we as politicians have in this work. I was impressed back in December 2002 how original the proposals were at a conference PEKEA put on. You set up an international, multi-disciplinary network, mixing economists, historians, philosophers, and many other researchers and wished your research not to be conifined to academics but to be used to fuel the thinking of local governments and that local governments should be part of the original thinking going on. We found this unique and exciting. We decided after the conference in 2002 do develop a club of local governments to link your research to a group of politicians who could implement your work in public policy, and it is now becoming reality. Nord-Pas Calais, Rennes, Bretagne Region all take part in the work, and this needs to continue. We need alternative indicators to measure the impacts of our policies on our populace and our region. Of course we support this initiative today. We also have an Agenda 21 approach to design new indicators and a new way to design our public policy so that we can include the impacts of our policies on the well-being of citizens. Your topics may have been selected a year ago, but they are much more relevant today. We are dealing with crises in economics, food, employment, environment that are marking the end of an old way of thinking and the end of this development model. We need a new development model that addresses environmental and social issues, all brought together in a model of sustainable development. Don't forget the environment in your discussions – we as a group of governments were meeting yesterday around climate change issues, and the news form the experts is not encouraging.

PEKEA is a pioneer in this approach. I'm working on an economic development project between Brittany and Western Africa and am working with the United Nations on the development model. Many people are interested in PEKEA and the development of a new development model.
Gilda Farrell, Director of the Development Division of Social Cohesion, Council of Europe: Ponder the meaning of the word “together” -- not just multi-disciplinary approach, a plurality of intelligences and life experiences. We are debating the concept of well-being not just to open up research and thought itself for a plurality of academic and scientific approaches. We want to make it possible for a society to build collaborations. We don't have another model at hand to build utopia. We need to build a new knowledge that goes beyond a multi-disciplinary approach. Now we don't believe that our citizens are knowledgeable enough. We have been neglecting them. We focus only on some types of knowledge. We need to go beyond – to dare call into question the principles by which we work and which govern us. We need to define well-being, to define progress. We are stuck in a polarization of preferences. Are we still able to have what I would call concerted preferences. The most interesting preferences are the ones that open up space for life within a society. We understand that citizens clearly see where the limits are, what is tenable and what is not. By doing so, we trust the word of the citizens. Once we have understood that we need to consider the future in terms of the immaterial, and immaterial rights, we can begin to build better indicators. We need to consider the primacy of individual human rights whenever we are gathering around a common project – we may have been talking about limits, but the exchange of ideas are unlimited. I want to take this opportunity to invite you to a follow-up seminar 27-28 November 2008 about individual well-being and the promotion of societal well-being.

Michel Renault, Director of the ISBET-PEKEA Project, University of Rennes: We are cooperating with local authorities to build indicators together with ISBET because it's the building together that's most important. Indicators are not a one-way process. We hve many scientific theories, but we need a means to involve the citizens. We live in a society that got used to listening to experts. We desire to share knowledge – we don't want to be in a society where knowledge has been confiscated by experts who tell us what to think. I'd like to pay tribute to all who are participating, and to Marc Humbert, who cannot be with us. He's been appointed president of a Franco-Japanese (something). He's launched so many projects in this field and we are all indebted to his work.

With that, the first session ended and we got a chance for a break. I missed some of the comments while taking notes, so if you have corrections, edits, or anything to add, please let me know.


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