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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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

See part one here and part two here.

Session 3: was called Working Out the Collective Construction. Gilda Farrell acted as moderator. Before the session, the panelists asked: construction of what? Ideas? Knowledge? Indicators? Societies?

Samuel Thirion, Council of Europe: Good afternoon. How can we build local indicators of societal progress, and what does that entail? I'll share the experiences we've had at the Council of Europe. It also deals with concepts, and this morning made it clear we have more work to do on framing those concepts and finding new words to describe what we are doing. It also entails experiments as we try to pull all people together to work on this. How we work with citizens at the local level is important.

Our experience so far is that we need to make experiments and to think out of the box to see what happens in the field. I'll tell you where we're at and share those issues we think are still unresolved. Experiments are essential and entail a lot of effort, which is why we need to work in networks to share the results of our experiments and learn from each other.

The Council of Europe has always worked on human rights. In 1997 we had a summit on social cohesion, then we published a methodological guide, and the ndid experiments in localities and now we have a working group. We wanted to sum up what had been done and establish networks to learn from each other. Our society is constantly evolving. We are used to the welfare state where the state is responsible for the welfare of all, but now we see that is not enough. Now we see with the rise of poverty a welfare society. Social cohesion is about growing society for the wellbeing of all, which means being able to define the wellbeing of all, develop indicators to measure progress, and then think about the shared co-responsibility of all to make the conditions better.

We have assets/goods, that allow us to experiment with different activities in different spaces (companies, schools, etc.) to move toward well-being. If you want to create from the ground, use available structures to ensure the sustainability of the effort. If you have a neighborhood council, involve them in the process and then they can carry out the activities.

First step: defining well-being together. The definition has to be accepted by all actors, it has to be built from the ground up. It has to be done collectively. The idea is to bring citizens together to have them reflect on the what the well-being of all looks like – not just immediate vision but reflective reasoned discussion, starting in small groups, beginning at “what is well-being and happiness to you” and “what could society do better.” Then we collect the ideas and create an inclusive vision. Start in unicolor groups (8-10), then in “rainbow groups” (with people coming from different perspectives). In Europe, 80 percent of the criteria are material; in Africa, the opposite.

We apply a synthesis: regroup the criteria in themes and define the indicators for the themes. Regroup the indicators in families, building on the scientific work and frameworks – this doesn't replace the local work, but places it into the methodological framework that is supported by the research to strengthen it. The individual indicators are inter-dependent.

(Then came some slides with lots of words and diagrams and models. I'm trying to capture the key points here, and will link to the slides if/when they become available. Just bear with me for the next paragraph or two.)

Feeling of well-being
citizen participation
human relations
relationships with institutions
cadre de vie
access to movens de vie
something else

progress indicators are different from traditional indicators becasue they indicate a way, a direction
categories/degrees to apply to the living environment
apply tool to see bad situation or improving situation through matrix/categories (what does really bad and really good look like?)
4 types of criteria to build the ladder
- need to work on measuring indicators with citizens
- evaluate the impact of actions
- involve citizens to reflect on the impacts of their own actions
- use criteria in designing public policy and analyzing that policy
- apply the method of analysis of the goods/material side of things
- move from actions to co-responsibility

New model of governance – build as a common group, linking participatory and representative democracy

Gilda Farrell: What I heard as they key points were the need to move from the ethics of debate to indicators, and to have a clean method to make sure duplication of experiments is possible. The difference is in the ways well-being is perceived, and not in the implementation of methods. I questioned the link between indicators – interaction between indicators. The framework is adapted to the company – relationship between indicators and responsibility.

Frank Lenk, Metro Outlook in Kansas City: The metro area regional council is not a government, and has no power except the power of a good idea. This is an agricultural area; we exist because of a bridge. We have a very linear pattern of development in the core, and then a sprawl development pattern in which we must drive everywhere to do anything. We look at land use patterns – we have lots of land. We also have more freeway lanes per person than anywhere else in the US and we're building more and still have congestion.

So what does one do when the entire region is built around growing outward with an automobile?
We were created to think about the quality of life -- used to be regions were good places to live if they were good places to work, now they are only good places to work if they are great places to live.
Overall regional goal: rising quality of life for everyone
not progress for some at the expense of others
not progress at the expense of future generations
not economic welath at the expense of social or environmental health
message from the future: create a tool sensistive enough to hear messages from future generations
requires deeper understanding than what we have today
model for understanding quality of life
people choose to live in communities
policy and spending decisions
we make the decisions
focus is on raising wealth in all three dimensions
life requires a profit
economic embedded within the social and natural systems
topographic map – is it a hill or a valley?
Model forced us to look at high-performing institutions
look at capacities
tools (decisions and institutions)
why bother to create a model?
continuous improvement
diminishment of bias, fads
link public with policy, and policy with performance measurement
provides a common frame of reference, more focused and better questions
version 2 tried to compare to peer cities
overuse of comparisons for reasons of measuring competitiveness rather than quality of life
sustainability and triple bottom lines
environment, economic, and social
wheel of progress
today's investments create tomorrow's quality of life
how do we create a system that allows us to invest more wisely
Gilda: thank you for this interesting presentation which allows us to reflect on the connections, and on institutions as platforms and spaces for decisions
the point of future generations as a starting hypothesis – can we go from material to quality of life matters later
questions for these two speakers:
?methodology for Council of Europe applied at a country in southern Africa – can we freely apply this method or do we have to create something?
Reactions to citizens and indicators in Kansas City?
Do what extent do they show differences in tastes v. discrepancies in fate?
Aim of your indicators – how do they tie in to public? How are they linked to public policy?
For Frank, the work you've been carrying out, are they taken into account by public authorities?
Frank: citizen involvement has been weak. As we develop plans we are much better at involving citizens throughout the region, engaging citizens and make sure we know what they want. Some common threads we can build. Policy makers nod and smile and go on. Metro Outlook version 3 really are going to be tied to policy – determining system-level indicators and program-level indicators to ensure programs support overall goals, another year or so before that's in place.
Samuel: we are building a method with other people, free method, all can use it. Can be done in Brazil. We created an international group to allow a transfer beyond the borders of Europe. Need to see how this works in other contexts. In Latin America there's the Como Vamos approach – need to build links. Our approach isn't gospel, you know.
Romania, their priority was that of governance, while in 14th arrondissement in Paris was about achieving balance in one's own life. In other context, it might be the importance of nature. You will find discrepancies regarding the criteria then you can fine-tune your analysis based on the local input.
Yes, we want to tie in our approached with local authorities, not as a parallel process. The goal is to influence public authorities. How do we influence public authorities? They usually re-analyze their own policies in light of what the citizens are saying.
Michele Leclerc Olive: the case of an African town facing societal transformation. This presentation if I had to define the context, it's at the crossroads between philosophy, mathematics, and other matters. I'm not an economist, but a citizen. But the very local example is more than to see whether our categories can be applied. It's a way to think locally.
Town of guillema – decentralization process created more than 700 towns compelling people to experiment with a new kind of citizenship. So they created neighborhood and village communities, like how nGO's are completely different from the practice of public authorities, and the difference between local and state political processes.
Now decentralization reform. Ivory Coast crisis deprived Mali from its window to the sea and built two roads. Both roads reach the town of dhierma. Town has been transformed. Massive number of migrants because people want to take the opportunity of the economic concentration there.
For us it is very interesting because now we can't see democracy on a daily basis because we are so used to it, but there we can study the beginnings of democracy and really observe it. What they could not see was the transformation of their towns due to urbanization, while we could see it because we had other examples in mind having seen urbanization and knowing what changes were coming based on research, study, and examples.
UNDP has co-run an observatory of the transformation. What we see is that the local authorities should be able to improve the living condition of the population because they are elected, so it is all linked to political reforms. However, the local collectives have to deal with geographical space but you have to remember that we localize indicators but when we transfer them they are different from localized indicators. One the one hand, we should implement general indicators, and on the other, use localized indicators which are completely different from UNDP or academic indicators.
Usually, when one looks at an indicator, one looks at the dimension, direction, and momentum of the indicator. The thing is that to really grasp dynamics and momentum the statistic unit must be very precise. We cannot assume that just because we create an indicator that it will be meaningful or tell the truth.
Hypothesis of regularity and continuity.
City of Paris built its subway based on likelihood, rather than predictability – not data based on what they had done, but looking forward to what they could do and what was being done elsewhere.
Currently ,very different conceptions of citizenship are being debated. In Africa, it is not that hard to have a political voice – not all do it, but it is different from what we are used to. So that shows that free speech doesn't create well-being by itself, but is only one part of creating well-being. Can smother the topic if focus only on giving a voice to citizens just to give a voice to citizens. Participatory democracy is the process, not the end in itself. Indicators assess the likely, not the possible. The Black Swan.
So I think well-being is not maybe something of the present time and especially in the small African town that fuel the immigration and the tales of these towns have to be taken into account when talking about the well-being of society.
Gilda: Helps us reflect on the shortcuts we sometimes take. Indicators don't always explain the dynamics of a society, and words don't mean the same thing everywhere. We have difficulty in measuring and embracing reality.
?Coming back on what you just said, allowing oneself to speak, in Africa debates are a means to regulate/sort out various issues on a daily basis.
?As an organization we work in Africa, but we have a real difficulty with indicators imposed from top-down by funding institutions to measure performance, and sometimes we find it impossible and useless to use performance indicators. Sometimes they would use private auditors to do performance measurement. We need to play an important role.
?These many ideas are challenging the systems we have in place, but we do our best efforts not to fall into the trap of using traditional indicators. People have a right to share their experiences but what is the link you make to the criticism of participatory democracy.
I'm not criticizing participatory democracy. We need to be careful how we use this phrase when we see what's being built in the name of participatory democracy. African debates – the reason why these decentralization processes are breakthroughs is that everyone can't take part in these debates – women are excluded, and some families are excluded. You need to be old to take part in debates. The practice today is similar to ancient Greece – culture of public debates, and culture of excluding people from debates. Processes can still exclude people. 80 percent of the population in Mali cannot read or write French – many cannot read or write at all, but many could in their own languages. But French is the official language, so many people were excluded. Debates and commitments in front of others instead of written contracts. Time dedicated to debate gets left aside when only think about technical side because they seem a waste of time.
Gilda: Extremely important to have courage and take risks.
Bernard Billaudot
Social progress and measures a problem of justics
framework: what is societal progress and how we can measure it
not starting from reflection based on wealth, broadening scope from measuring GDP only
instead, start from social justics framework
Historical issue – societal progress is modern concern
Institutional: concern about results from institutions
but it's not the total result, just the areas defined where the institution is intended to impact
Justice societal progress results from justifications based on reason, not just belife
Progress depends on how justice is administered and the values behind justice
All modern societies which exist are based on Western model, First Modernity, one dominating model
first characteristic of model is that only justifications to increase efficiency are acceptable
justice is limited to private spehere
justifications of inequalities it creates if creates greater good
what goods are we talking about? Can they be classified into categories – superior ideas about what is good. Wealth, power, fame.
The good is linked to an ethical, moral, or social value
reference value – freedom if refer to technical efficiency, community then the value is fame
what is their exact meaning
competition v. individuals
second modernity: inequities are unfair – you can't talk about global progress, even with rising indicators, as long as inequalities exist
in Western way of thinking, no link between what is good and what is just
In second modernity, goods are only means toward activities to create well-being
indicators of inequalities
if inequalities increase, have not made progress
conclusion: derives from positive analysis
in western world, only value taken into account is competition
need to agree on joint conventions and individual freedom based on ethical standpoints can justify the same convention but based on different principles.
Gilda: okay, this was quite a complex presentation. Not to oversimplify things, but we are led to identify progress in an ideological fashion. In this notion of progress, we need to be able to assert the primacy of justice.
?You are talking second modernity? Why is this beyond Western? Why are there two concepts of excellence? What do you do with someone who does not share this definition/convention/or how conventions are crafted?
?To reach unanimity, to reach conventions, how do you fight dominant ideas – not everyone will accept forgoing the part of him or herself influenced by conventions?
?Point of the complex presentation appears to be to show us that when we talk about societal progress we work within a large convention in terms of what are the inequalities and in the 1940s and 1950s those who created the national accountancy system they were not naïve, they were operating within the Keynesian system and knew what they were doing. In other words, we should take into account the historical aspects of the justice of excellence, because we need these great conventions to rebuild the system. We need political spaces and find new ones.
Gilda: since we are still in the first modernity, I'd like us to be quite efficient.
B: I define the second modernity as opening up the public debate to including social justice in defining the rules, not a substitution/replacement because the defenders of the first modernity will never accept their replacement. American philospher McIntyre said about justice in the philosophical sense: ancient Greeks and Jews had different notions of justice. Justice in modern context. I don't agree with all his ideas. So the philosophers who adhere to the idea of excellence I mentioned them, then there is Smith and Eros(?), just to name a few. The history that came before the construction of the first modernity, the history of excellence as justice has religious roots, so I wanted to part from that, becaue that's how justice was created after the wars of religion. Religious wars were the end of one particular kind of justice. When inequalities increase, you are still in a position of injustice – justice is model, but still in position of injustice. That's why we need indicators of social progress.
Samuel: You end on a question: would an unequal society be better? But when we work with citizens, we get the answer – the citizens have given the answer. Well-being is not present when I see my neighbors living in poverty. We need to listen to citizens and hear what they have to say.
Michele: Of course we need to what citizens have to say, but we need to think about the local dimension which is often considered as the starting point to think about global issues. But the real answer is to deal with global and local at the same time.
Frank: This is a deeper level than I'm used to dealing with. I like the idea of justice criteria as part of what makes a society sustainable. In the world that I'm familiar with, people agree on what they want about life. Where they disagree is what to fix first. Arriving at a common set of priorities is much more difficult.


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