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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, October 31, 2008

Rennes Conference, Day Two: Part Three

See the notes from Day One of the conference: part one, part two, part three, and part four; and Day Two of the conference, part one and part two.

After lunch we had the opportunities to attend different workshops. I had planned to attend the workshop on the preparation of contributions for the Community Indicators handbook, but ended up sidetracked into a different workshop. I'll have to convey my suggestions for the Handbook in other ways.

The workshop title is: territorial specificities, territorialization and indicators. Again, there is no translation service for the workshop, so I'll have to stumble along with my notes. I have an increasingly-well-thumbed French dictionary by my side. I think I was halfway through a session when I realized that “croissance” were not flaky, buttery pastries but instead this referred to growth, as in economic growth. That cleared up quite a bit of confusion!

Elisabeth Hoffman (Research of Gender in Action, University of Bordeaux) spoke on “Empowerment indicators as societal progress in a North/South perspective.” Empowerment: How do you translate the term? (For me, this is an easy one, because it is an English term and I don't need to translate it. But the term is giving them some problems in French. Apparently there's not an easy translation – Elisabeth Hoffman tries the Spanish equivalent to see if it helps convey meaning.)

This is a popular concept in cooperation with development of NGO's and other international actors. Empowerment has a central places in the approaches and developments in the study of gender.

Empowerment is a question of gender. It expresses the importance of taking into consideration:

  • The social relationships between men and women
  • The symbolic structure of society
  • Social institutions

It makes reference to the different approaches to power and the notion of consciousness.
Empowerment is anchored in a global approach. There are four ways to understand/approach a discussion of power (pouvoir):

  • pouvoir sur,
  • puvoir de,
  • pouvoir interieur, and
  • pouvoir avec

Pouvoir sur – power over – power in the context of the relationships of domination, subordination
Pouvoir de -- power of – with this power we have the understanding and the capacity to make decisions
Pouvoir interieur -- inner power -- self-image, self-esteem
Pouvoir avec -- power with -- social and political power, found in the notion of solidarity, organizational capacity, negotiation, and defending a common object.

Power has both an individual dimension – including relationships with individuals, and a political dimension – relationship with the other. Indicators of empowerment measure the empowerment of a vulnerable group in the context of local needs and measure the complex, multidimensional process.

Internal Learning System is a participative impact evaluation system, developed by Helzi Noponen with the support of the Ford Foundation. Used by several groups with the IMF(?) the process includes responding to the apprenticeship needs of program participants, community groups and the operating team in the field. (For more information about the ILS, you can follow this link I found from an address by Helzi Noponen.)

ILS is based on the “journaux de bord” (diary or journal, but I don't understand “bord”) which is illustrated and adapts to all ages, to conditions of poverty and illiteracy and to longitudinal processes of change and development. The journals and manuals are used as an integral part of processes and not just occasionally or uniquely used.

For the bias of images or of representative scenes of impact indicators, poor women and illiterates can note the changes over time. It makes a simple cross to show quantity, it allows for yes/no answers. The system is conducted in a way that has the participating women accomplishing the tasks themselves. The program can compare the results of older members with newer members, or analyze the individual trends of members.

This is a flexible tool in its structure, processes, and manner of administration. In these elements are ways to identify the needs of the apprentices in the program, the human resource capacity. Experiences with ILS show that what is important is creating a self act of empowerment, augmenting the poor women's capacity to understand their own situation. For many of the women, this is their first approach to the written language. Using the journals creates a catalyzing effect, with the participants gaining confidence and the motivation to change their situation.

The system of apprenticeship is another consistent device, not a deviation from the central elements of the project. The system is a tool of empowerment for those in poverty, those who are illiterate. The analysis of the results by NGOs including Activists for Social Alternatives shows that it is difficult to determine which measure the changes come from the ILS program or the microlending program of ASA. PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action) -- the concept of the ILS journals is founded on the two themes central to culture. (I wish I had caught what those two themes were!)

All types of power are reinforced by this grasp of consciousness of the individuals and the groups concerned with the life situations and the life course improvements. ILS is an interesting example of attempts to measure social progress in terms of empowerment of vulnerable groups, which are complex processes. The active implication of the beneficiaries of this measure are an effect of consciousness-raising that is a central element of the process of empowerment.

Sustainable Development in the Mid-Pyrenees: 46 indicators, a presentation by Isabelle Panier, came next. This is a discussion of the French Institute for the Environment indicators and their adaptation the mid-Pyrenees region from a national to a regional approach. (Side note: I'm now understanding about half of the nouns and none of the verbs, which makes the presentation quite interesting as I try to decode what's happening and I realize I could have it exactly backwards. Sorry about that in advance.)

A previous work, 45 indicators of sustainable development: a contribution to Ifen came out in 2003. A conceptual structure in 5 axes and 10 modules founded on the principles of sustainable development.
Axis 1: Aim towards sustainable growth
Axis 2: Preserve the patrimony and critical resources
Axis 3: Watch for the spatial dimension and the global perspectives
Axis 4: Satisfy the needs and present generations
Axis 5: Take into account the long term for future generations

She gave examples of some of the modules under each of these axes, such as measure the sustainable use of resources or the relationship of the region to the rest of the world. Under each module title were specific measurement ideas, such as “the regional contribution to the energy independence of France” or the relationship between CO2 emissions and GDP in order to approach ecologically-efficient growth.

The report included the structural bases, the pertinence/justification of the indicators being reported, and then the regional adaptations (including regional sources, adjustments made because of different essential facets of the region, and redefinition of some of the indicators.)
She showed a series of graphs, ranging from standard trend lines to mapping and heat-map visualizations, and showed the links between residential sprawl, energy use, individual transportation, and the effect on density of residential living patterns. A strong message: the spreading out of residential development patterns and the development of individual transport are influenced by a collection of indicators.

The information system remains to be finished:
the encore balbutiant (stuttering? Stammer?) on the measure of stocks
Qualitative indicators of governance remain to be constructed
relative indicators that measure citizen satisfaction are presently imperfect
The indicators needed an adaptation of methodologies
The grouping together of certain indicators remains extremely complex
The question of well-being and social progress has only been partially explored. Currently, the elements that include social themes are those of health, housing, and education and child development. Complimentary elements include natural and cultural resources, demography, GDP per capita, employment, and unemployment. There may be more of an application with other environmental indicators.

In way of conclusion:
This is a first exercise with more to do to finish. It integrates multi-dimensionality of sustainable development with sense. It does not impose thought of the composites. This is a pragmatic approach to avoid the zones of obscurity. It is also a complimentary approach with that of Agenda 21.

Saamah Abdallah, from the New Economic Foundation, will now speak of the Caerphily Sustainability Index – I hope he's speaking in English! His focus is on measuring sustainable development at the local level.

“There is no truth” has been said, but we say we do have the truth. Our approach comes not from the bottom up but from an academic level, where we developed a global framework which we then adapted to a local level. Our aims may be different, but we both want to change what is being measured at the top level. Our motto is measurement as if people and the planet mattered.

What is sustainable development? What is well-being?
The Happy Planet Index
Caerphiliy is a small town in Wales

Sustainability meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Living within environmental limits and also promoting personal well-being.

Been using a framework that's the same as that Giulia presented yesterday, just turned around. The human well-being also represents the needs of the present, while ecosystem well-being also represents the needs of the future. Water quality is important not because it is an end in itself, but because we need it in the future to survive – anthropocentric model.

We focus on human well-being and resource demand (this is the footprint). We can all agree on human well-being and our ecological footprint. Well-being means, to us, satisfaction of physical and psychological needs – the experience of the quality of life. High education is not well-being, but experiencing high education is well-being. We think of the hierarchy of needs: relatedness, autonomy, competence.

Well-being is fundamentally subjective. We can measure objective things which are important to well-being, but well-being itself is internal, it's a human experience. Experience of life (happiness, satisfaction, interest) is shaped by functioning well and satisfaction of needs, which in turn is shaped by enabling conditions and psychological resources. People in the same housing, etc. may have different reactions due to psychological resources. This is a dynamic interaction – how you function will change your conditions, and positive life experiences enhance psychological resources.

This model was just launched a week ago. Foresight Mental Capital and Well-Being Project.
Happy Planet Index launched in 2006. “Ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered.” Life satisfaction X life expectancy = happy life years + carbon footprint. There are a lot of problems with these indicators but we're trying to make this as simple as possible.
We wanted to combine them in a single number, so we divide happy life years per carbon footprint. This is a media tool – the aim is advocacy. This also captured (unintentionally!) the attention of politicians.

Caerphilly: “Living better, using less.”
3 objectives; promote longer healthier lives, promote fulfilled and satisfied lives, consume less resources. We're only working on the headline indicators – they're working on the other supporting indicators with greater detail.

We unpacked the “life satisfaction” -- in January we're releasing “National Accounts of Subjective Well-Being” to show life satisfaction doesn't capture everything and we need more understanding.

Running out of time, so we're looking at well-being from a different perspective: looking at different levels of indicators (universal level, domain level, targeted level). Still developing this framework.

Aim of centre for well-being: Enhance individual and collective well-being in ways that are environmentally sustainable and socially just. Inspired by three principles: ecological sustainability, social justice, and people's well-being. nef is an independent UK think tan founded in 1986.


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