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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Social Health of the States

The Institute for Innovation in Social Policy has released its latest report on social indicators, The Social Health of the States 2008. Here's how they describe the report:

To assess the social health of each of the fifty states, this document combines in a single
measure each state’s performance on the following sixteen social indicators, representing
the well-being of Americans at different stages of life. These indicators are:

  • Children: Infant Mortality, Child Poverty, Child Abuse
  • Youth: Teenage Suicide, Teenage Drug Abuse, High School Completion
  • Adults: Unemployment, Average Wages, Health Insurance Coverage
  • Aging: Poverty Among the Elderly, Suicide Among the Elderly
  • All Ages: Homicides, Alcohol-Related Traffic Fatalities, Food Stamp Coverage, Affordable Housing, Income Inequality

Taken together, these indicators tell us much about the quality of life in each state and about
the strength of key aspects of our social life—such as education, health, work, safety, and

Each state receives an overall social health score between 1 and 100, based on its cumulative
performance on these sixteen indicators. (For further information see Note on Methodology.)
The states are then ranked according to these social health scores.

You will also want to check out The Index of Social Health, "the centerpiece of the Institute's work," which "monitors the social well-being of American society."

Also available is America's Social Health: Putting Social Issues Back on the Public Agenda, which "calls for a fundamental change in the focus of public policy in America. It paints a vivid picture of the nation's social health, shows that America's social progress has stalled in recent decades, and recommends that our energies be directed at critical domestic issues in the years ahead."

You may find these useful tools for your community in addressing social issues. I'm not enamored of either an index or rankings -- I've mentioned that before, and after a meeting last week I'm even more convinced that the problems outweigh the headline-grabbing value. (I may muse on this topic in greater detail later.) I'm even more concerned when the years used in the index are inconsistent -- in this case, 2002 through 2006 data are applied. But that's picking nits with a really nice attempt to bring social issues to the front burner, and the Institute does a laudable job in continuing this work.

So take a look, and once again, your comments are welcome.


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