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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rennes Conference: Final Reflections

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

I'm getting on a plane back to America in a couple of hours. It's time to leave France and get back home. I didn't even get to use my last French joke (Waiter, this isn't soup du jour! I've had du jour before, and I know it means "chicken"!) C'est la vie.

Some final thoughts about the conference and the themes I observed:

  • In 2006, when I went to the earlier Rennes conference, the primary conversations seemed to be about the technical possibilities in creating localized indicators of social progress. My message then was that they were asking the wrong questions; it wasn't a question of which data to use, but how to reach a shared vision and define together what they wanted to measure, and then get the data to answer the questions they raised. Since then, both the Brittany region and one of the local villages have developed indicators by asking just those questions.
  • The primary themes of this conference seemed to involve constructing frameworks (the technical side), participatory democracy (the philosophical side), and how to change the world (the pragmatic side). Each conversation was fascinating in itself; the movement between conversations was often abrupt, but it showed how interdependent these three themes really are.
  • In Brussels last year, the arguments were hot and heavy to reach the point where all agreed it was time to move beyond GDP as a measure of progress. Now that's taken as a given, and the question is about what to measure, not whether environmental sustainability and social well-being should be measured. That's progress.
  • Also a sign of progress: in Rennes in 2006, several political leaders were resistant to the notion of citizen engagement and participatory democratic processes. The concept of "governance" was raised, and one local official replied, "If by governance, you mean the people elect me and I govern, I'm for it. If you mean something different, forget it!" Now the comments from government leaders were thoughtful reflections on how to involve citizens, and an understanding that different levels of geography required different citizen engagement processes. It might just be different government leaders. But still, that's progress.
  • Two years ago, in CIC and in conversations with the OECD and in Rennes, the question was whether we could connect as part of a global movement. Now there is clearly a global movement, with many more examples of successful efforts. Now the conversation is about the proper tools to connect -- how can technology assist us in connecting as a global community of practice. Enrico Giovannini has done some amazing work in this regard, and the world is better for it.
  • We have much to offer each other in this global community of practice. Our communities are different. Our data are different. But the questions, the conversations, the assumption-questioning probing insights, all serve to make each of our local efforts better. I know I came away feeling I gained more than I offered. I hope others feel the same way.
  • Community indicators practitioners are in the world-saving business. This feels good.
  • Community indicators ARE participatory democracy. That's why we're so intense on the notion of democratization of data. Informed citizens have greater democratic capacity. That's important in and of itself. Sometimes we forget that.
  • I was surprised at how involved Europeans are in the U.S. Presidential election. One person remarked to me that we just didn't understand; in important ways, we were electing the president of the world. Another mentioned that who we select will affect them probably more than it effects us, and wished they could have a vote. Something to think about on Tuesday ...
  • Last thought: French pastries are amazing. Une petit brioche avec petit chocolat -- washed down with a cup of hot cocoa -- lovely. And Le Creperie in Rennes was just as good as I remembered. Vive la France!


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