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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, November 14, 2008

Report Release: Northwest Arkansas Community Indicators Report

We've been seeing a growing trend of community foundations publishing community indicators reports. This is particularly exciting because it paces private philanthropic giving within an overall framework of community improvement, and has the added benefit of encouraging even more charitable giving to address clearly identified community needs. (I think I've mentioned a few times my strong belief that only through collaborative action can we address the multitude of inter-related issues in an effective manner, uniting government, business, and nonprofit sectors.)

Anyway, what triggered this thought was the release by the Northwest Arkansas Community Foundation of the Northwest Arkansas Community Indicators Report. The report covers the social and demographic composition of the region, and has sections on indicators of income and poverty, housing and homelessness, families and households, education, health, public safety, aging and elderly, natural environment, civic engagement, and the arts.

Two thoughts about the report:

First, I liked their explanation of why they needed to look at the indicators on a regional basis. They said:

A regional perspective on the quality-of-life in Northwest Arkansas is important because many issues transcend more limited territorial boundaries. Certainly, the Northwest Arkansas region consists of multiple local jurisdictions including counties, cities, townships, and school districts, with each having their own local planning autonomy. Nevertheless, there are a number of critical problems that can only be addressed regionally. In recent times, the Northwest Arkansas Council has made extraordinary efforts to address the hard infrastructure needs of the region (e.g. air and water quality, traffic patterns, transportation, growth) by adopting a regional approach. With a regional approach new alliances can be created, new partnerships forged, and innovative strategies developed to address the soft infrastructure challenges facing Northwest Arkansas in the 21st Century. Hopefully, this report will contribute to these future dialogues.

The second thought is about their indicators of the elderly and aging populations. I've been loking for good, localized indicators of the quality of life of older persons for quite some time. What I've been able to find so far is echoed in this report, though they put the data together differently and try to draw out the story better than I've been able to in the past. They measure the number of older persons, the growth in the agining population, how many live alone, how many are employed, and then focus into how many are in poverty, how many receive public assistance, how many are in nursing homes, and then go into indicators of health and death. I'm convinced there's a much larger story we need to be telling about this new life stage besides that of poverty and dying, but I can't find good, positive indicators of the kinds of vibrancy and contributions that this new generation of active retirees -- this new life stage -- is adding to communities. I'd love your help, if you can offer any.


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