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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, December 30, 2008

Vital Statistics Data Collection At Risk

Due to budget cuts, the National Center for Health Statistics is looking at dramatically scaling back the data sets it purchases from states, which may significantly limit data availability and potentially data collection. Take a look at this letter from Emily J. Holubowich, from the Coalition for Health Services Research, and see if you would like to make your opinion known. I'm a little late sharing the letter with you, but I think you might be able to still make your voices heard in a number of ways.

And in any case, you need to be aware of the decisions being made, because they may affect your local community indicators projects.

Here's the letter:

Dear Friends,

As some of you may know, NCHS is proposing to purchase in 2009 a limited ‘core’ set of data items from all states and territories and ‘enhanced data items’ (including most public health data items) from a limited number of jurisdictions, depending on the availability of funds. Linked birth and death files, fetal death files, and enhanced data from the remaining jurisdictions would only be purchased if other agencies provide funding for this purpose.

The Excel spreadsheets attached outline which data are currently considered ‘core’ and ‘enhanced’ for births and deaths. The attached one-pager [note: I have these documents and if you'd like to see them, drop me a line and I'll e-mail them to you] prepared by NAPHSIS describes the proposal and its implications in greater detail. For example, nearly all data items that are routinely used to monitor maternal and infant health, such as use of prenatal care, smoking during pregnancy, medical risk factors, and educational attainment of parents, would be considered “enhanced data items” and would not be collected from all states. In addition, our ability to monitor and track select Healthy People 2010 objectives—including those related to Maternal and Child Health, Tobacco Use, and Occupational Safety and Health—will be compromised (see attached summary of implications).

NCHS proposes to redirect the money currently used to purchase these enhanced data to help states and territories implement the 2003 birth and death certificates, and to get all states collecting data electronically. Today only about half of the states and territories use the 2003 birth or death certificates to collect “enhanced” vital statistics. Fewer states collect both, and even fewer do so electronically. So the national vital statistics data are “only as good as the worst state.” NCHS has chosen to pursue this approach since it is unlikely the agency will receive the est. $30 million in one-time funding needed to modernize the system. The cost of collecting the enhanced data in 2009 could be anywhere $5-$7 million, give or take (depending on ongoing contract negotiations with states).

Members of the Friends met with NCHS staff in November to express our concerns about the proposed approach. We of course agree that the current system is far from optimal, and modernizing the National Vital Statistics System will improve data quality, efficiency, interoperability, and security. However, we do not believe it is prudent to cut data collection at this time--particularly when a new administration is preparing to take office and the future of FY 2009 appropriations remain uncertain. Based on our recommendations, NCHS agreed to postpone implementation of the core v. enhanced proposal from the original January 1 date until April 1, 2009 when more is known about FY 2009 funding and the FY 2010 budget. As Ed Sondik noted:

“Based upon the concerns raised by Friends, we’ve decided to postpone until April 1 the implementation of our new plan for funding our collection of vital records. Our new plan is based upon our belief that our primary commitment is to obtain twelve months of data on core items on birth and death certificates and to invest in the infrastructure required to improve quality and timeliness of vital statistics data. We will, of course, broadly notify our colleagues in the Department and our data users of our intention to implement this approach in April. In the meantime, we will monitor developments that may affect how funds will be allocated, and we’ll be open to modifying our current approach based upon any changes to our budget. We understand how important it is to obtain information from the "enhanced" items on the certificates, and we will invite our colleagues to identify those enhanced items that they consider of most critical importance. If at all possible, we will try to find a way to collect some of these items as funding allows.”

Carolyn Mullen of March of Dimes, Mary Jo Hoeksema of Population Association of America and myself late last month met with Wendell Primus of Spkr. Pelosi’s office and Ben Abrams and Ivana Alexander of Rep. Hoyer’s office to explore the possibility of including one-time funding in the January stimulus package to allow states and territories to modernize their vital statistics programs and mitigate the core v. enhanced proposal. The staffers were concerned by the proposed cuts in both vital statistics and the surveys, but admitted inclusion of these funds in the stimulus would be "a long shot." Instead, they urged the Friends to concentrate our efforts on FY 2010 appropriations and to submit a letter to the transition committee.

Per the suggestion of House leadership, we are:

  • Drafting a letter to the transition team (and hopefully scheduling a meeting) to express our concerns about the impact of funding shortfalls on NCHS's core infrastructure and urging the transition team to also evaluate the placement of NCHS. We would cc on this letter the appropriations committees, the House and Senate leadership, and OMB. I will not collect signatures on this letter and will instead include as an attachment a list of the Friends membership. I will circulate this letter to the Friends before the end of the week.
  • Drafting a letter re: the core v. enhanced proposal to OMB/CDC through the open call for comments on the vital statistics collection ( We will cc on this letter the Asst Surgeon General, the Asst Secretary, and the NCHS’s Board of Scientific Counselors. I encourage other members of the Friends to take advantage of this opportunity to get on record re the importance of vital statistics to your community. Comments are due by December 29.
  • Meeting with staff at OMB’s OIRA to develop some internal champions, as they all use these data.

As a longer term goal, we could do a “Dear Colleague” from Members of Congress to the new CDC director outlining the challenges the agency is facing and urging them to reinvest and rebuild in data collection.

I apologize for the length of this email and for just notifying you of these developments now but I felt it important to hold back until I had the official “facts” from NCHS before going public. I am happy to answer your questions.

Emily J. Holubowich, M.P.P.
Director, Government Relations
Coalition for Health Services Research
1150 17th Street NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036
(p) 202.292.6743
(c) 202.557.9084
(f) 202.292.6843

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Update from PolicyMap

Here's a press release that should be of interest:

New PolicyMap Feature Simplifies Online Map Sharing

Online Mapping Tool Now Lets Users Embed, Share Thematic Maps on the Web

(Philadelphia) December 16, 2008 – PolicyMap, the online data mapping tool, today unveiled a new functionality that allows users to embed customized, data-driven maps into their own websites and blogs. Through this new functionality, users can easily share thematic data from on any website of their choosing.

PolicyMap offers quick and easy access to a wealth of market and demographic data for policymakers, professionals, and the general public. PolicyMap users can map and analyze by geography more than 4,000 data indicators related to demographics, real estate markets, education, employment, money and income, crime, energy, and public investments. These indicators are aggregated from a variety of sources including U.S. Census, Claritas, FBI, IRS, the Postal Service, and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

For full directions on how to embed a map, visit:

The embedded map serves as a live link to a full-scale map on PolicyMap, which provides additional information such as a complete legend and details on the data used. The embed feature is available for free to all registered PolicyMap users.

Nearly 150,000 people have utilized PolicyMap since the site launched earlier this year. To date, PolicyMap has more than 8,000 registered users. Its varied subscribers include foundations such as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, state agencies including the New Jersey Housing Mortgage Finance Agency, private entities like Comcast as well as nonprofit community organizations nationwide.

About PolicyMap
PolicyMap is an online mapping tool that makes it quick and easy to gather and analyze geocentric information. PolicyMap is a service of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), a not-for-profit leader in the financing of neighborhood revitalization. TRF developed PolicyMap to empower decision makers with better access to credible market and demographic data. To utilize PolicyMap, visit To learn more about TRF, visit

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3-Year ACS Data Available

American Community Survey Alert, Number 62

(Released December 9, 2008)

News in this Alert

* December 9, 2008 -- Release of 2005-2007 ACS Social, Economic, Housing,
and Demographic 3-Year Estimates

*The ACS Compass Products - Presentations

*A Look Ahead - 2005-2007 ACS Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) Files Will
Be Released in Early 2009

*Contact Us

(continue reading after the break)

* December 9, 2008 -- Release of 2005-2007 ACS Social, Economic, Housing,
and Demographic 3-Year Estimates

The U.S. Census Bureau today released 3-year ACS estimates for the first
time. These 3-year estimates are based on data collected from 2005 to 2007
and are published for all geographic areas with populations of 20,000 or
more. Of particular interest are data for midsize population areas (20,000
to 64,999). Characteristics for these areas have not been released since
the last decennial census in 2000.

These estimates describe the average characteristics for the 3-year time
period (January 2005 through December 2007. Guidance on how to use the new
ACS multiyear estimates can be found at:

The press release highlighting the release of the 2005-2007 ACS estimates
can be found at:
*The ACS Compass Products - Presentations

The Census Bureau has released a set of presentations as part of The ACS
Compass Products. These presentations provide important information on
various aspects of the American Community Survey and were developed for two
main purposes: (1) for individual use to learn more about the ACS and (2)
to provide a wide audience with the tools needed to conduct training on the
ACS. Each presentation consists of approximately 35 PowerPoint slides and
the accompanying speakers' notes. They will soon also be available as
multimedia files. The presentation topics are:

An Overview of the American Community Survey presents the basics of the
American Community Survey program and Website. It includes information on
content, survey methodology, and data products.

Things that May Affect Estimates from the American Community Survey
presents a discussion of sampling error and other things that affect
American Community Survey estimates, such as non-sampling error and
population controls.

Understanding Multiyear Estimates in the American Community Survey details
the definition, use, and interpretation of multiyear estimates.

Data Products from the American Community Survey presents an overview of
the American Community Survey data products, including examples of each

Geographic Areas and Concepts for the American Community Survey gives an
overview of the types of geographic areas for which data are available from
the ACS.

The ACS Compass Products may be found at:

If you have questions, comments, or identify any areas of concern with The
ACS Compass Products, we would like to hear from you. Please contact us by
email at
* A Look Ahead: 2005-2007 ACS Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) Files Will
Be Released in Early 2009

The 2005-2007 PUMS file will be released in early 2009. This multiyear PUMS
file will contain the same sample of actual responses provided in the 2005,
2006, and 2007 One-Year PUMS files, with new weights.
*Contact Us

If you have questions or comments about the American Community Survey,
please call (800) 923-8282 or e-mail

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QOL-Related Job Announcements

From the ISQOLS listserve:


1) Study Fellowship: RAND Postdoctoral Training Program in the Study of Aging
Date: 09 February 2009

The RAND Corporation is accepting applications for one or more postdoctoral fellowships in the Study of Aging. This competitive program enables outstanding scholars to sharpen their analytic skills and advance their research agenda in the field of aging. Scholars come from various disciplines including economics, demography, sociology, and psychology.

Housed within RAND’s Labor and Population Program, the program blends formal and informal training and extensive collaboration with distinguished researchers without teaching obligations. One-year fellowships are renewable for a second year and provide a competitive stipend and health insurance.Fellows must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and must have completed a Ph.D. in a relevant discipline before they begin the program. The program is open to new scholars, as well as individuals who have some research experience or are on leave from an academic position.

Application review begins February 9th, 2009. Additional information and application materials are available via weblink, or by contacting:

Diana Malouf
The RAND Corporation
1776 Main StreetSanta Monica, CA 90407-2138
310-393-0411 x6462
email: or by emailing the Program Director:

2) Senior Research Position at German Institute of Economic Research (DIW Berlin)
Closing date: 31 December 2008

The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) is one of the leading economic research institutes in Germany. We are an independent, non-profit institute involved in economic research, service and policy advice. We co-operate closely with universities in Berlin and Brandenburg and in international academic networks. The Department of International Economics at DIW Berlin is a young and internationally-oriented research team addressing policy-relevant themes in development economics, international trade and European integration.

We publish our research findings in international journals, collaborate intensively with researchers and policy makers in Europe and beyond, regularly host international visitors, and organize academic and policy-oriented meetings. The working language of our team is English. The Department of International Economics at DIW Berlin is hiring a Senior Researcher to coordinate its work on “Poverty Reduction and Economic Reform”. This work of this new research team entails understanding mechanisms of poverty reduction in middle and low income countries and how economic reforms and poverty reduction interact.

The aim of the team is to conduct high quality applied economic research, mostly using micro-level survey data, and to derive policy advice from this research. The new Senior Researcher is expected to build up the team with doctoral and post-doctoral researchers by acquiring further external grants. Applicants should have an outstanding doctoral degree in economics (especially in the fields of development economics, transition economics, labour economics and/or applied micro-econometrics), several years of relevant academic work experience in an international context, a strong track record of publications in peer-reviewed journals, and experience in acquiring and managing research grants.

Applicants with a recent PhD in economics and less experience may be considered for a position as Senior Researcher. Fluent English is a pre-requisite; knowledge of Russian, Arabic, French, Spanish and/or German would be an advantage. The position is available as soon as possible for a duration of at least three years with a possibility for a further renewal. Applicants should submit a cover letter outlining their motivation to apply, a separate two-page mission statement on how the applicant would develop the team, a detailed curriculum vitae, copies of degree certificates and transcripts, and the names of three academic referees.

Please email your application by 31 December 2008 to DIW Berlin, Management Services/Human Resources ( stating the reference number WLT-4-08. For further information, please refer to our homepage ( or contact Andrea Jonat at Human Resources (, +49-30-89789-218).

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Community Indicators and Relationships

From xkcd:

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

A number of things have been piling up in my inbox while I was doing the holiday-wedding-holiday tango. I'll be clearing out those items and sharing them with you over the next couple of days as we get ready for the new year.

To get things started, here's some items of holiday cheer for the statistically inclined:

Over at the Reporting Statistics blog, there's a series of holiday stats to make you smile.

Here's another random set of Christmas Statistics.

Data on Christmas tree sales is here.

The Junk Charts blog gave a Christmas Day greeting by analyzing the charts used by Starbucks to display holiday sale trends.

And finally, GraphJam gives us a pie chart on "Things My Cat Plays With on Christmas":

song chart memes
more music charts

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