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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, January 30, 2009

Call for Chapters: Community Quality-of-Life Indicators: Best Practices V

Call for Chapters

Special Volume on

Community Quality-of-Life Indicators: Best Practices V

Published by Springer in the new

Best Practices in Quality-of-Life Research Book Series

Volume Focus: This volume will publish best practices of community quality-of-life indicators projects. The first volume was published by Kluwer Academic Publishers in 2004 (edited by M. Joseph Sirgy, Don Rahtz, and Dong-Jin Lee). The second volume was published by Springer in 2006 (edited by M. Joseph Sirgy, Don Rahtz, and David Swain). The third and fourth volumes were published by Springer (visit and type “Community Quality-of-Life Indicators” in the Search window) and the International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies (both edited by M. Joseph Sirgy, Rhonda Phillips, and Don Rahtz).

For the fifth volume, we are seeking excellent case studies that can be used by community planners, policy makers and others as good examples or “prototypes” of community quality-of-life indicator projects. Papers dealing with theoretical issues in planning, developing, and using community quality-of-life indicators are not suitable for this volume. Instead, they should be sent for review and possible publication in Social Indicators Research (SIR) or Applied Research in Quality-of-Life (ARQOL). The fifth volume will be published in the new book series, Best Practices in Quality-of-Life Research. The book series editor is Dr. Dave Webb of the University of Western Australia..

Volume Editors: M. Joseph Sirgy (Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, USA), Rhonda Phillips (State University of New York-Plattsburgh, USA), and Don Rahtz (College of William and Mary, USA)

Special Invitation: Please consider submitting your idea for a chapter as a paper for the IX Conference of the International Society of Quality of Life Studies, Florence Italy, July 19-23, 2009. This will give us a chance to “see the project in action” and help us make a decision concerning its suitability for the volume.  See the conference website at  Submit your abstract to any of the tracks related to community well-being.
Submission Deadline: August 31st, 2009

Submit to: M. Joseph Sirgy, Department of Marketing, Pamplin College of Business, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0236, USA. Tel: 540.231.5110. Fax: 540.231.3076. E-mail:

Submission Guidelines:

  • The paper should be typed in either Arial or Times Roman, font size 10-12 with a margin of 1 inch on all sides.
  • The paper should be typed either 1½ or double-spaced.
  • Paper length should not exceed 30 pages in total including references, tables, and figures.
  • Reference style: American Psychological Association (APA) style is preferred.
  • E-mail attachment is the preferred mode of submission. Submit paper electronically to
  • All submissions should be original and not previously published. The submitted paper should not be submitted simultaneously to other publication outlets.

Guidelines for Paper Selection and Final Manuscript Preparation:

  • Each paper will be subjected to a review by 2-3 referees who are experts in the field.
  • The editors in consultation with the referees will make the final decision concerning acceptance or rejection.
  • Notification of acceptance or rejection will be sent out by the end of September 2009.
  • It is very likely that the editors will request changes to the accepted papers based on the reviewers’ suggestions. These changes should be completed by the end of November 2009.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

National Accounts of Well-being

Here's a note from our friends at the new economics foundation:

National Accounts of Well-being: bringing real wealth onto the balance sheet

We are pleased to forward a copy of our latest report, National Accounts of Well-being: bringing real wealth onto the balance sheet, released by the centre for well-being at nef (the new economics foundation) on Saturday 24 January 2009.

The report reveals that the UK fares poorly in comparison to a range of European nations and presents some key challenges for policy-makers. On the two headline indicators within the framework devised by nef, the UK ranks only 13th for personal well-being and 15th for social well-being, out of 22 European nations surveyed. The findings also show that people in the UK aged 16-24 report the lowest level of trust and belonging – a key element of social well-being – anywhere in Europe. We believe this is due to a complex web of interrelated factors in part created by an emphasis on maximising economic growth to the exclusion of other concerns.

A growing range of academics, commentators and policy-makers have been increasingly calling for new measures of progress; National Accounts of Well-being are the first comprehensive attempt to make this a reality. The report and website, were compiled using data collected in the European Social Survey, which carried out over 40,000 interviews with people across 22 nations and provides the most comprehensive international analyses of well-being ever produced.

nef is calling for National Accounts of Well-being to be adopted by government as a powerful tool to significantly enhance the effectiveness of public policy-making and to provide a new way of assessing societal progress. The current period of economic, social and environmental uncertainty has thrown into sharp relief the inadequacies of GDP as a meaningful measure of the progress of nations and the well-being of citizens. Where the emphasis on growth-based indicators has led to a narrow measure of human welfare and takes no account of how fairly resources are distributed, or the social and environmental damage caused by a myopic focus on growth alone, introducing National Accounts of Well-being would provide a timely and effective way to refocus policy-making on the things that really matter – delivering a better quality of life for all.

We hope you enjoy reading the report, and would welcome your comments.

Yours sincerely,

Corrina Cordon
nef Public Affairs Manager

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2009 NAPC Conference Invitation

Your invitation, from the National Association of Planning Councils!

2009 NAPC Conference: March 2-4, in Austin

Community Planning in Turbulent Times
...staying on top when the bottom falls out

Register today! Conference website Flyer Registration form

Community planning leaders and practitioners, come and enjoy outstanding national keynote speakers...three full days of conference sessions...networking and resource fair... Austin, one of America’s favorite cities!


MONDAY, March 2nd: The new Census changes and their impact..."Community Planning 101"...Mature workers seeking encore careers in nonprofits...Welcome session for newcomers...Opening reception...Dinner on the town

TUESDAY, March 3rd: The new "big picture"--drivers of community change ...featuring Jerry Friedman (Director, American Public Human Services Association) and Larry Mischel (Director, Economic Policy Institute) three topical roundtables...the NAPC Annual Meeting...the Judith Rothbaum Award recognizing excellence in using indicators for community action...Networking dinner

WEDNESDAY, March 4th: Using 21st century technology to solve 21st century problems you can implement immediately to improve information gathering, analysis, policy development, presentation of information to the community, advocacy, and community topical roundtables and networking

Make hotel reservations by February 2nd for the special rate…call 512-477-1234, the downtown Hyatt Regency. Space is limited; register soon!

Past attendees say, "I come to learn, to be inspired, and to build valuable networks with colleagues in other communities." “Even in years when budgets are tight and I can only go to one conference, this is the conference I never miss.”

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9 am-Noon, at City Hall, 301 West 2nd Street

Preparing for the impacts of the new Census changes on community planning

Speaker: Thomas L. Mesenbourg, Acting Director, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington, D.C.) or designee, and panel

The coming changes in the Census and American Community Survey; broad impact (policy, programs, funding); federal coordination; impact on local communities; how do we as local leaders prepare for these changes.

2-4 pm, your choice of two simultaneous sessions, at the hotel:

A. Community Planning 101

Speaker: Ben Warner, President, NAPC; Deputy Director, JCCI (Jacksonville, FL)
…and other NAPC Board members
For: all who are new to the field, new to NAPC, new executive directors of member organizations, or curious about how NAPC and its most-experienced practitioners view “the basics” essential for success…core values and competencies, key elements, strategies, models, and methods.

B. Tapping the Mature Workforce—Baby Boomer Retirees Seeking Encore Careers in Nonprofits
Speaker: Martha Blaine, leader of NAPC’s Mature Workforce Initiative; Board member, NAPC; Executive Director, Community Council of Greater Dallas (Dallas, TX)
For: NAPC members and others interested in this new social movement and ways to prepare their organizations and communities to welcome and benefit from this workforce. The session will include reports on NAPC’s work with The Conference Board and Civic Ventures; new research and resources; and sharing among NAPC organizations about their communities’ initial efforts.

5-6 pm, at the Hyatt:

Welcome Session for New Members and First-Time Conference Attendees
Newcomers will learn more about NAPC and the conference, meet one another and some NAPC Board members, and exchange information about their work and interests

6-7:30 pm, Hyatt Terrace and Lobby:
Conference Opening Reception

Welcome to the conference and to Austin
Participant introductions
Conversation…hors d’oeuvres…cash bar

7:30 pm Dine Arounds
Enjoy nearby Austin restaurants in groups with others from the conference


The new "big picture"
-- drivers of community change

The focus for Tuesday will be on better understanding drivers of community change -- “big-picture” issues affecting our world and our work. Two national keynote speakers will challenge and inform us. Respondent panels will relate these issues to aspects of community planning work important to local communities, including community engagement, new models, new partners, advocacy, and more. Special emphasis will be on changes as a result of the election and implications for community planning work.

8-8:50 am Breakfast roundtables and continental breakfast (lobby level)

Choice of three simultaneous small-group sessions on these topics:

A. “The Perfect Storm” – Community Engagement
What are local communities doing to better understand the enormous demographic, economic, and social changes now under way, and to engage people in community planning and action based on this understanding?
Presenters: Phil Dessauer, M.A., Executive Director, and Jan Figart, M.S.N., R.N., Associate Director, Community Service Council (Tulsa, OK)

B. Funders roundtables
Funders in a community sometimes work together in innovative ways to share information and coordinate their efforts to support work to meet community needs. A case example from DuPage, Illinois will be presented, then participants can briefly describe models in their communities.
Presenters: Candace King, Executive Director, and Philip R. Smith, President, DuPage Federation for Human Services Reform (Villa Park, IL)

C. Disaster preparedness for your organization, and for your community
Inevitably, natural or man-made disasters will happen. This session will cover key questions, how-to’s, useful planning tools, lessons learned, and the valuable roles a planning council can play as a community plans for and responds to emergencies.
Presenter: Martha Blaine, MBA, Executive Director, Community Council of Greater Dallas (Dallas, TX)

9:15-10:30 am Morning keynote speaker and discussion:
Drivers of change and what they mean for human services and local communities
Keynote speaker: Jerry Friedman, Executive Director, American Public Human Services Association

10:45 am-noon After the election...
Facilitated discussion on the emerging scene following the national elections, and local community implications and responses

12:30-1:30 pm Luncheon and NAPC Annual Meeting
(Everyone welcome…luncheon included with conference registration)

Presentation of the Judith Rothbaum Award…using social indicators for community action
Review of the year’s highlights; NAPC elections; member recognition; celebrations

1:45-4 pm Afternoon keynote speaker and discussion:
“It’s the Economy, Stupid!” U.S. and Global Changes and What They Mean for Local Communities

Keynote speaker: Larry Mishel, President, Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Washington, D.C.

4-5:30 pm Small-group discussion sessions

6:30 pm Dine Arounds…enjoy nearby Austin restaurants in groups with others from the conference



Using 21st century tools to address 21st century problems

This day’s discussions will be about becoming more effective, efficient, and persuasive using technology that is primarily free online or downloadable. In tight economic times, how can we address the problems in our communities better, easier, and without a negative impact on our bottom line? These sessions will introduce tools you can implement immediately to improve information gathering, analysis, policy development, presentation of information to the community, advocacy, and community engagement. We will learn when to use them, when not to use them, what their advantages and minefields are, and what it takes to make them effective.

8-8:50 am Breakfast roundtables and continental breakfast (lobby level)

Choice of simultaneous small-group topical sessions:

Developing new strategies in bad economic times
Some community planning organizations and other nonprofits have begun operating differently in order to survive and succeed during challenging economic times. Several specific approaches will be presented, then participants can describe their experiences and ideas.
Presenter: Patrick Linnane, retired Executive Director, The Planning Council (Milwaukee, WI)

B. Building Systems of Care for Children and Families
This session will discuss the process for building systems of care for school readiness, family counseling, neighborhood family support, and out of school time services. Governance, access, consumer choice, and development strategies will be described.
Presenter: H. Browning Spence, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Juvenile Welfare Board--the Children's Services Council of Pinellas (Pinellas, FL)

9 am
Opening session

Speaker: Ben Warner
How comfortable are we with new technology? In this session we'll use multi-input instant survey tools to discover how well we're using the web, and our current comfort levels with new tools and online social networking.

9:30 am-10:45 am Increasing effectiveness in public policy development, research, and analysis
Vanessa Sarria, Executive Director, Community Action Network (Austin, TX)

- Presenting to Affect Public Policy
Dr. Philip Huang, MD, MPH, Medical Director, Austin/Travis County Health & Human Services Department

- Using CLIKS to Chart Trends and Save Time

Speaker: Frances P. Deviney, PhD, Texas KIDS COUNT Director, Center for Public Policy Priorities

- Mapping Data Using Accessible, No-Cost Tools for Assessment and Planning
Sean Moran
, Center for Regional Development Director, Capital Area Council of Governments
Ilyanna Kadich
, GIS Analyst, Center for Regional Development, Capital Area Council of Governments

11:00-11:30 am Data Displays – 30 Examples in 30 Minutes
Speaker: Ben Warner

11:45- 12:45 pm Luncheon

1:00- 2:00 pm Using Visual Imagery to Describe the World
Interactive game showing new possibilities through new technology.
Presenter: Sunni Brown, M.P.A., BrightSpot Information Design

2:15- 3:45 pm Community Planning in a Digital World: New Methods of Community Engagement
Moderator: T
aylor Willingham, Founder of Texas Forums and Adjunct Associate Professor for Graduate Library Schools at the University of Illinois
Using blogs, Facebook, and other social media tools (bulletin boards, discussion boards, MySpace,, etc.).

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Register today!
Conference website Flyer Registration form

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National Association of Planning Councils (NAPC)
11118 Ferndale Road - Dallas, TX 75238 - 214-341-3657

NAPC is the national association that fosters the unique profession of community planning.
NAPC is committed to advancing the process of bringing people together to identify needs and work toward solutions.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

JCCI Releases 24th Annual Quality of Life Progress Report

JCCI released its Quality of Life Progress Report today at a press conference involving the Mayor of Jacksonville, the President of the United Way of Northeast Florida, the President of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Chair of the Community Foundation of Jacksonville, along with a number of community leaders and interested citizens.

This is the 24th annual edition of the report, which was first released in 1985. This pioneering effort has served as a model for community indicators reports around the world. (I'm really quite partial to it!)

You can read the report online and see the source data in Excel format that support the indicators. JCCI will be implementing a web-based indicator system during 2009 -- anyone who would like to receive a copy of the RFP, please drop me a line.

Here's one quick news report that shows how the community reacts to the annual release event:

Update: Here's a few more news stories:

Channel 4 News
The Florida Times-Union
Jacksonville Daily Record

I'll add more as I run across them. Sometime soon we'll talk about media coverage and the relationships between reporters and community indicators efforts.

Read more ...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Call for Training Partners by Global Reporting Initiative

We've talked about the Global Reporting Initiative effort before. I just got a heads-up that the group is looking for partners in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and "Chinese-speaking countries" (someone help me -- is this shorthand for not offending China by naming Taiwan?) Anyway, I know some of you reading this blog fit those geographic criteria, so this message is for you:

Call for Training Partners by Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

On 31 October 2008 the GRI Learning Services Team issued a new call for training partners in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Chinese-speaking countries. The 'call' will close by the end of January. The application deadline is 31 January 2009, 23:30 CET.

The aim of the 'call' is to select, set agreements with and prepare training partners to deliver GRI certified training programs in their countries or regions. The GRI certified training program aims to disseminate knowledge on sustainability reporting around the world. It has been developed especially to help report makers and users to more effectively use the GRI Framework.

For details see: .

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PPMRN Conference: Other Thoughts

I was excited about one session in particular on Saturday morning at the PPMRN conference. The session was entitled “Citizen Engagement,” and the teaser promised that we would hear the panel “discuss their innovative programs that encourage governments to involve citizens in performance measurement and reporting processes.”

What I heard was some really good work in enhancing the way governments provide information to citizens (or residents or people -- the nomenclature has been changing as communities struggle with inclusivity and their non-citizen populations.) There's also interesting work in surveying citizens to see what they want and what's important to them.

Both of these communication strategies are critical in how we link people to the governments that serve them, and how we promote increased information-sharing from government to the people and from the people to government.

The challenge is to move beyond information-sharing to this thing we call “citizen engagement.” We're dealing in communities with disconnects, dissatisfaction, distrust, and powerlessness. Engaging citizens in community governance is both a logical and a necessary strategy to resolve these concerns and create more effective governance. But engaging requires more than an information exchange, especially if the information exchange occurs through an intermediary.

The difficulty is that we can't overcome powerlessness without a willingness to share or transfer power. Real engagement requires shared conversations -- not just surveys -- and participation in the decision-making processes. For those of us in the measurement business, that can be as simple as bringing people and government together in a room and deciding together what is important, what good government looks like, and how to measure progress on reaching a shared vision for effective governance.

One benefit to this kind of approach is to reconnect citizens and government and to begin building trust. A second benefit is to involve citizens in creating the solutions -- how can people help improve their community on their own or in voluntary associations? (See de Tocqueville for our history with these kind of associations and their critical function in making communities work.)

The good news is that this is more than just a theoretical discussion. Across America, these kinds of discussions are taking place -- in Sheriff's Advisory Committees, in committee meetings, and in organizations like the one I work in.

As we continue to enhance the amazing work being accomplished in government performance measurement in reporting, we need to bring the people into the picture. Is it hard to understand? Let's take a moment and talk it through together. Does government have limits? Of course it does, and through shared conversation we can move from wishful thinking to the practical. But those conversation need to happen in order to help both citizen and government understand what good government looks like.

Last story and I will stop musing on the topic: We had, in one community, a named storm come through. Trees fell. Power was knocked out. Our Emergency Operations Center went into action. Plans were put into effect. Goals were met, and the lights were back on and the street debris was all gone within 48 hours. High-fives and congratulations abounded within the EOC. That is, until they started hearing citizen complainst that it took two days for the power to be back on and the debris removed.

The problem wasn't government efficiency. The problem was in developing a shared understanding with the citizens on what efficient government was. The real challenge wasn't the performance measures, but the lack of engagement.

I'd appreciate your thoughts and reactions on this topic. What am I missing? Oversimplifying? Let me know if you want to talk further about the roles outside help can bring to engaging your community with government.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

PPMRN Conference

I'm at Rutgers, attending the Public Performance Measurement & Reporting Network's Second Annual Public Performance Measurement and Reporting Conference and having a great time. The discussion has been lively and the presentations, for the most part, thought-provoking. The conference organizers are promising to have the presentations available online fairly shortly, and are recording each session in order to put the audio online as well -- though the presenters didn't always stay near the microphones/recording devices, so I don't know how well that will work.

Because the presentations should be available, I'll just share a couple of thoughts on Friday's sessions that I attended. (They had three workshops going on at any one time, so I had to pick and choose what I could attend, which is another reason I'm looking forward to the other presentations being made available.)

It became clear in the first session that "performance reporting" and "performance budgeting" and "performance management" and "performance measurement" were terms used by different presenters to mean related, but different, things. For example, one speaker defined performance budgeting as "requiring strategic planning by executive agencies, the development of goals and objectives, performance measurement development, reporting, benchmarking, and the evaluation of performance." Others saw performance budgeting as a piece of that picture, part of a system of performance management. David Ammons questioned whether performance management was a system or an act, and pointed to acts of performance management. It was heady discussion.

But I was there primarily to understand and talk about two things: how data are used to improve decision-making and policy, and how citizens get involved in the process. I was pleased to see those two topics visited by nearly every speaker, with a range of opinions associated with how citizens could be involved in government performance measurement. Some of the roles they described for citizens were:

  • Audience. From most of the people I heard, government performance measures of some sort ought to be reported out to the people served by government. One speaker said it was the professional thing to do. Others were concerned that it might be too much information for citizens to understand, but there was general agreement that some level of information needed to be provided to the public and not just used for internal efficiencies and management purposes. (One attendee raised the point that there could never be too much data for the citizens, which I found heart-warming, but we were all largely data-interested folks there anyway.)
  • Survey respondents. We had some great presentations about the use of survey data and citizen responses as part of a performance reporting and management system. I particularly enjoyed (and recommend) Gregg Van Ryzin's work on analyzing citizen surveys for derived importance -- it's a different way of looking at the data that helps understand and create priorities.
  • Advocates for change. We heard of some performance management systems that were created because the citizenry demanded better performance of government.
  • Voters. We also heard of the filter some elected officials use in evaluating performance management reporting and budgeting systems -- "how will this help me get re-elected?" The role of citizen as voter has to be part of the list, because of this impact on how performance management reporting happens.
  • Participants in defining measures. A couple of speakers went farther to talk about how to involve citizens in defining what should be measured. I recommend Natasha Mihal's presentation from San Francisco as well as the Citizen Engagement presentation from Jacksonville -- yes, that's mine. Here's my particular bias: citizens can do more than just read a report or answer the phone when you want to know what they think. They can (and should) be full participants in the process. But you already knew that's what I thought ...
  • Users of information to improve the community. This role goes hand in hand with the one above. If it's government's information, it holds government accountable to fix a problem defined as a government responsibility. If it's the community's information, the citizenry can be brought in as partners to address a shared community problem, in which government has a role to play. That's my personal soapbox, but it was validating to hear the results in San Francisco where citizen involvement and improved government performance reporting went hand in hand.

Today should be even more interesting. If you're at the conference and are reading this, I welcome your feedback into the big topics I missed. (I also need to write about David Ammons' extended analogy of the forest of hardwood and softwood trees facing the storm.) If you weren't, your feedback is welcome anyway.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

"Gobs and Gobs of Data": NTEN discusses

The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) has a blog, and on its blog is a nice article by Kurt Voelker called "Gobs and Gobs of Data: Strategies for Visualizing and Sharing Policy Content."

The issue, he points out, is that nonprofit organization have enormous amounts of data, and somehow have to get that data into a meaningful, exciting, powerful format that will inspire action and direct public policy.

The article discusses some basic steps to improve data visualization. It's worth a read -- check it out here. They also have an upcoming conference, at which they promise to continue this conversation.

(Hat tip: Community Services Planning Council -- thanks for the heads-up!)

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

NAPC Conference: Go to this one!

Let's begin with full disclosure: I'm currently serving as president of the National Association of Planning Councils (NAPC). And so my motives for encouraging people to attend their March 2009 conference are necessarily influenced by that role.

That being said, this promises to be a hum-dinger of a conference. Titled "Community Planning in Turbulent Times--Staying on Top when the Bottom Falls Out," the conference builds on the work of last year's Global Trends, Local Impacts conference to examine trends, see how they impact us, and figure out what to do about them. Plus there's going to be a heckuva fun discussion of technology and community work -- how to use 21st century tools to address 21st century problems.

Austin, Texas. March 2-4, 2009. Make plans to attend! (More conference description after the break.)

Here's a better (more official) description of the conference:

Today we face a world that is rapidly changing. Global and national trends are reshaping what problems we face, how we face them, and who faces them. Our country's leadership is in transition. Today we need to come together as an Association of people and organizations who care deeply about our communities and are engaged in planning for the future well-being of the people we serve. We need to understand the global economic, demographic, technological, social, and other trends that affect us. We need to know how best to address these trends in ways that make life better for all in our communities. And we need to develop the flexibility and skills to be able to think in new ways and use new tools to assure that our own organizations will survive and thrive, so we can continue to lead and support community progress in the challenging times to come.

Conference outcomes...participants will:

  • Gain vital information and will understand effective community change models they can apply to their own community issues

  • Be inspired and have the tools to implement practices they have learned and created when they return home

  • Have opportunities to interact with their peers, gain new insights into successful community change strategies, and expand their network of professional colleagues

  • Understand the criticality and essential nature of community change work

  • Know that their time is well spent/cost effective...and have fun

The conference will include:

  • Three nationally-known keynote speakers, plus leading community planning practitioners and technology experts from across the U.S.

  • Newcomers' welcome session

  • Opening reception, the evening of Monday, March 2

  • Three days of speakers and interactive sessions: March 2, 3, and 4
    (breakfasts and lunches are included on March 3 and 4)

  • Resource fair…bring your materials

  • Judith Rothbaum Award, honoring excellence in using data for community action

  • National Association of Planning Councils annual meeting

You really need to go to this one. If you have any questions about the conference, let me know.

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Trailblazer Award Announcement

(Click on the announcement to resize)

See for more information.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Involving the Public in Public Performance Measurement

I'm headed up tomorrow to the Second Annual Public Performance Measurement and Reporting Conference being held up at Rutgers University in Newark. I'll be speaking Friday afternoon on "Citizen Engagement in Community Benchmarks: Lessons Learned from The Jacksonville Community Council."

If you're going to be at the conference, be sure to say hello. For those who can't attend, I plan on sharing my notes and impressions with you in this blog, and will try to find others to share notes from the sessions that I can't attend.

We've been working on reporting indicators for some time now in Jacksonville -- next week we will release our 24th annual report on the Quality of Life in Jacksonville -- and we've helped quite a few other communities develop their own indicators systems. From that, I suggest we've learned some valuable lessons. I touched on some of them briefly at the National League of Cities Congress a couple of months ago, but one thought in particularly is on my mind this morning.

Simply put, good data are not enough. The best indicators in the world are irrelevant at best (and damaging at worst) without the right kind of process behind them. And this is doubly true for public performance indicators.

In a former career, I studied to be a therapist. With one of my earliest clients, I was excited to recognize the pathologies, diagnose the problem, and relay the answer -- all in the first session. I felt on top of the world -- this therapy stuff was easy -- and reported back to my supervisor. He smiled and remarked on my adorable mix of naivete and stupidity. The point of therapy wasn't about the therapist knowing what the client had to do differently; it's about the client owning the solutions, and that happens through a process of discovery, not being told what to do.

I see the same dynamic in government performance benchmarking and citizen engagement. Some internal performance measures are critical for administrative purposes. You need to be paying attention to who shows up for work in order to pay them, for example. But that's a management process, not an accountability process.

Citizen engagement is critical for community feedback into what matters (where are the priorities?), and community confidence in government activities (are they doing what we need them to be doing?) Government telling the community what's important and announcing what they will measure and what the results are feels somewhat like my initial foray into therapy -- it doesn't mean anything unless I've had the opportunity to be part of the process of discovering the answers.

Let me try another metaphor. At our organization, we have a team of auditors go over our books every year and report their results to our board. It's easier (and cheaper) for us to look at our books ourselves, and then tell the board that we think everything's fine and our internal financial controls are just peachy. That may be the absolute gospel truth, but it's completely irrelevant to the board (and they will likely trust us even less the more we insist we handling the money just fine.) Accountability requires, at some level, external review of the information, and someone outside the organization asking the questions.

So to summarize, why is citizen involvement in government performance measures so important? For one reason, people need to be involved in the process to make it their own, otherwise the exercise lacks essential meaning. For another, community confidence depends on being able to ask the right questions and trust the answers, and trust usually involves someone else reporting the information. Those aren't the only reasons, by a long shot -- just the ones that I was thinking over this morning. (You'll have to attend my session on Friday, or wait until I write it up and post it, to hear the others.)

That's why, as uncomfortable as it gets sometimes for everyone involved, our work with our local government entities in reporting government performance as part as an overall picture of the quality of life in our community is so important. It's connecting the citizenry to government, and government to citizens, that makes the reporting a true measure of accountability and progress.

We need to do more locally. We know that. But we can build on the layers of trust we've built over time to make good benchmarking even better.

What are your thoughts?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Indicators and the Inaugural Address

Like many of you, I was listening to the Inaugural Address of President Obama. And, I suppose, like many of you I thrilled to hear these words:

"These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics."

Fifth paragraph. Less than two minutes in, and our new president turns to talk of indicators. He continues by talking about the qualitative nature of the troubles we face, and then into the rest of his speech -- I'll leave that topic for political pundits to pick apart. (You can read the speech for yourself here.)

What I appreciated was the use of data in understanding the nation's issues, and more importantly, a willingness to talk about using data. How cool is that?

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Community Health Status Indicators Report Released

Great news! The US Department of Health and Human Services has published the Community Health Status Indicators Report, which contains health indicator data on over 200 measures for every county in the United States. Please visit for more information.

From the site:

The goal of Community Health Status Indicators (CHSI) is to provide an overview of key health indicators for local communities and to encourage dialogue about actions that can be taken to improve a community’s health. The CHSI report was designed not only for public health professionals but also for members of the community who are interested in the health of their community. The CHSI report contains over 200 measures for each of the 3,141 United States counties. Although CHSI presents indicators like deaths due to heart disease and cancer, it is imperative to understand that behavioral factors such as tobacco use, diet, physical activity, alcohol and drug use, sexual behavior and others substantially contribute to these deaths (see chart).

In addition to the web pages, community profiles can be displayed on maps or downloaded in a brochure format. The CHSI mapping capability allows users to visually compare similar counties (termed peer counties) as well as adjacent counties with their county. The downloaded CHSI report allows broad dissemination of information to audiences that may not have access to the internet.

The CHSI report provides a tool for community advocates to see, react, and act upon creating a healthy community. The report can serve as a starting point for community assessment of needs, quantification of vulnerable populations, and measurement of preventable diseases, disabilities, and deaths. The CHSI report is accompanied by a companion document entitled Data Sources, Definitions, and Notes (PDF - 261KB). This document gives detailed descriptions on data estimations, definitions, caveats, methodology, and sources.

To access a community profile, select a state and county name on the left navigation bar and select display data. The demographic characteristics of the selected county will appear as well as its peer counties (if applicable, counties similar in population size and frontier status). To move to another page, select the health indicator section from the list in the left navigation bar. To print the CHSI brochure, select the print report option at the top right-hand corner of the page; do not use the browser print option. To access the CHSI mapping tool, select the mapping option at the top right-hand corner of the page.

The July 2007 issue of Preventing Chronic Disease contains the following articles that provide additional information about the Community Health Status Indicators project:

Kanarek N, Bialek R, Stanley J. Use of peer groupings to assess county public health status. Prev Chronic Dis 2008;5(3).

Metzler M, Kanarek N, Highsmith K, Bialek R, Straw R, Auston I, et al. Community Health Status Indicators Project: the development of a national approach to community health. Prev Chronic Dis 2008;5(3).

Heitgerd JL, Dent AL, Holt JB, Elmore KA, Melfi K, Stanley JM, et al. Community health status indicators: adding a geospatial component. Prev Chronic Dis 2008;5(3).

Sondik EJ. The goal of adequate data. Prev Chronic Dis 2008;5(3).

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Statistics, Knowledge and Policy: Understanding Societal Change

Here's a heads-up from the ISQOLS listserve:

Dear colleague,

I am pleased to announce that the OECD, in conjunction with the University of Kyoto and the Nissan Leadership Program for Innovative Engineers (LPIE) have developed a training course on “Statistics, Knowledge and Policy: Understanding Societal Change”, to be held in Kyoto (Japan) on 25-27 March 2009.

The course has been designed to provide assistance to those wanting to understand the progress of their societies and promote evidence-based debate and policy making. It will be of interest to statisticians, economists, policy makers, and people from the private and civil society sectors and we are targeting people with at least 5 years work experience.

Organised in the context of the Global Project on “Measuring the Progress of Societies” the course will focus on the importance of statistics for democracy and democratic decision-making; measures of progress that go “beyond GDP”; tools to transform statistics into knowledge; and evidence, civic engagement and policy making.

The maximum number of participants is 25 and the deadline for registration is 16 February 2009. The cost of all training, accommodation and lunches will be just 1,200 euros. For more details

The training will be run directly after the conference “Measuring and Fostering the Progress of Societies: Key Issues for the Asia and Pacific regions” , which we are running with the University of Kyoto at their Katsura Campus.

This conference is free to attend and will cover issues such as the benefits of developing broader, shared visions of progress for Asia and the Pacific. It will discuss the importance of sharing indicators of societal progress and turning those measures into societal knowledge. The conference will also analyse how better measures can lead to better policies to address issues of concern to Asian and Pacific societies including: energy and climate; public health, poverty and new technology; peace, good governance and democracy. Confirmed speakers include Noeleen Heyzer (Executive Secretary of UNESCAP), Enrico Giovannini (Chief Statistician OECD), Steve Killelea, (founder of the Global Peace Index) and Sawako Takeuchi (Professor of Kyoto University).

If you need more information, please email us with your question on the training course and the conference .

Yours sincerely,

The Global Project Team

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Citizen Engagement in Community Indicators Conference

I briefly mentioned the Strasbourg conference that I had to miss because I was getting married that weekend. I remembered to get married, but I forgot to share with you the results of conference.

You can see here the format and many of the presentations of the Seminar on ‘Involving citizens and communities in measuring and fostering well-being and progress’ hosted by the Council of Europe, in partnership with the Autonomous Province of Trento (Italy) and the OECD.

The description of the conference follows:

The aim of the seminar was to develop new approaches and tools for measuring how societies are changing by using high quality, reliable statistics to assess progress in a range of areas affecting citizens’ quality of life. Citizen participation in this process and the strengthening of their capacity to understand the social and economic context in which they live is important for improving policy making, democracy and citizen well-being.

The event provided the opportunity for an exchange of good practices from various Council of Europe member states as well as non-member states such as Australia, Canada, Colombia and Japan and sought to promote international co-operation at governmental and non-governmental level.

Participants had the opportunity to attend two round tables and six separate workshops addressing the following issues:

  • Well-being and well-being for all: what differences and which indicators?
  • Determining the objective and the political aim of involving citizens in developing indicators; identifying responsibilities and clarifying the institutional aspects of the approach
  • Links between traditional systems of indicators and those developed with citizens/communities: antagonisms, alternatives or complementarities?
  • Working with citizens /communities to develop indicators of well-being/progress
  • Assessing needs in conjunction with citizens, collecting data establishing a link with conventional statistical data
  • How can the question of goods for well being be taken into account in the work to develop indicators with citizens/communities?

See more here.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Charting is Contagious

I don't know if I should feel proud or guilty about this.

My sister has begun blogging now, which is bad enough (but apparently a common affliction, so much so that even the State of the Blogosphere folks have quit counting.)

Not only is she blogging, she's blogging with charts and graphs. All because I was cruel enough to forward her the link to GraphJam (click at your own risk!)

Anyway, in the hopes of some cross-promotional opportunities (and because I really am pleased with her efforts) (and not just because her blog has more followers than mine!), here's her site: My Life in Graphs.

Congrats! (If anyone else has a blog that at least moderately touches on the question of community indicators and you need a promotional plug, please let me know.)

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Feeling the Impact of Big Numbers

We've talked about Chris Jordan's work before, in Storytelling with Big Numbers.

Now here's a chance to hear him describe what he does and why he does it in his own words.


(Hat tip: information aesthetics)

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Census Plus Released

Here's a heads-up from our friends at Brookings:

We wanted to let you know about a recently updated interactive web application on the Brookings Metro Program website.

Census Plus
is a one-of-a-kind data tool that provides up-to-date demographic, social, economic, and housing data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, including information from Census 2000 and the 2005, 2006, and 2007 American Community Survey. Census Plus enables users to:

Generate comparative rankings on more than 100 key indicators for the 100 largest U.S. cities, counties, and metropolitan areas, and all 50 states … view data “at a glance” for their community, and see how their city/county/metro area/state ranks against all others across a range of indicators within a particular topic … and create their own indicators for these subject areas by downloading the raw data used in the application.

Census Plus is a useful tool for elected officials, community leaders, civic and philanthropic organizations, research groups, journalists, and the general public to answer important questions about the places in which they work and live. The latest version of Census Plus, along with more detailed information and tips on how to use the site, is available here: If you have any questions or feedback about Census Plus, please contact Elizabeth Kneebone.

(Hat tip: National Association of Planning Councils)

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Choosing the Right Graph

Let's say you have a big ol' pile of data sitting there on your desk, and you need to turn that data into some sort of easily-shared information that will concisely and powerfully convey your message and transform the numbers into meaning. You know what I'm talking about -- you've been there a number of times.

So you prowl through the options in Excel -- wow, there's a bunch of choices here, and Excel 2007 just made it worse more complicated.

So what do you do?

You might check out a couple of nifty resources on the web for selecting which kind of information/ message/ data set calls for what kind of graph. Check out the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods as a starting point. Go ahead, mouseover the options. The color codes help you determine which of the options fit the data you have and the message you're trying to convey.

Still overwhelmed and need something simpler? Andrew Abela's got a flow chart for charts that should help. (You probably want to print this one out and hang on to it -- put it up above your desk like I have if you've got lots of different data display decisions you need to make.)

(Even more resources after the break!)

There's a lot more information out there for you to use. Try for another approach -- this one even brings the template you choose back into Excel for you!

What other resources do you use to select the kind of graph you want for the information you need to display?

(Hat tips go to Extreme Presentation and Flowing Data.)

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Indicators Wonk is Love Doctor

So you're an intrepid reporter out to capture the singles scene in a major metropolitan area. Who do you turn to for advice on where to hook up?

Obviously, the first person that comes to mind is the guy who runs the local community indicators report, right?

So congratulations to Kurt Metzger for reinforcing the stereotype of community indicators practioners as sexy hunks of sexiness, gettin' groovy with all that data.

(That's the stereotype, right?)

I have nothing else left to say but this: Check out the article.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Call for Volume Editors

Here's an interesting opportunity I thought you might want to know about:

Best Practices in Quality-of-Life Research (A New Book Series by Springer Published in Cooperation with the International Society for Quality of Life Studies - ISQOLS)

Call for Volume Editors

Series Editor:

Dr. Dave Webb
Associate Professor

Business School
University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA, 6009
Tel (618) 6488-7380
Fax (618) 6488-1055

Editorial Board: M. Joseph Sirgy (Virginia Tech, USA), Alex Michalos (University of British Columbia, Canada)

Aims & Scope of the Series:

Governments, organizations and individuals are today paying increasingly more attention to how their activities impact on quality of life regionally, nationally and globally. Whether as an address to global resource shortages, changing environmental circumstances, political conditions, competition, technology or otherwise, the far reaching impact of decisions made in these and other areas can have a significant impact on populations whatever their level of development. Many lessons have been learned. Many are still to be realized. Across a number of diverse themed volumes the proposed book series will tackle key issues identified as being of significant importance to decision makers and participants across all sectors. The series will be invaluable to anyone with an interest in applying quality of life knowledge in contemporary society.

Specifically the series aims:

· To be considered the preferred information source regarding identified models/cases of best practice with respect to QOL.

· To be identified as the best working guide for anyone operating in a field of endeavor in which QOL is a recognized key desired outcome.

· To be recognized not just as 'book on the shelf' but rather, a 'book in the hand', or at least, 'on the desk'. Thus, more than just a reference book.

Examples of potential volumes in the series:

· Best Practices in Human Resource Management & Quality of Working Life,

· Best Practices in Marketing and QOL,

· Best Practices in Public Sector Governance & QOL

· Best Practices in Sustainable Management & QOL

· Best Practices in Applied Positive Psychology & QOL

· Best Practices in QOL Coaching

· Best Practices in International Community Development & QOL

·                Best Practices in Healthcare Sector Management & QOL
·                Best Practices in Public Sector Management & QOL
·                Best Practices in Human Movement Sciences & QOL


Anticipated publication commencement date for the next two volumes is 2010 with subsequent volumes at potentially two each year thereafter.

Call for Editors:

· The Series editor and editorial board are keen to hear from QOL researchers interested in editing a volume in the described Best Practices in Quality of Life Research book series.

· Please submit your expression of interest together with a brief few paragraphs describing your proposal to Dr Dave Webb at the e-mail address shown above.

· Date for receipt of initial expression of interest – 27 February 2009

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