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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

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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