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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, March 31, 2009

Job Opportunities: Global Footprint Network

There are several positions available with the Global Footprint Network that some of the readers here might be interested in. One position in particular calls for a background in sustainability indicators and an opportunity to move their partnership network forward:

Associate Director, Partner Network

Position Summary
We are seeking to hire an Associate Director to lead our international Partner Network, which is currently comprised of over 100 members ranging from leading sustainability organizations and businesses to national government agencies to Ecological Footprint practitioners and users. The ideal candidate for this position will have a natural talent for networking and recruitment, proven experience building and cultivating strategic partnerships, excellent facilitation skills and written communication skills, and proven experience developing thriving online networks and communities.
This is a position with potential for growth.

Performance Profile
As the Associate Director of our Partner Network, you will report to the Director of Strategic Initiatives and your responsibilities will include:

* Implementing plans for delivering enhanced programs and services to our international Partner Network of over 100 members
* Growing membership by 25% in 2009
* Developing an active and highly functional online partner community
* Producing and managing an annual partner conference, The Footprint Forum
* Facilitating partner meetings, dialogs, and events
* Planning and leading strategic recruitment and networking efforts
* Supporting partners—responding to inquiries, requests, and ideas—and creating opportunities for increasing partner engagement
* Developing and facilitating the activities of three new partner groups:

–The Corporate Circle, for global business leaders working to transform their companies in ways that support the goal of living within the means of one planet
–The Working Group on National Competitiveness, for individuals stationed all over the world who are using the Ecological Footprint to guide national policy decisions
–The Thought Leadership Program, for international thought leaders working in a range of sectors and industries to put an end to global, ecological overshoot
* Implementing and managing a new organizational initiative called, Global Footprint Dialogs
* Working with communications and marketing staff to develop and produce new Partner Network promotional materials


* Willingness to travel internationally
* Passion for sustainability and global resource issues
* Proficiency in program development and management
* Proven experience facilitating large and small group meetings
* Proven experience developing and managing online networks and communities
* Excellent writing skills
* Preferred, experience managing business accounts and/or client relationships
* Preferred, fluency in European languages
* Preferred, background in quantitative metrics and/or sustainability indicators

If you want to apply, click here.

(Hat tip: SocialEdge)

Read more ...

State of New York City's Housing and Neighborhoods Report Release

The Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy has just released its State of New York City's Housing and Neighborhoods 2008 report.

Caroline Bhalla says: "This year we examine more than thirty years of sale price data to better understand how individual neighborhoods fared in the last two upturns and the last two downturns, and to identify trends that can be useful when looking forward. In addition, several new features have been added to this edition of the State of the City, including information on “greening” NYC and on historic districts and landmarks in the City. We've also added new indicators about transportation and proximity to open space."

What I find pretty interesting about the report is the ability to download reports for each of the 59 districts separately, or for the city as a whole. This effort should be useful for any community trying to understand their housing data and plan for a better future.

Read more ...

Conference: GIS in Public Health

This looks fun. I won't be able to make it, but I'd be interested in hearing from people who will be attending.

URISA's GIS in Public Health Conference

Complete conference details are available online:

Park Ridge, IL – URISA’s 2009 GIS in Public Health Conference (June 5-8 in Providence, Rhode Island) will offer important topics addressed by leaders in the field. Themed “Putting Health in Place with GIS”, the conference features full-day workshops, sixty-four presentations, exhibits, a poster session and networking events.

The opening keynote address will be delivered by Corrie Brown, DVM, PhD, Coordinator of International Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia and the closing keynote address will be presented by Leslie Lenert, MD, MS, FACMI, Director of the National Center for Public Health Informatics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Four preconference workshops will be presented:

1. Space-Time Analysis of Health Data
Instructed by: Marilyn O. Ruiz, University of Illinois, Urbana , IL and Geoffrey M. Jacquez, MS, PhD, President, BioMedware and Adjunct Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, The University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI

2. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) for Field Data Collection to Support Field Epidemiology, Emergency Preparedness, Environmental Health, and Other Public Health Programs
Instructed by: Carl Kinkade, Enterprise Geodatabase Manager, Centers for Disease Control - National Center for Public Health Informatics, Atlanta, GA

3. Protecting Privacy and Confidentiality of Geographic Data in Health Research Instructors: Christopher Cassa, Ph.D., M.Eng., Research Fellow, Harvard Medical School, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Children’s Hospital Informatics Program; Ellen K. Cromley, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate, The Institute for Community Research; Andrew J. Curtis, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Southern California; Sam LeFevre, M.S., Environmental Epidemiology Program Manager, Utah Department of Health; Sheel Pandya, J.D., M.P.H., Policy Counsel, Health Privacy Project, Center for Democracy & Technology

4. Ecological Niche Modeling for Predicting Disease Distributions: Designing Experiments and Interpreting Results Instructed by: Dr. Jason K. Blackburn and Mr. Timothy A. Joyner, Spatial Epidemiology and Ecology Research Laboratory, California State University Fullerton

Following are just a few of the sessions that are highlighted in this year’s educational offerings:

Pandemic/Avian Flu
Emergency planners and healthcare providers at all levels should be involved in the preparation for and response to a possible outbreak of a deadly contagion. This session will inform participants of some of the spatial challenges and solutions relevant to pandemic influenza.

• Geospatial of Avian Influenza Molecular Using Geographical Information System in Indonesia
Mujiyanto Sadali, NIHRD Unit Donggala Ministry of Health, Sulawesi Tengah, Indonesia
• A Pan Flu Early Warning GIS for At Risk Populations in Rural Areas Michael Shambaugh-Miller, University of Nebraska, Omaha, NE
• The Russian influenza in Sweden in 1889-90: An Example of Geographic Information Lars Skog, Royal Institute of Technology, Stocksund, Sweden

Health Disparities and Social Factors in Health
This session addresses concepts and methods for investigating social factors in health and associated health disparities.

• Mapping Health Disparities in Cleveland, Ohio Terese Lenahan, The Center for Community Solutions, Cleveland, OH
• Map Legend Design for Visualizing Community Health Disparities Ellen Cromley and Robert Cromley, The Institute for Community Research, Hartford, CT
• Geography of Personal Crisis - Geo-Referenced Data in Suicide Research Radoslaw Panczak, Swansea University, Swansea, United Kingdom

Public Health Epidemiology
Epidemiology has long been associated with geospatial and temporal factors. This session will inform participants on several relevant investigations.

• A Spatial-Temporal Model of Plague Transmission in California Ground Squirrels Ashley Holt, University of California Berkeley, San Francisco, CA
• Space-Time Cluster Analysis of American Cutaneous Leishmaniosis in Venezuela Eva-Mary Rodriguez, University of Central Venezuela, Caracas, Venezuela
• Analyzing Risk Factors for Blastomycosis in Urban Areas Melissa Lemke, Center for Urban Population Health, Milwaukee, WI

Cancer Geographics
GIS has been gaining much greater core importance in cancer epidemiology and related areas. Organizations like North American Association of Central Cancer Registries and the CDC cancer programs, as well as state cancer registries are formally adopting GIS as an important tool. Standards have been developed for capturing cancer patient data so that address geocoding produces a high hit rate enabling spatial epidemiology to more accurate, comprehensive and relevant. Papers in this session provide a look at how widely Cancer GIS is being pursued.

• Geographic Cluster Evaluation of Female Breast Cancer: Does Scale Matter? Nancy Tian, Texas State University - San Marcos, San Marcos, TX
• Exploratory Temporal Visualization of Massachusetts Breast Cancer Data Archives Alex Brown, University of Massachusetts – Lowell, Lowell, MA
• Lung, Colorectal, Prostate, Breast, Thyroid, Melanoma and Pediatric Cancer Pattern Nicole Vanosdel, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE

Environmental Public Health Tracking Network and Standards
The Environmental Public Health Tracking Network integrates hazard monitoring, exposure, and health effects surveillance. Papers in this session provide an introduction to the network and to network standards.

• Alex Charleston, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA
• Gonza Namulanda, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA
• Ambarish Vaidyanathan and Nicholas Jones, Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, Atlanta, GA

Read more ...

Monday, March 30, 2009

NNIP Foreclosure Resources

As we all know, community indicators aren't just about data. They're about using data to make a difference in the communities we serve.

One group I highly respect is the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership. They've put together a really nice resource for communities dealing with foreclosure issues. It brings together the work of NNIP partners, with their data, their data visualizations, their research, and what they're doing with all of this information to make people's lives better.

The site is called NNIP Foreclosure Activities (though can I suggest a different name, like NNIP Foreclosure Resources?) Even if you're not working with foreclosures in your community, it's worth checking out to see how the shared experience of local efforts in communities can come together to strengthen each other.

Good job, NNIP. I'm quite impressed.

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Call for Proposals: Seminar on Innovative Approaches to Turn Statistics into Knowledge

This looks really interesting:


Note: Presentation proposals are due before April 15.

Main meeting page:

While dynamic graphics and communication tools are at the heart of the seminar, the meeting will also focus on a broader range of tools. The seminar will also include the use of videos, as explored by GapMinder and others, and participative approaches, as seen in some web 2.0 initiatives; and – although innovative tools are themselves of great interest, and worthy of being presented at the seminar – the focus of the seminar will be on innovative applications of tools, for example, so-called story-telling applications.

The seminar is hosted by the US Census Bureau and is arranged jointly by the Census Bureau, the OECD and the World Bank. It will be held on 15-16 July in the headquarters of the US Census Bureau located in Suitland, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC (metro station "Suitland" on green line).

It will be a two-day seminar in plenum, with no parallel sessions. There will be around 20 presentations and discussants will be allocated to the sessions. A few panels may be organized. The conference will be video recorded, allowing other interested parties to watch it later on the seminar website.

The seminar should contribute to the development of tools to help people transform statistics into knowledge and decisions. A first condition for statistics to be used this way is that relevant statistics become known, available, and understood by wider audiences. The seminar is held in the context of the OECD Global Project on “Measuring the Progress of Societies”. It should contribute to one of the goals quoted in the Istanbul Declaration: "produce a broader, shared, public understanding of changing conditions, while highlighting areas of significant change or inadequate knowledge".

The seminar can be seen as a continuation of the previous seminars organized in Rome and Stockholm and of the first International Exhibition on “Innovative Tools to Transform Information into Knowledge”, organized during the second OECD World Forum on “Statistics, Knowledge and Policy” (Istanbul, 27-30 June 2007).

We want to look at tools and applications for making statistics more popular, while avoiding the pitfalls of populism, over-simplification or propaganda. We want to base all these initiatives on scientific standards, observing the basic principles of objectivity and good communication. We would therefore welcome experts in statistical methodology, cognitive science, and communication as active participants in the workshop.

Read more ...

Friday, March 27, 2009

APDU Webinar: The 2010 Census: Preparations for a Complete Count

Here's a webinar many of you will be interested in. If you're not sure why you would be interested, click here for a discussion of the impact of the changes in the Census and the ACS.

The Association of Public Data Users (APDU) invites you to an online presentation,

“The 2010 Census: Preparations for a Complete Count”

When: Tuesday April 14th, 2009, 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm EDT
Who: Daniel Weinberg, Assistant Director for American Community Survey and
Decennial Census, U.S. Census Bureau

Click Here to Register (Detailed participants instructions and agenda will be sent prior to presentation.)

The 2010 Census: Preparations for a Complete Count
With the 2010 Census just around the corner, operations and preparations for a complete count in 2010 are well underway. This online presentation will provide data users with an update on key operations such address canvassing, which is the operation the Census Bureau uses to update and verify the census address list known as the Master Address File (MAF). There will also be a discussion of the Census Bureau’s communications plans and strategies for achieving a full count, obtaining a high mail return rate, and reaching hard-to-count populations.

Participants will be able to ask questions following the presentation.

APDU Contact:
Denise M. Bosmans
dbosmans [at]
703-522-4980 x20

Read more ...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

ASPA Conference

For those who were able to attend the ASPA Conference in Miami this past weekend, I'd love to hear from you about your experiences/impressions.

For those who could not attend (like me), here's some information to whet your appetite:

Andrew Krzmarzick discusses My ASPA 2009 Experience in a Twitshell, which is a whole different way to experience a conference session.

ASPA National's blog response to Andrew's workshop is here. (In fact, you can catch a whole series of blog entries from a student experience POV here.)

Anyone else have information to share about the conference? I'm particularly interested in the intersection between government performance measurement and community indicators -- who wants to fill me in on how the pre-conference session went?

Read more ...

New Reports Released: Baton Rouge, Montgomery County Ohio, York County Pennsylvania

A trio of new community indicators reports have been released, and I'd like to draw your attention to them.

From Baton Rouge, Louisiana, comes CityStats: Indicators for Tracking Our Quality of Life. The local newspaper, The Advocate, says:

The report, CityStats, will be used as a “map for improving Baton Rouge,” BRAF spokesman Mukul Verma said in a news release.

The report will be issued annually, Verma said, and BRAF officials expect trends to emerge that will show the community what’s going right and what needs to be fixed.

The 50 indicators are all contained in nine categories: culture and recreation, economy, education, environment, government and civic participation, health, infrastructure, public safety and social well-being.

(Shameless plug: the newspaper reporter quotes me in the article, which is why Baton Rouge gets listed first.)

The second report is from Montgomery County, Ohio. Bob Stoughton says:

In Montgomery County, Ohio we recently released our tenth annual progress report since the publication of Turning the Curve in 1998. We are using Mark Friedman's RBA as our model and, in fact, we have an essay by him in this, our Tenth Anniversary Report.

Throughout this year's Report we have emphasized the importance of "community conversations" about the data -- these help people realize what the data are and they help illuminate the forces shaping the trends, all of which is essential if we are to move our indicators in the desired directions.

We currently are tracking 27 community indicators grouped under 6 community outcomes. The Report includes all of these data, goes "behind the numbers" in some special analyses, and summarizes the work of a host of Teams and Task Forces each attempting to turn a curve or two.

A visit to and a click on "2008 Progress Report" on the left will lead you to the Report.

The third is from York County, Pennsylvania, and can be found at The York Dispatch reviews the report as follows:

YorkCounts released its third indicators report Friday, and the results paint an uncertain picture for York County.

The community organization studies and suggests solutions for quality-of-life issues throughout the county. Its latest report groups 38 quality-of-life indicators into six categories: community, economy, education, health, safety and surroundings.

The available data for each of the indicators vary -- for instance, charitable giving is measured annually from 2001 through 2007, while teen motherhood statistics are offered for 2001, 2003 and 2005.

"Basically, the numbers do two things. They (compare) York County to the rest of the state, and they look at the trend," said YorkCounts communications director Dan Fink.

Thanks for the updates on these reports. And please keep them coming -- I'd love to share your latest report with the good people reading this blog.

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Webinar: Results Scorecard

Here's some news from the good people at the Results Leadership Group that you might appreciate:

We are excited to announce the creation of the Results Scorecard, web-based software for Results Based Accountability (RBA). Please join us as we launch the Results Scorecard with a webinar demonstration on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 12pm EST.

With the Results Scorecard, leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors will accelerate the improvement of the quality of life in their communities and the performance of their agencies and programs. Importantly, the Results Scorecard aligns indicators of community well-being with organizational performance measures. A web-based tool, the Results Scorecard is easy to use and implement -- and affordable.

The Results Scorecard is the only decision software designed specifically to support the RBA methodology, described by Mark Friedman in Trying Hard is Not Good Enough (Trafford 2005). The Results Scorecard's architecture, with built-in tools and templates, is particularly useful for efficient and collaborative decision making on an ongoing basis at both the community and program levels.

Feel free to contact us at 301-907-7541 with any questions or to schedule a private demo if you can't make the webinar on April 14, 2009.

--The Results Leadership Group

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Job Opening: CHIS Manager

Just passing along another job opening in the field:

St. Luke's Episcopal Health Charities, located in Houston, Texas, is recruiting for a Community Health Information System Manager. This is a full-time position with benefits. Below is a summary of the position description and the full description is attached . Please feel free to circulate this to any interested and qualified individuals.

The Community Health Information System (CHIS) Manager provides leadership and oversight on the development of community health information endeavors, including development of opportunities for new projects and data sources, initiatives, and partnerships and supervision of related staff, student interns, and fellows. Additionally this position provides leadership and oversight for all web activities of the St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Charities (SLEHC), including the Community Health Information System, the Community Resource Directory, Project Safety Net, the Breast Health Resource Mapping Project, and Preschool for All. These five products provide location-based services in an interactive mapping environment. (See

Interested candidates can apply here.

Read more ...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Follow-up Obesity Map: United States

I apologize for taking so long to update this blog -- the piles of work on my desk got too big and I had to focus on doing stuff (instead of just writing about doing stuff) for a little while. The good news is, a whole bunch of exciting news is coming soon -- this mini-hiatus turned out to be highly productive. (And I'm on a web conference right now discussing the intersection of community indicators and government performance measures, so I'm not slacking right now, I'm multi-tasking!)

We talked about visualizing obesity statistics before, and shared a really nice graphic of obesity rates by country. We've also shared obesity statistics by state for the United States.

Now the two have been brought together in the following graphic:

(click on graphic to enlarge)

Go to Miscellanea to check out the graphic and the discussion that follows on the relevance of BMI as an indicator of obesity.

What do you think of the graphic? Is it useful?

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Census Bureau Publishes Plan for Data Release

Here's an update from the folks at the American Community Survey:

Federal Register Notice: The 5-Year ACS Data Products Release Plan

Today the U.S Census Bureau published its data release plan for the ACS 5-year data products in the Federal Register (E9-4803). Beginning in late 2010, the Census Bureau plans to introduce 5-year data products covering the January 2005 through December 2009 data collection period. The release of the 5-year estimates will achieve the goal of the ACS to provide small area data similar to the long-form sample data published after Census 2000.

The Census Bureau is proposing to modify its current line of data products to accommodate the 5-year estimates and is requesting comments from current and potential users of ACS data products to help guide this modification.

We invite you to review the 5-Year ACS Data Release Plan and provide your response to the contact listed in the Federal Register notice. Please follow this link to the Federal Register notice (PDF files) posted in the Highlights section on the ACS Main page:

Comments are due to the contact listed in the Federal Register notice by April 20, 2009

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NAPC Conference: Mariana Salazar

Mariana Salazar, MPA, who is a planner with the Travis County Health and Human Services Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program (, provided her summary of the National Association of Planning Councils conference. You'll notice immediately that I haven't written about several of the sessions, or anything about the Wednesday meetings that were probably of the most interest to community indicators practitioners. I'll plead guilty -- I was kept too busy during the sessions to blog them, and then my flight to Jacksonville didn't get back until after midnight -- and once I was here, I got caught up in other things. I'll try to add my reflections on the bigger picture of what the Wednesday sessions meant for local researchers, data providers, and community engagement/advocacy fairly soon.

In the meantime, I thought I'd let you see Mariana's notes (she said we could share them.) This group, with its expertise with numbers, will likely figure out that there are only 17 web links on my presentation, and it promised 30 data display options. That's my fault for not providing the links to all of them. I owe you the rest.

Anyway, here's her summary. Drop her a line and thank her.

“Community Planning in Turbulent Times: Staying on Top when the Bottom Falls Out”
National Association of Planning Councils (NAPC)
2009 Conference, Austin, TX, March 2 -4

Conference notes

Making the Census Work for Your Community
Speakers: Representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau
The American Community Survey (ACS), a nationwide survey that collects annual population characteristics and demographic information, is replacing the Census long form that was collected every 10 years.
The Census long form surveyed about 1 out of 6 households (about 16 percent of the total population.) The ACS surveys about 3 million addresses annually, or about 2.2 percent of the population.
The Census long form data was a point-in-time survey while the ACS is a continual survey process. Every month households are surveyed. For annual estimates, twelve months of data are combined. For three or five year estimates, 36-months and 60-months data sets are used.
The ACS has tradeoffs between reliability and timeliness. Comparison of data will require careful understanding of methodology so “apples are compared to apples”
Refer to the ACS Compass Products for educational materials

Community Planning 101
Speaker: Ben Warner, Jacksonville Community Council (Florida)
Community planning as performed by planning councils is nowadays defined by values more so than a specific organizational structure, collaborative partnerships, funding streams or functional areas.
Visit NAPC’s website to see the values discussed.

“The Perfect Storm” – Community Engagement
Speaker: Phil Dessauer and Jan Figart, Community Service Council in Tulsa, OK
Phil and Jan have identified different forces driving demographic, social and economic changes, drawing attention on the need to plan ahead with those forces in mind.
They identify eight big forces: 1) lack of living wages for the huge population of unskilled/lowskilled persons and the growth in income insecurities, 2) current and growing workforce shortage, 3) rapid aging of the population, 4) growing challenges to assure healthy lifestyles and access to quality health care, 5) continued growing immigration, 6) Rapidly changing environmental conditions, 7) increasing uncertainty on our future supply of energy, and 8) growing challenge to the American culture.
Check out their report and other Perfect Storm presentations on their website
Phil and Jan recommended the book “The Tyranny of Dead Ideas” by Matt Miller.

Drivers of change and what they mean for human services and local communities
Jerry Friedman, American Public Human Services Association.
Human Services is a counter-cyclical business: when times are tough and funding is lowest, the needs are greatest. Tough times are an opportunity for transformation.
We need better measures of poverty.
For more of his ideas visit his blog

After the Election...
Discussion on free-ranging topics.
Debate on role of councils – facilitating discussions vs. making sense of data/world, creating spaces of dialogue vs. “telling the news,” can both roles be played effectively?
Planning with a scenario in mind rather than longitudinally
Generational divide in the work force – need for mentoring younger generation and opening spaces for the youth to voice their opinions and be part of the process as part of a succession planning strategy.
Recognizing assets from all age-groups,

The economic Crisis and the way forward
Speaker: Heidi Shierholz, Economic Policy Institute, (Washington, D.C).
Heidi, labor economist, made the following main points: 1) Since 1973, productivity in the U.S. has increased while median wages have not, the result a decline in “good jobs”, 2) poverty has stagnated since 1973, 3) the growth in GDP has gone to the highest 10%, specifically the highest 1%, and over one-third of all wealth generated has gone to the top one-tenth of one percent. By contrast, the bottom 90 percent shared 9.1 percent of the income growth, 4) mobility has declined, 5) health benefits have declined.
A conversation around the current economic crisis needs to start with the ongoing, 35-year decline in middle-class income and poverty that was untouched by national growth in GDP. No trickle down.
Unemployment Right Now
Unemployment/economic downturn hits people differently by race and ethnicity -- much more dramatic increases in unemployment among black and Hispanic workers: In January 2009, unemployment for whites was estimated at 6.9 percent, 9.7 percent for latinos, and 12.6 percent for African Americans.
The current recession has resulted in 5 million job losses, over 11 million unemployed, and the trend lines are still getting worse. These figures do not include the "discouraged worker" who has given up and is no longer actively seeking work.
In January 2009, 22.4 percent of the unemployed has been unemployed for six months or more. In January 2007, there were 1.6 job seekers for every job opening; in December 2008, there were 4.1 job seekers per opening.
Underemployment -- including unemployed, marginally attached workers and the involuntary part-timers -- is 13.9 percent.
So what do we do about it?
The tough and contradictory choice individuals are facing is between increasing savings/paying down debt and increasing spending. Families need to lower debt and increase savings, while the economy needs increased spending.
How long will recovery take? We don't know. Credit crunch recessions tend to be sharp and short-lived; real estate recessions tend to be more mild but take longer to recovery. We have both at the same time; we don't know how long it will take to bring the economy back. Past recessions have taken 25-47 months to get back to peak-level employment. From March 2001 it took nearly 4 years to get back to peak employment. Most likely, working families are in this for the long haul.
Learn more about Heidi’s work and EPI’s readings on the economy on their website

Tapping the Mature Workforce—Baby Boomer Retirees Seeking Encore Careers in Nonprofits
Speaker: Martha Blaine, Community Council of Greater Dallas (Dallas, TX)
In the coming years there will be 77 million people reaching the traditional retirement age: NAPCsurvey point 76% of them intend to keep working , 57% of nonprofit EDs are age 50+, 75% of current EDs plan to leave their position by 2011 and nonprofits will need to recruit 640,000 new senior managers
50% of retirees from the for-profit and governmental sectors want jobs in the nonprofit sector. How will nonprofit organizations plan for the expected exodus of current leaders, and train and attract new leaders?
The report “Tapping Encore Talents” from civic ventures explores some of these areas.

Developing New Strategies in Bad Economic Times
Speaker: Patrick Linnane, The Planning Council, Milwaukee, WI
Discussion from all participants.
A lot of funders are realigning funding to basic needs leaving non-basic needs non-profits hanging. How can non-profits build reserves during bad times? Entrepreneurial changes needed.
Entrepreneurial changes might mean: getting rid of low-performing initiatives, merging when making sense, lobbying to secure funding, sticking to one’s knowledge base, expanding knowledge strategically, adapting outcomes measurements to reflect the change in funding level, situating the organizations between the different players without duplicating efforts nor competing, combining non-profit work with revenue generating activities.
Non-profit mergers: sometimes they happen out of tragedy. Some mergers make sense while other don’t, they should happen with caution.
The current economic downturn might mask the need to eliminate low performers.
Revenue generating activities: The Dupage Federation on Human Services reform has established a Language Access Resource Center. They offer interpreting services, interpreting training, and translations for fees – all of which help them make money for other aspects of their work.
Planning work should engage business aggressively since they are the ones that create job employment. Council must convince businesses that investing in the communities through partnerships and funding is more than a marketing tool for them – it really impacts welfare of the community as a whole, and the long-term health of workers as both workers and consumers of products.

Increasing Effectiveness in public policy development, research, and analysis
Presenting to Affect Public Policy
Speaker: Dr. Phillip Huang, Austin/ Travis County Health and Human Service Department
Presented the “System Dynamics Modeling” methodology as a new way to use data to affect policy. He is currently using it in the health field. The presentation was specifically about different scenarios with different prevalence of obesity as a result of different combinations of “upstream and downstream” interventions. The methodology allows estimating which intervention is most cost-effective.

Mapping Data to track Indicators, target solutions and maximize impact
Speaker: Jim Walker, Envision Central Texas
Jim presented the Central Texas Sustainability Indicator Project
Jim showed maps of socio-economic trends at the neighborhood level in Austin, at the Travis county level, and at a regional level. He recommended planning councils to tap into the resources of universities with graduate students who have mastered GIS mapping skills. “Do not try to learn ArcMap in one day - get a graduate student who can do the job well”

Using CLICKS to chart trends and save time
Speaker: Frances P. Deviney, Center for Public Policy Priorities
Check out the community level information on kids on

Mapping Data using accessible, no-cost tools for assessment and planning
Speaker: Sean Moran, Capital Area Council of Government (CAPCOG)
US Census Bureau – Led on the Map = maps showing where workers are employed and where they live :
Users with Google Earth can view CAPCOG's geospatial data by downloading KMZ files.

Using visual Imagery to describe the world
Speakers: Sunni Brown, BrightSpot Information Design
Sunni displayed ways in which illustrations, graphics recording and digital cartoons are applied for meeting mappings, facilitation, strategic visioning, systems & solutions mapping.
Check out her work at

Data Displays – 30 examples in 30 minutes
Speakers: Ben Warner, Jacksonville Community Council
Different ways to display data in an effective and engaging way:

Tactical Technology Collective
Visual Literacy Periodic Table of Visualization
Many Eyes
Graph Jam
So Many a Second
Mapping Worlds
Policy Maps
Instant Atlas
Every Block
My Apartment Map
Chris Jordan
The Mega Penny Project

Community Planning in a Digital World: New Methods of Community Engagement Speakers: Taylor Willinghan from Texas Forums, Silona Bonewald, League of Technical Voters
Taylor et all talked about the myriad ways that digital tools can be used for collaborative work.
Social Networks: Twitter and Facebook are effectively being used in the professional realm as tools for civic engagement, organizing, and voluntarism.
Blogs are currently being used as places for hyperlocal news, citizen journalism and placebloggers. Positive news about what is happening in communities are often submitted by unusual suspects. Example of letter submitted by fourth grade students in the Blog . Many blogs are hosting weekly podcast with local news. Blogs as forms of citizen participation might work best in communities that are already civic-minded.
Wikis - present an opportunity for collaborative work. One of the most basic wikis is
Other recommended sites:
Mind Mapping Software
Mind Manager
Mind Mapping
FreeMind (Open Source and free for Windows, Mac and Linux)
Knowbility – Organization focusing on barrier-free IT to support independence of people with disabilities
Search engine for blogs:
Training in Plain English

Read more ...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Saddest Cities, Manliest Cities, And More Silly Rankings

I've vented my opinion on the disturbing trend to rank cities using increasingly silly criteria (see the crack research staff that brought you America's Drunkest Cities.) Now two new rankings have hit my desk, and I thought I'd share their methodologies with you.

First, from Business Week comes a report on America's Unhappiest Cities (not to be confused with's America's Most Miserable Cities.) (Portland, Oregon's the Unhappiest City, and Stockton, California's the Most Miserable. The lists look nothing alike.)

Here's the Unhappiest Cities Methodology: ranked 50 of the largest metros based on a variety of factors including depression rates, suicide rates, divorce rates, crime, unemployment, population loss, job loss, weather and green space. The most heavily weighted factors were the depression, suicide, jobs (unemployment and job loss) and crime rates. The depression rate is based on survey and aggregated insurance reporting information at time of discharge, doctor's office visits and insurance process filings. The suicide rate is for 2004 and comes from The 2007 Big Cities Health Inventory compiled by the National Assembly of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO). The crime risk indexes for property and crime used for the scoring were based on FBI crime reporting for the seven most-recent available years. Divorce rates and 2009 population change come from the U.S. Census. The number of cloudy days came from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

And the Most Miserable Cities methodology:

We compiled our rankings by looking at the 150 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S., which meant those with a population of at least 378,000. We ranked those metros on nine factors: commute times, corruption, pro sports teams, Superfund sites, taxes (both income and sales), unemployment, violent crime and weather.

For this year's ranking, we added the corruption component. We used the criminal conviction of government officials in each area over the past decade as compiled by the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice.

But that's nothing compared to this list of America's Manliest Cities, with this indicator set developed by the people who put the cheesy stuff inside a crunchy snack and call it Combos (I wasn't aware they still sold them):

The Manly Methodology

The rankings were determined using 50 of the largest metropolitan areas as defined by the United States Census Bureau, which includes a central city and the surrounding county (or counties).

Each metro area received a manliness rating between 0 and 100 based on how well it performed in each of the study's manly categories. Factors used to determine the manliest city rankings included the number of U.S.-made cars driven in the city, number of sports bars and BBQ restaurants, number of home improvement and hardware stores as well as manly salty snacks consumption. All data was adjusted by the current population of the cities to arrive at "per capita" figures, providing an accurate comparison between cities of varying sizes.

"America's Manliest Cities"

1. Nashville, Tenn.
2. Charlotte, N.C.
3. Oklahoma City, Okla.
4. Cincinnati, Ohio
5. Denver, Colo.
6. St. Louis, Mo.
7. Columbus, Ohio
8. Kansas City, Mo.
9. Indianapolis, Ind.
10. Toledo, Ohio

Now aren't you feeling a little happier (and more rugged) for knowing this? What other city rankings (useful or ridiculous) do you enjoy?

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

NAPC Conference: The Economic Crisis, and Ways Forward

Heidi Shierholz, labor economist and co-author of "The State of Working America," addressed the NAPC conference next. She comes from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Her slideshow presentation will be available shortly. The key points are:

1. Since 1973, productivity in the U.S. has increased. Median wages have not.
2. Poverty has stagnated since 1973.
3. The growth in GDP has gone to the highest 10%, specifically the highest 1%, and over one-third of all wealth generated has gone to the top one-tenth of one percent. By contrast, the bottom 90 percent shared 9.1 percent of the income growth.
4. Mobility declined.
5. Health benefits have declined.

And the economic bad news continues. This suggests that the conversation around the current economic crisis needs to start with the ongoing, 35-year decline in middle-class income and resistant poverty that was untouched by national growth in GDP.

The current recession has us with a 5 million job loss, over 11 million unemployed, and the trend lines still getting worse. And this does not include the "discouraged worker" who has given up and is no longer actively seeking work.

In January 2009, 22.4 percent of the unemployed has been unemployed for six months or more.

In January 2007, there were 1.6 job seekers for every job opening; in December 2008, there were 4.1 job seekers per opening.

Underemployment -- including unemployed, marginally attached workers and the involuntary part-timers -- is 13.9 percent. And unemployment/recession hits people differently by race and ethnicity -- much more dramatic increases in unemployment among black and Hispanic workers.

So what do we do about it?

The Wall Street actions try to get the credit markets flowing so that lenders can lend to businesses that want to expand capacity and people can make big-ticket purchases. The stimulus package intervenes on the demand side through job creation in infrastructure repairs and investments, relief for state governments, consumer supports (such as additional help for the long-term unemployed, food stamps and heating assistance), and tax cuts. (Heidi referenced Mark Zandi and his analysis of the stimulus package.)

The tough choice right now for individuals is between increasing savings/paying down debt and increasing spending. Families need to lower debt and increase savings, while the economy needs increased spending.

How long will recovery take? We don't know. Credit crunch recessions tend to be sharp and short-lived; real estate recessions tend to be more mild but take longer to recovery. We have both at the same time; we don't know how long it will take to bring the economy back. Past recessions have taken 25-47 months to get back to peak-level employment. From March 2001 it took nearly 4 years to get back to peak employment. Most likely, working families are in this for the long haul.

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NAPC Conference: Drivers of Change and What They Mean for Human Services and Local Communities

The opening session on Tuesday of the National Association of Planning Councils (NAPC) annual conference was led by Jerry Friedman, executive director of the American Public Human Services Association.

From their website: The American Public Human Services Association, founded in 1930, is a nonprofit, bipartisan organization of state and local human service agencies and individuals who work in or are interested in public human service programs. Our mission is to develop and promote policies and practices that improve the health and well-being of families, children, and adults. We educate Congress, the media, and the general public on social policies and practices and help state and local public human service agencies achieve their desired outcomes in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, child care, child support, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, child welfare, and other program areas and issues that affect families, the elderly, and people who are economically disadvantaged.

Friedman began: It's said that the key to being a successful human services planner is simply outliving the opposition.

Charles Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." The same describes today. Human Services is a counter-cyclical business: when times are tough and funding is lowest, the needs are greatest. We in human services have always lacked resources. The job is extraordinarily tough. The goals are so high. Our failures are very visible. We are working to put ourselves out of business. We conduct our business in the open. We make a mistake and it's on the front of the newspaper. We have zero tolerance for failure.

The economy is getting worse and worse. States are in deficit situations. The challenges of child abuse, lack of health insurance, unemployment, and other human needs are huge and are growing.

Our work is cut out for us. We need to be strategic in our approaches to meet these challenges. But I am somewhat optimistic -- this is an opportunity for transformation.

Here is one quick example: The election this last year was a monumental change in this country. I'm very optimistic since I live in a country that would make this kind of change. I remember the civil rights movement, and never thought I would live to see this day.

The APHSA developed a set of policy recommendations for the new administration. The executive summary of their report, "Unity of Purpose: Dignity, Independence, Responsibility," says:

The United States faces its worst economic challenge in decades. APHSA's members, the nation's public health and human service administrators, share the widespread alarm over the difficult circumstances under which so many now suffer. As the nation's experts in helping to alleviate need and promoting the highest possible degree of health and independence, we propose a plan that will:

  • create a health and human service system that moves beyond the dysfunction of the past

  • provide the flexibility necessary for state and local agencies to flourish, yet hold both federal and state health and human service leaders accountable

  • deal realistically and with transparency about budget issues

  • pay for what works, not simply what we can count

We need better measures of poverty. We can't go back to the 1950s to determine economic deprivation. We need to figure out economic safety nets, health care, and federal-state relationships. The report has a series of recommendations on what we need to do. I see out of this administration a willingness to begin the dialogue to make this happen.

The Focal Point document, Unity of Purpose, was met among the membership with a tremendous sense of urgency. We highlighted the things that could be done within 30 days, and many of these items made it into the stimulus package.

We need to focus first on federal and state relations. We need to restore the match rates. We need to frame the issue from a partnership perspective, with flexibility, with options instead of waivers.

The second was health care. First was SCHIP -- and that's now done. We identified 7 regulations that would have been damaging, and there's now a moratorium on them.

Child well-being is a priority. We want reform of the CFSR process -- no state has passed this process, and it's not working as well as being damaging.

Economic supports, such as child support and TANF reauthorization, need work. Reauthorization for TANF comes up in 2010, and it needs significant reform.

We're at a changing time. Technology is changing how we communicate. That is increasing the rapidity of communication, but also decreasing the civility. (Note: Here's Jerry Friedman's blog:

Do what you've always done, but act like you're on steroids. We have a short window with the stimulus package to think and act rationally. We don't have an exit strategy for this. We need to make sure we understand that the resources coming in are temporary and may be gone in 18 months.

Let's rely on what we know works, but do this more rapidly.

Welfare reform was a success -- not just in many of its outcomes, but in how it was developed. We began with a movement, not a law. Over 40 states had tried new ways to meet needs of the people, and the law came after. And we learned some things.

  • We knew that there was a compelling case for change.

  • We learned real change came from the community.

  • We learned that we needed to work together in partnerships.

  • We learned we had to look at the whole person, with all of the problems they faced.

  • We learned that a range of policies were needed in order to be effective.

There's a critical opportunity to lead the nation in making change.

  • First, we need to be clear about policy and planning. They are often different things. Too often, policy is simply compliance. Policy needs to be grounded in operational reality. But we shouldn't be afraid to dream. We have an opportunity for out-of-the-box solutions.

  • Let's be clear about what we're trying to solve. We're not always clear about what success looks like.

  • We need to be data driven. In God we trust; for everything else we need data.

  • We have to create options and big course corrections. We need flexibility, looking at best practices.

  • Let's look at the arguments and be proactive in understanding who won't like the proposed changes -- and why.

  • We need to think holistically. How will all these things impact other systems?

  • We need to be realistic, living within our means and doing what we can afford.

  • We need to get better at sales and marketing. We haven't been really good at getting our message out. We must get better.

  • We need to take advantage of the times. This means making the tough decisions that we were reluctant to make when times were good.

The times are tough, yes. But they're also good. I'm optimistic we can make the changes we need.

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NAPC Conference: Community Planning 101

On Monday afternoon, the National Association of Planning Councils held a workshop called Community Planning 101.

Community planning as performed by planning councils is not defined by organizational structure, collaborative partnerships, funding streams, functional areas, topics under discussion, or the kinds of flowcharts you might see in an analytical definition. Especially in today's rapidly-shifting environment when technology, tools, and information are transforming before our eyes.

Instead, something else defines the work.

Peter Stoddard said, "“Planning councils are defined primarily by their agency value structures." 

The NAPC defines those values as follows:

1. Commitment to community and involvement of a broad and diverse constituency
2. Comprehensive perspective reflected in decisions and actions
3. Inclusive decision-making that strives for consensus
4. Diverse viewpoints respected and encouraged in decisions and actions
5. Positive working relationships with all sectors of the community
6. Objective data and information used to support decisions and action
7. Focus on systems change and sustainable, long-term solutions
8. Principled leadership producing measurable results

More information on community planning and planning councils is available at

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NAPC Conference: Preparing for the Impact of Census Changes on Community Planning

The opening session of the National Association of Planning Councils (NAPC) conference was titled "Preparing for the Impact of Census Changes on Community Planning." [Update: Read about the session in this article in the Austin American-Statesman. ] Will Wynn, mayor of Austin, Texas (where the conference is being held), welcomed the 200+ people packed into the Austin City Hall and spoke of the importance of reliable, timely data for good policy and resource allocation. In growing communities like Austin, the need for updated data is even more crucial.

Judge Sam Biscoe, chair of the Capitol Area Council of Governments, said a few words about the importance of the Census products for the 10-county region.

Vanessa Sarria, of the Community Action Network, introduced the program. Ben Warner, president of the NAPC, thanked the audience, the City of Austin, the Community Action Network, and everyone else who put the program together, then got out of the way so that the real conversation could begin.

Susan Schechter, Chief of the American Community Survey (ACS), spoke first. Her powerpoint presentation will be online shortly, and I'll link to it when it is.

The American Community Survey is a nationwide survey that collects population characteristics and housing information every year, replacing the Census long form that was collected only every 10 years. After testing the survey for a few years, in 2005, the ACS expanded to cover in all counties in the 50 states and the District of Columbia (as well as Puerto Rico, where it's called the Puerto Rico Community Survey.) Other U.S. territories (such as Guam) are not covered by the ACS and will still have the Census long form in 2010.

The Census long form surveyed about 1 out of 6 households (about 16 percent of the total population.) The ACS surveys about 3 million addresses annually, or about 2.2 percent of the population. This means that the ACS has some tradeoffs between reliability and currency (timeliness, not money).

The Census long form data was a point-in-time survey. The ACS instead is a continual survey process. Every month households are surveyed. For annual estimates, twelve months of data are combined. For three or five year estimates, 36-month and 60-month data sets are used.

For areas of 65,000 or more, one-year estimates of population characteristics are available. For areas of 20,000 and up, three-year estimates are available. For areas under 20,000 population, the only estimates available are five-year estimates.

In 2006, the ACS sample was expanded to include the population living in group quarters. Group quarters include nursing homes, correctional facilities, military barracks, and college/university housing among others.

In 2008, the first 3-year estimates were released. The first 5-year estimates will be released in 2010.

In 2008, there was also some major changes in the survey, including data about people with disabilities. Data users should pay close attention to the ACS guidelines for how to use the data and which data can be compared to prior years.

Alfredo Navarro, Assistant Division Chief, ACS Statistical Studies, U.S. Census Bureau, spoke next. He provided more technical information on the ACS (his presentation should also be online shortly.) He recommended a series of publications on how to use the ACS, including a new design and methodology report due out in March.

After this overview, Jim Walker, Executive Director of the Central Texas Indicators Project (and a board member of the Community Indicators Consortium introduced the panel charged with discussing the challenges that arise as a result of the Census changes and how community leaders can prepare for those changes. Panelists included:

  • Susan Schechter, Chief, ACS Office
  • Alfredo Navarro, Assistant Division Chief, ACS Statistical Studies
  • Robert Kominski, Assistant Division Chief, Social Characteristics Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, Census
  • Nicole Scanniello, Coordinator, ACS Organization
  • Karl Eschbach, Texas State Demographer and Director of the Texas State Data Center
  • Ryan Robinson, Demographer, City of Austin
  • Mark Salling, Research Director, The Center for Community Solutions, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County Commissioner

The panelists raised some of the challenges faced by data users in transitioning to the new data products. The Census data was predictable and understandable, and had clear information available for small areas. While data users understood there was a margin of error with the information, the margin of error was small and relatively constant, and was effectively ignored by policy makers. It was a single source that could be used by researchers and legislators and communities.

Now there are multiple data products, and data users have choices on which data set to use (if they are looking at a geography of over 65,000 or even over 20,000 population -- under 20,000 has no choices). Choices can bring confusion. The margins of error are necessarily bigger. The one, three, and five-year estimates don't match in a given year (they shouldn't, after all, unless the trend lines were static, but that isn't always intuitive.)

Small-area data and subgroup data are less reliable than in the past, because the sample sizes are smaller. Even five-year estimates will only have a sample size of 11 percent of the housing units, lower than the 16 percent from the Census long form. Other knowledge is often needed to interpret the data.

But there are benefits to the new system, not all of them obvious or just related to timeliness. Instead of temporary census workers distributing the long form and following up, a professional staff of researchers does the work full-time. The reduction in non-sampling errors makes up for the reduced-sampling margin of error. (My translation: the Census long form had bad data in it that we all ignored because it was all we had. Having people collect the data who know what they're doing is a Very Good Thing.) My favorite quote from the session, which I will leave unattributed, was this: "We had census tracts with zero answers to some of the questions on population characteristics, so we imputed the data. "Imputed" means we made it up." (Hasty statement from Someone In Charge: "The Census doesn't say that. The Census has a scientific methodology for careful imputations.")

The ACS has a 97 percent response rate, which is pretty good. We were cautioned, however, not to try to compare 3-year estimates in one area to 1-year estimates in another -- the same level of data should be used consistently. We were also reminded that care should be used in comparing three-year or five-year estimates to the following year's three-year estimates (or five-year.) The difference between the 2005-07 and 2006-08 estimates isn't the change from 2007 to 2008; it's the change between 2005 and 2008.

All in all, a surprisingly enjoyable and incredibly informative session. You should have been there.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

NAPC Conference: Keepin' It Weird in Austin, Texas

I'm in Austin, Texas today for the 2009 Conference of the National Association of Planning Councils (NAPC). I'm looking forward to some pretty exciting sessions, and will be sharing some tidbits here as the conference goes along.

I've mentioned NAPC before, but here's a couple of things you ought to know about the organization:

  • Planning councils are in to measuring community indicators in a big way. The Reno conference that launched the Community Indicators Consortium was co-sponsored by NAPC, and they have held joint conferences with CIC to help share the importance of measuring trends at the local level.
  • Planning councils are action-oriented kinds of organizations. They use information to inform policy, shape decision-making, implement programs, and make life better for people in the communities they serve.
  • Planning councils are struggling. People (governments, philanthropic organizations, individuals) like to fund direct service. Big-picture stuff is a harder sell -- but it's the big picture that makes the direct service work work. Figuring out what needs doing, what's working, what's not working, and where the resources need to be targeted is even more critical in times of resource scarcity.

OK, I'm off my soapbox now. If you're working for a planning council, good for you. If not, go support your local planning council. And if your community no longer has one -- if budget crunches and active neglect has forced the planning council to close its doors or morph into just a direct service organization -- now would be a really good time to try to bring it back.

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