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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The State of Black America 2009

Many of you know I'm heavily involved with Jacksonville's annual Race Relations Progress Report. A critical component of community indicators, in my opinion, is understanding the disparities and disproportionalities in those indicators -- measuring the progress of a community means understanding how that progress is distributed among members of that community.

That's why I always look forward to the release of the next State of Black America report by the National Urban League.

The report is garnering more attention this year, with the results of last November's presidential election providing a critical context to understanding the conversation around race and opportunity in the United States. That may be why this year's report is subtitled "A Message to the President."

Leonard Pitts, a Pulitzer-prize-winning columnist at the Miami Herald, offered some insights into the challenges of measuring racial progress. In this CNN commentary, Pitts explains:

Psychology professor Richard Eibach was reported last year in the Washington Post as having found that in judging racial progress, white people and black ones tend to use different yardsticks. Whites use the yardstick of how far we have come from the nation we used to be. Blacks use the yardstick of how far we have yet to go to be the nation we ought to be.

The most complete picture, of course, requires both measures. But who can be surprised that blacks and whites each tend to gravitate toward the measure that is most forgiving of their individual groups, that shoves the onus for change off on the other? The black yardstick, after all, leaves black people no obligation other than to demand justice and equality from white people. The white yardstick requires of white people only that they exhort black people to become more self-reliant and take more responsibility for their own problems.

Pitt goes on to explain why we need to measure using both yardsticks, and praises the National Urban League for doing so.

The bigger idea of thinking about how we measure -- what our "yardstick" is -- is an important one for any of our indicator systems. It's more than thinking about what our goals/targets might be, but whether we should measure toward a goal or from a baseline. It raises questions about how we describe the data -- are we better than we used to be or not where we ought to be?

I like the questions raised. I also like the National Urban League's annual report. Check it out and let me know what you think.

ETA: Check out this op-ed piece for an example of conflicting yardsticks.

ETA2: Also see this discussion of why measuring race matters.


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