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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, May 29, 2009

Webinar: DataSpeak: New Findings from the 2007 NSCH

Here's an announcement of a webinar on on children's health data you might want to attend:

DataSpeak: New Findings from the 2007 NSCH

The MCH Information Resource Center, funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is pleased to announce the next program in the DataSpeak Series: "New Findings from the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH).

"This will be one of the very first presentations on the results of this important survey. The NSCH, funded and directed by MCHB, administered by the National Center for Health Statistics and disseminated on the Data Resource Center website, examines the physical and emotional health of children from birth through 17 years of age. Emphasis is placed on factors that may be related to the well-being of children, including medical homes, family interactions, parental health, school experiences, and neighborhood safety.

This Web conference will provide an overview of the survey methodology, discuss potential applications of the survey as well as selected findings, and provide information about accessing National- and State-level survey data online and highlight key State-level survey results.

Details and Registration

This program will take place on Tuesday, June 2, 2009, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. ET (1pm Central, 12noon Mountain, 11am Pacific). For full program details, please visit the MCHIRC Web site at:

To register for this event, please go to DataSpeak registration at:

When you register, you will receive the details on how to participate in the Web conference. There is no cost to participate in this program.If you have any questions at all, please contact MCHIRC at , or 202-842-2000.

About the Data Resource Center

The CAHMI Data Resource Center (DRC) website is a user-friendly and interactive resource that offers users immediate access to standardized results from the NSCH and the National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs datasets. The overarching goal of the DRC is to advance evidence-based program planning, evaluation, policy and advocacy. DRC users can view state-level summary profiles, generate rankings across all states, and interactively produce downloadable tables and graphs. The DRC website also provides tools and resources to help users learn about, interpret and present data findings. The website is designed to meet the needs of people with data skills of all levels - from beginning to advanced. Expert help from DRC staff is readily available by email: or phone: (503) 494-1930.

Read more ...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Open Government Link List from GovLoop

Jeffry Levy shared this list of news and links for increased government transparency and data sharing on GovLoop:

U.S. Government YouTube hub: gives you quick access to all agency channels.

White House blog post re: Gov't 2.0: Bev Godwin highlights social media projects all across government. Features a video with White House New Media Director Macon Phillips giving a guided tour of many gov't 2.0 sites. the new gov't-wide site designed to give you raw data to play with. Mashups, anyone?

Round 2 of the Open Gov't Initiative: the White House invites all Americans to suggest ideas on how to make the gov't more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. The site features an innovations gallery, showing the best of open gov't.

Those are all from the gov't itself. But also today, the Sunlight Foundation launched
Apps for America 2, where people are invited to create good uses for gov't data they find on

And here's my bold prediction: in a year, we'll look back on this stuff and laugh at how little we were doing back then.

Just thought you might want to know.

Read more ...

Surburban Sprawl and CO2 Emissions: Maps

The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index group at the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) have released a new map showing differences in greenhouse gas emissions for urban v. suburban households within metro regions.

They state:

At first glance, cities may appear to be a big source of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. But new research by CNT, which compares greenhouse gas emissions of city and suburban households, yields some surprising results.

CNT looked at emissions of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, stemming from household vehicle travel in 55 metropolitan areas across the U.S. When measured on a per household basis, we found that the transportation-related emissions of people living in cities and compact neighborhoods can be nearly 70% less than those living in suburbs.

This is in addition to the maps they have on housing+transportation costs and gas cost impacts.

The presentation is interesting and might spark discussion about land-use patterns and the costs of sprawl in your community. I only wish they had more of the metro regions in the US covered.

(Hat tip: NNIP)

Read more ...

Defining Community for Community Indicators

I received this note via email from Legenis and found it a nice thought for the day:

A Sense of Community

Community is not a group of people or an organisation. Community is an outlook toward life in which you define yourself in relation to the world around you rather than only in connection with yourself. It is the opposite of narcissism. It is what develops as your narcissism advances from self-love to love of the other.

I speak of “community” rather than “your community”, because the perimeters of your community shift and change. Your community might be the people at your workplace or in your organisation. They might be your neighbours or fellow citizens. Ultimately, a full sense of community embraces the entire world, the people, creatures and objects that are a part of it.

You don’t literally have to be active in a society to be part of a community, but if you are not cognizant of the society of which you are a part, then you risk being cut off, limited to your own concerns, and of course, lonely. Even hermits and solitary artists can feel profoundly connected to the world in which they live and work.

Source: Thomas Moore, “A Life at Work”

Read more ...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

ABTA Conference, Part II

(You can see my earlier notes on the ABTA Conference here.)

The next panel at the conference was on the Marriage of Planning, Budgeting, and Performance Metrics. The only powerpoint presented was of a logic model based on Mark Friedman's work.

Robert McMillan, founder of ScotCro, LLC (which describes itself as "a driver of government accountability") spoke first. They have been collecting unit cost information nationally. This is different from ranking efforts in that it is not survey-oriented but taken from published reports -- taking the expenditures and activities and developing a unit cost. The goal initially was to develop unit cost information for 10 states, selected because their budget and activity data were presented in proximity to each other. One thing they discovered was that there was little practical application in the way data were submitted to legislatures. Their most important finding was that there was no correlation between activity and cost, no way to match dollars to their activities, and no way to determine either effectiveness or efficiencies. The state of Florida was the only exception.

David Tanner, Division Director responsible for Performance Management in the Georgia Office of Planning and Budget (and a fellow BYU graduate!) spoke of Georgia's experience with results-based budgeting. In 1994, Georgia passed laws to require results-based budgeting. In 2006, the budgeting process moved to program-based rather than line-item based. They are supported by the bi-annual publication of Georgia in Perspective (PDF). They use a logic model to determine inputs, activities, outputs, and short, medium, and long-range outcomes, answering the questions How much did we do? How well did we do it? Who's better off/How are they better off?

Activities-based costing is not an end in itself, but a means to better trending and decision-making. They have to be supported by a series of measures, which require data collection and a series of assumptions about what the data mean. This allows for collaboration with both public and private data reporting and efforts, since many of the intended outcomes are similar and multiple viewpoints can be helpful.

Peter Miller comes from Indiana's Office of Management and Budget in the Government Efficiency & Financial Planning division. They use 2,000 internal performance metrics, as well as aggregate up to a few high-level indicators that can be seen at Miller suggested that creating an index is "interesting, but not actionable," and urged us to stay away from indices as a measurement tool (a position that I wholeheartedly agree with.) The biggest difference, he added, between government and business is politics -- which is why he refers to "performance-informed budgeting" rather than performance-based since, in the political process, politicians can always say they don't care what the data say and want to fund a particular program anyway. He also said, when working with politicians, a few high-level indicators that tell the story in broad terms are much more useful than many detailed indicators -- the details are for management, not for legislators or other elected officials.

The point of high-level indicators (think of a pyramid where many smaller measures support the top measures) is not just to drive costs down. The point is to look at effectiveness. In Indiana, we could see that we weren't achieving the outcomes we wanted in child services and knew where we were falling short, so we hired an additional 800 caseworkers.

Mark Abrahams, of The Abrahams Group, said that activities are the core of a good auditing system. We connect costs to results through the activities. Using a logic model helps us respond intelligently to the reality that outcomes cross departments, so on one page of a logic model we can include multiple departments that are working together towards shared outcomes.

A key first step for governments is to institute timesheets that are activity-based. 75 percent of your expenditures are in salaries, and if you can't connect the salaries to the hours spent per activity you can't manage activity costs. The logic model also helps make sure that the activities are aligned with the mission.

That conversation took us until lunch. I'll continue with my notes in another post.

Read more ...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Data.Gov Launched

We told you last month that was coming. Now the new site has launched.

From OMB Director Peter Orszag at the White House Briefing Room Blog:

Today, I'm pleased to announce that the Federal CIO Council is launching Created as part of the President's commitment to open government and democratizing information, will open up the workings of government by making economic, healthcare, environmental, and other government information available on a single website, allowing the public to access raw data and transform it in innovative ways.

Such data are currently fragmented across multiple sites and formats—making them hard to use and even harder to access in the first place. will change this, by creating a one-stop shop for free access to data generated across all federal agencies. The catalog will allow the American people to find, use, and repackage data held and generated by the government, which we hope will result in citizen feedback and new ideas. will also help government agencies—so that taxpayer dollars get spent more wisely and efficiently. Through live data feeds, agencies will have the ability to easily access data both internally and externally from other agencies, which will allow them to maintain higher levels of performance. In the months and years ahead, our goal is to continuously improve and update with a wide variety of available datasets and easy-to-use tools based on public feedback and as we modernize legacy systems over time.

Democratizing government data will help change how government operates—and give citizens the ability to participate in making government services more effective, accessible, and transparent.

You can also see a video demonstration of the site. I'm still playing around with it -- it seems to have a nicer interface than, but the "tools" section really just links you to the agency website that has the data -- just like FedStats did (still does, actually).

The "raw data" search function is the most interesting, with data sets available in XML, CSV/Text, KML/KMZ, and ESRI formats -- that's really neat and should be fantastically useful.  "Should be," that is, because right now there's not a lot there.

If you listen to the effusive claims for the new site, pay attention to the key phrase: "is going to democratize data." Right now it's a limited set of data. I'm looking forward to what comes next.

Read more ...

PARADISO FP7 Project Update

Here's a note from Roger Torrenti you might be interested in:

All of you have probably already heard of the OECD “Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies” which had been presented by Jon Hall at the PARADISO workshop of June 2008 and by Enrico Giovannini at the “ICT for a global sustainable future” Conference of last January (see Some of you may even have had the opportunity to discuss this Project at the PARADISO conference with Lynda Hawe, in charge of the ICT aspects of this Project.

The Global Project will be at the core of the 3rd OECD World Forum on “Statistics, Knowledge and Policy”, to take place in Busan, Korea, from Oct. 27 to 30, 2009, on the theme “Charting Progress, Building Visions, Improving Life”. An International exhibition will be a major side event of this Forum (50 exhibitors, 250 booths are expected). Please note: the exhibition is free of charge but early applications are recommended.

To register for or exhibit at this event, please visit

Read more ...

Book Review: Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell

You know Malcolm Gladwell from The Tipping Point and Blink. Last night I had the opportunity to read Outliers: The Story of Success, and thought it might be of interest to some of the readers here.

This is a different kind of book, more in the mode of Freakonomics than anything else. While trying to discuss success, Gladwell outlines a series of interesting data points that suggest that our cultural story of how someone becomes successful is (at best) incomplete.

Some of the data-driven anecdotes are interesting -- why hockey players are more likely to be born in the month of January suggests that the notions of equality of opportunity are mistaken. Some are poignant, as he discusses in the end chapter the influences that led his mother to success. Some are merely intriguing -- why some birth years mattered for successful computer programmers, Jewish lawyers, and wealthy capitalists. (You're left at the end of these chapters with a sense of knowing something you didn't know before, but feeling that this knowledge is essentially trivial -- it has no predictive or replicative power, can't be used to design program or policy, and doesn't do you any individual or collective good in searching for how to be successful.)

The chapters that would seem to hold some promise for discussion about community-level indicators make these points:

1. There's no substitute for hard work. Success takes 10,000 hours of investment before it pays off. Those that succeed have a level of competence, the opportunity for those 10,000 hours, and the drive/diligence to accomplish the hard work. While Gladwell doesn't get prescriptive here, this implies something for those involved in community-building about access to opportunities for practice and investment of time in a given arena.

2. Culture matters. He traces the influence of Scotch-Irish immigration patterns into Appalachia on codes of honor and honor-related violence and murder rates in the American South. (He stops much too soon on this topic: read this with Code of the Street and you may start drawing conclusions that the inexplicable internal urban violence we face may have its roots in culture transfer from Scotch-Irish slaveholders. I'd love to see more work on this topic, and means to move beyond explanatory to actionable policy.) He also takes Asian proficiency in mathematics back to the differences in rice and wheat cultivation, differences in language systems, and differences in length of the school year. I found useful the point at which he began to describe how Korean Airlines crashes were reduced once cultural deference patterns were identified and pilots trained specifically to operate in a different cultural milieu, but this section ended much too soon again to get into how one addresses disadvantages of culture.

3. Summer vacation hurts poor children. This section on public education is worth exploring further, as he suggests that public education systems are working for poor, middle-income, and upper-income children who all make roughly equivalent learning gains during the year, but upper-income children also make learning gains over the summer while poor children slide backward. He traces a large portion of the achievement gap in public education to summer breaks, and touts the KIPP schools as an answer to this problem. I suspect the answer is a little more complicated (see JCCI's Eliminating the Achievement Gap discussion), but if we're serious about improving educational opportunity, using an outdated agricultural model to schedule class hours doesn't seem to make sense.

Overall, an intriguing book -- not likely to have the impact of The Tipping Point, but worthy of reading and prompting more discussion, especially among community indicators practitioners. The book suggests that we need to be doing a better job of mining the data for unexpected patterns -- I'd love your thoughts on that.

Read more ...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Nice Article about David Swain

Many of you know, or have worked with, David Swain. Here is a nice article about David from our local newspaper that you might enjoy reading.

Read more ...

Update on 3rd OECD World Forum: Are you going?

3rd OECD World Forum on “Statistics, Knowledge and Policy”
Charting Progress, Building Visions, Improving Life
Busan, Korea - 27th to 30th of October 2009
  • Is life getting better? Are our societies really making progress?
  • What does progress mean for our societies?
  • What are the new paradigms to measure progress?
  • How can better policies within these new paradigms foster the progress of societies?

The 3rd OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy will address these crucial questions that today, in the current economic crisis, have become more important than ever. The Forum will attract some 1500 high level participants, and more than 200 authoritative speakers with a mixture of politicians, policy makers, heads of international organisations, opinion leaders, Nobel laureates, statisticians, academics, journalists and representatives of civil society from all over the world.

The Forum, through 47 sessions (click here for the Preliminary Agenda (PDF)), will offer political leaders, leading thinkers and a wide range of key stakeholders the opportunity to:

Challenge some of the contemporary notions of societal progress;
Discuss new visions of progress, identify concrete post-crisis efforts for fostering the effective improvement of people’s lives and appropriate ways to measure it;
Better understand the potential role that evidence-based debate amongst citizens could play in policy making and fostering societal change for the better;
Promote the establishment of regional and national fora to support this process.

Invited and confirmed speakers include: Alicia Bárcena Ibarra (United Nations Executive Secretary of ECLAC), Angel Gurría (Secretary General, OECD), Noeleen Heyzer (Executive Secretary of UNESCAP), Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (President of Liberia), Donald Kaberuka (President of the African Development Bank), Geoff Mulgan (Director, Young Foundation), Sergey Stepashin (Chairman of the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation), Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences).

If you have not received an official invitation and you would like to attend the 3rd OECD World Forum, please write to us at preregisterKorea2009[AT] attaching information on the reason for your interest and giving details of your professional qualifications, as well as web links to some of your work, where appropriate.

International Exhibition
The Exhibition at the OECD 3rd World Forum will focus on issues related to "Charting Progress, Building Visions, Improving Life".

The scope will include new technologies for visualizing statistics, initiatives to measure and foster quality of life at local and national levels, eco-friendly green technology and with a particular focus on promoting green growth and social cohesion.

The Exhibition will be free of charge and we hope to have places for about 50 exhibitors, with 250 booths. Read more

The 3rd OECD World Forum is organised by the OECD and the Government of Korea (Korean National Statistical Office, KNSO) in co-operation with the United Nations, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the European Commission and the World Bank, and in association with the International Statistical Institute and Paris21.

Visit the Forum website:

Read more ...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Notes on the ABTA Conference

I mentioned earlier that I would be speaking at the ABTA Conference. I took a few notes during the sessions that I'd like to share with you.

The good news is, all the presentations are now online. The videos of each session are said to be coming soon. This means you can skip my comments and go straight to the source, if you'd like.

Still here? All right then. I strongly recommend watching the videos when they are available -- this was a fantastic discussion, and I applaud the organizers for bringing all the pieces together. My notes follow the break:

Our first speaker was Congressman Bill Posey. Until the video of his presentation is available, you can watch his short (one-minute) summary of ABTA instead:

Deborah Carstens, director of ABTA, spoke next. She introduced the ABTA Data Reports website which has information on government expenditures and performance benchmarks for all 50 states and many of the counties within states. She estimated that they have 230,000 tables in their website, and it's still growing (the whole institute is less than a year old). Take a look.

We were next treated to a panel on Policy and Government Accountability, chaired by Gary VanLandingham, Director of the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability for the Florida Legislature. Gary suggested that talking about using performance data in budgets is not a new idea -- in 1918-19 folks were talking about the same thing -- but that adoption has been slow. Currently, 39 states collect data, and 22 legislatures say they use the data in developing budgets. The problems are twofold: there's a cultural divide between rational data-gathering folks and politicians, and there's a communication problem in sharing that data in useful and meaningful ways. (Gary's powerpoint is available here.)

Judy Zelio, recently retired from the National Conference of State Legislatures, spoke next. She has just published some work on this issue with the IBM Business of Government website. Her powerpoint presentation is also available. Her point was that accountability means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. If you have cooperation between the executive and legislative branches you can move accountability forward much more quickly than if there's discord. In late April, NCSL reported that states are facing a combined $300 billion shortfall, evidence of a crisis in state revenues, and that FY2010 funding looks to be down 18 percent with no expected improvements in FY2011.

Jean Vandal presented without a powerpoint, so you'll have to wait for the video to be put online to get a fuller sense of her remarks. She's a Special Assistant with the Louisiana State University system with a great deal of experience in state government. She's serving on the steering committee of the Comparative Performance Measurement Project, a cooperative effort of the Urban Institute and NCSL. She said that Louisiana's move to performance-based budgeting was "uniquely designed" for Louisiana. She listed three keys to their effort:

1. This is hard work. It takes staff and resources, with an emphasis on good policy wonks. They used agency strategic plans to select the performance measures, which meant that the agencies couldn't attack or disavow the data -- they had already identified the measures as important and were supposedly using the data. The first two years of the project they agreed not to use the performance measures to issue findings against an agency to allow for auditing of processes and improving data collection.

2. The second key is that this work requires a champion. Someone needs to be pushing forward on the issue. It will take time and so needs someone committed to the effort for the long haul.

3. The third key is that the effort must be sustained. While it is hard to start, it is even harder to keep it going. Bureaucrats will try to outlast politicians. We need to have bureaucrats see the effort as positive -- as a way to tell their story and get credit for what they are accomplishing -- not just punitive. The annual budget cycle makes it tough to have broad outcome measures. Some issues cross agency boundaries and shared responsibilities. It's hard to assign some of these (like decreasing poverty) as solely one agency's responsibility.

Even with these three keys in place, prepare for the unexpected. Katrina and Rita destroyed trendlines and targets. Unit costs and comparability are tough, as is capturing all the costs when the efforts cross lines. It takes concentrated effort and care to make sure that the information presented is in a fashion that will inform the public.

The panelists answered questions -- some highlights from their responses follow:

Budget decisions are about values. Performance measures will inform decisions, but never make the decisions -- we aren't the ones who are elected. Good performance measurement systems help the elected officials make the difficult political choices.

Unit costs are only part of a broader picture. They don't say how effective you're performing, just how cheaply. We need both the costs and the outcomes/results.The performance management system has to be part of a long-term issue. You have to link results to costs or else we're left with a race to the bottom. At the same time, we can't define success so narrowly that we guarantee failure.

Florida Performs is a good example of of being general enough to get the broad picture without too high a level of detail. We need to have systems that can paint the big picture and then allow for drilling down to higher levels of detail if necessary. Too much detail up front only muddies the waters.

That got us to 10:30. The rest of my notes will have to follow in another post.

Read more ...

Newly Released: 2007 National Survey of Children's Health

Here's an update I think you'll be excited about: The Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative (CAHMI) is pleased to announce "point and click" online access to national- and state-level findings from the JUST RELEASED 2007 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH).

Get and compare state-level data on over 100 child health indicators on topics such as obesity, insurance, medical home, mental health, risk for developmental delays, dental health and much more! View findings by many subgroups of children, such as by household income, race/ethnicity, insurance coverage and health status.

Begin your customized data search on the online Data Resource Center website at

I don't know if you're familiar with the Data Resource Center website, but it's a nice resource from the folks at CAHMI (the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative) that we introduced to you some time back. I like the tools available, as context for the specific trends in our communities.

Take a look!

Read more ...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Call for “Real Stories” proposals

Here's an announcement from the Community Indicators Consortium I need to pass along:

Call for “Real Stories” proposals

The Community Indicators Consortium (CIC), as part of a grant with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is seeking proposals to write “Real Stories” of communities, organizations and/or jurisdictions that have tried—successfully and not-so-successfully—to integrate community indicators and organizational performance measures.

For the purposes of the Real Stories project:

• Community indicators are generally measures of conditions or outcomes important to community residents, such as sustaining the natural environment or maintaining a vital economy or taking part in arts and cultural activities
• Performance measures are generally management results, outputs of services, efficiency, or outcome measures tracked by specific agencies or organizations that provide services or benefits to the public, such as parks and recreation or maintaining roads and sewers or improving public health and safety.

The Real Stories project is intended to provide real life examples of the advantages and challenges to both community indicator and organizational performance measurement projects as a result of integrating these two types of efforts:

• community indicators would have a greater influence on what governments and organizations do to improve a community and
• governments’ and organizations’ performance measures would be more relevant to the community conditions of the greatest concern to citizens and other key community stakeholders.

Although governments and communities may actually have the same desired ultimate outcomes, and while there are hundreds of community indicator projects and as many or more performance measurement programs, there is limited published information of efforts to integrate these two types of projects. Documenting these stories as well as tools and practices that practitioners have used will allow other communities and jurisdictions to learn from and improve on these integration efforts.

Proposals must be submitted as a Microsoft Word format document using the Real Story Proposal Submittal Form provided at the end of this call for proposals. The information required includes:

• a brief description of the community/jurisdiction to be studied,
• why this community/jurisdiction was chosen for study,
• the major topics or concepts to be covered,
• key tools and processes the community/jurisdiction used for integrating community indicators and performance measures successfully, not-so-successfully, or toward creating opportunities for improvements, and
• proposed methodology for developing the Real Story.

In addition, the following information is required for the proposed the author(s)

• Contact information (name, organization, address, phone number and email address)
• A brief bio
• A brief description of author(s) knowledge or experience with community indicators and/or performance measures.

Please include all information in a single MS Word document, using single spacing, Arial font, size 10. The proposals must also follow the length for each section as listed in the Real Story Submittal Form.

Submittals should be sent to with “Real Story Proposal” in the subject line and the proposal form as an attached Word document. Please do not include additional attachments. Proposals are due no later than June 15, 2009. Only proposals submitted electronically will be considered.

The proposals will be reviewed through a peer review process and those selected will be notified by June 30, 2009. The proposal selection criteria broadly include:

1. Relevance to the benefits of integrating community indicator and performance measurement efforts
2. Barriers to such integration and methods used to removing such barriers
3. The stage of development of the effort studied
4. Demonstrated and documented results
5. Methods and techniques that worked and did not work
6. Potential for replication of the individual community efforts

Authors of the selected proposals will be asked to develop their proposals into fully developed Real Stories (from 5-20 pages in length) by the deadlines listed below. Each Real Story selected should include:
• an in-depth discussion (specific community/jurisdiction and why it was chosen, citizen and key stakeholder engagement, resulting community improvements),
• descriptions of the tools and methods used for integration which could be applicable for other communities, and
• a one-page ‘Project Highlights’ that will provide summaries for specific target audiences of practitioners and decision-makers.

Each chosen Real Story will be peered reviewed again before it is recommended for publication. CIC will use an editor to ensure consistency among the Real Stories and clarity of discussion in the Real Stories’ documents. Authors of the Real Stories chosen for publication will receive a stipend of $2,000. Three-to-four Real Stories will be selected for publication in 2009. There will be another call for Real Story proposals in 2010.

Real Stories deadlines
6/15/09 - Submission of Real Stories proposals for peer review
6/30/09 - Notification of selected proposals and guidelines for development
9/18/09 - Submission of Real Stories first draft for peer review
11/15/09 - Approval of final draft Real Stories
12/31/09 - Publication of year-one selected Real Stories

Proposals due no later than June 15, 2009, to

Questions should be emailed to Maureen Hart, CIC Executive Director: at

For more information about CIC, please visit our web site at

Read more ...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

ABTA Conference on May 18

I will be speaking at the 2009 National Conference on Innovations in Government Accountability and Performance hosted by the ABTA (Activity-Based Total Accountability) Institute in Melbourne, Florida on May 18. The focus of the conference will be on linking local government budgeting practices to performance metrics.

My role there will be to continue to push for increased integration of government performance measurement systems with community indicator systems. This is part of a larger conversation happening around the country, and an important one -- community indicator systems add an external accountability to government performance measurement systems that internal reporting can never add. And they connect to the people in an entirely democratic and open way that builds trust and citizen involvement. And they are designed by people who understand that the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) is unreadable to the average system and is NOT a good model of transparent public communication.

So if you'll be at the conference, come over and say hello. I'm going to try to capture some of my thoughts and impressions after the conference as well to share them with this blog's readership (which keeps growing -- thank you, everyone.)

And look for some interesting announcements in the near future on how you can engage with this national discussion of performance measures and community indicators.

Read more ...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Softer, Subjective Indicators

Here's an interesting piece about work from William Tov of Singapore Management University called "Beyond economic data: softer, subjective indicators of a nation’s well-being." I thought you might enjoy some of what he had to say.

Here are some excerpts I liked:

A society’s GDP per capita has an influence over its level of tolerance. Some researchers have suggested that because wealthier nations tended to have greater income equality and access to education, they are able to address the misinformation that often compounds prejudice. Another suggestion is that a society’s level of intolerance reflects of its own sense of security - when people or nations have their basic needs met, they feel secure and will less likely be threatened by those who are different from them. But to what extent is a society’s well-being related to its level of tolerance or intolerance?

According to Tov’s study, which incorporated data from the ‘World Values Survey’, high levels of trust and well-being are more prevalent in societies where there is a greater value placed on tolerance, higher GDP per capita, greater freedom and lower levels of filial piety. The study found that though tolerant societies do not necessarily oppose competition, competition tended to be viewed more positively in an intolerant society. Tov suggested, “Perhaps in these societies, zero-sum competition is emphasised because it justifies inequities and intolerant attitudes. On the other hand, those countries in which intolerance is high also tend to be less wealthy, have less freedom and (value) greater filial piety.” One possibility is that when basic needs are not adequately met, relationships with one’s family and friends might be closer knit, so as to better compete for resources as a matter of survival. “In societies where filial piety is high and in-group bonds are presumably stronger, people are less likely to mention tolerance as an important quality for their child to possess,” he added. Both volunteer involvement and the number of voluntary memberships were also seen to be closely linked with a nation’s well-being.

In communities, we often measure some of these social capital measures, including volunteer involvement and tolerance measures. (I don't know of a community indicators project in the U.S. that measures rates of filial piety, however. Do you?)

The concept, though, that economic strength derives from social cohesiveness echoes both Richard Florida's and Robert Putnam's work. It's an interesting addition to our conversation about moving beyond GDP as a measure on national progress.


Read more ...

Measuring Community Sinfulness: Why?

Have we gone too far when people start using community indicators to try to measure who has the most sinful city? Two recent attempts have tried to use publicly available data to measure where a community falls in the seven deadly sins.

Forbes Magazine, last February, created its version of ranking "America's Most Sinful Cities." Now Kansas State geographers have decided to map the whole country, county by county, in their exposure to the same set of sins.

The two sets of measures are nothing alike, and that's a function of what indicators they used to measure "sinfulness."

Kansas State's list:

  • Greed: Average incomes versus total inhabitants below the poverty line
  • Envy: Total number of thefts (robbery, burglary, larceny, and stolen cars)
  • Wrath: Total number of violent crimes (murder, assault and rape) per capita
  • Lust: Sexually transmitted diseases per capita
  • Gluttony: Number of fast-food restaurants per capita
  • Sloth: Expenditures on arts, entertainment and recreation versus rate of employment
  • Pride: An average of the six other sins

Forbes' list:

  • Greed: per capita billionaires
  • Envy: property crime rates
  • Wrath: murder rates
  • Lust: condom and contraceptive purchases at grocery and drug stores
  • Gluttony: obesity rates
  • Sloth: body mass index (BMI), physical inactivity and TV watching habits
  • Pride: number of plastic surgeons per 100,000 adults
You may want to explore and compare the two sets of maps. For Lust, a popular topic, Forbes has Salt Lake City as one of the top ten most lustful cities, because of the per capita purchasing of contraceptives (which is both interesting and meme-busting), but Kansas State has them as one of the least lustful cities, because of the low rates of STDs.

What's the point of this? When we do community indicators work, we often have themes, goals, or community aspirations that we want to measure -- how close are we as a community to living up to this ideal? We then have to find some set of measures that attempt to quantify our progress towards that target (or away from that problem). Are we providing quality education for our children? Are seniors in our community living fulfilling, meaningful lives? Are we protecting and valuing the environment? Is our local economy vibrant and sustainable?

If we aren't careful, what we choose to measure -- not the data -- determined the answer. The wrong indicators can lead us to misleading or contradictory conclusions. And I suspect that too many of our common indicators -- the measures everyone uses because they're easy and available and comfortable -- sometimes obscure much more than they illuminate about our communities.


(Hat tips: Flowing Data, Revolutions)

Read more ...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

PolicyMap.Com Unveils Version 2.0

I just received a press release from PolicyMap that the readers of this blog might be interested in.

TRF’s Unveils Version 2.0
Upgraded Online Mapping Site Lets Users Layer and Compare Data

(Philadelphia) May 12, 2009 – TRF’s today unveiled version 2.0. The newest version of this revolutionary website provides quick and flexible analysis of neighborhood-level data nationwide. At subscribers’ fingertips now are answers to questions relevant to job training (e.g. Where are neighborhoods with low educational attainment rates and low household incomes, but close to mass transit?), housing (e.g. Where are high poverty areas in close proximity to a mass transit stop and in good school districts?), energy (e.g. Where are stable communities with high utility costs, potentially most in need of home weatherization assistance?) and more.

With 2.0, professionals are now able to match and compare up to three custom criteria for any neighborhood in the nation. The PolicyMap upgrade is a major breakthrough, making good on PolicyMap’s promise to empower policymakers and professionals with handy access to reliable market and demographic data and analytical tools in a single Web-based location.

With 2.0, those involved in deciding where and how to spend unprecedented stimulus dollars or foundations deciding how to allocate limited resources have a quick and flexible tool for searching for those neighborhoods where intervention could matter most.

“With the introduction of PolicyMap Analytics, TRF’s can reshape how policymakers use data and maps to understand the markets in which they work,” said Jeremy Nowak, President of TRF. “PolicyMap is the simple, fast, and efficient platform that many are demanding to guide policy decisions and help strategically allocate resources.”

PolicyMap subscribers can find those neighborhoods that meet up to three criteria from more than 4,000 data indicators related to demographics, real estate markets, education, employment, money and income, crime, energy, and public investments. TRF aggregates data from a variety of public and private sources including U.S. Census, Claritas, FBI, IRS, the Postal Service, and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. Additional PolicyMap 2.0 functionality lets users rank data, download public datasets and provides for an extraordinary level of customization.

“PolicyMap offers tools both for us as the investor and for the organizations that we support, offering both of us the detailed neighborhood data to plan for real impact," said Lois Greco, Senior Vice President and Evaluation Officer, Wachovia Regional Foundation.

Nearly 150,000 people have used PolicyMap since the site launched just under a year ago. To date, PolicyMap has more than 11,000 registered users. Its varied subscribers include the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia, foundations such as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, public agencies including the New Jersey Housing Mortgage Finance Agency, private entities like Comcast as well as nonprofit community organizations nationwide. PolicyMap is a 2009 finalist for CNET’s Webware100 award.

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

Read more ...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Updated Measures of Happiness Available

Update Happiness in Nations: now 144 nations 2000-2008

World Database of Happiness has updated its list of happiness in nations. This latest list counts 144 nations over the years 2000-2008; the foregoing list over the years 2000-2005 covered only 95 nations. This list is based on responses to comparable questions about life-satisfaction in 234 general population surveys. When more than one survey was available in a country, the average score is used.
Four ranks are computed on the basis of these findings:

Average Happiness

The level of happiness in a country is reflected in the mean rating on the 0 to10 happiness scale used here. Average happiness varies between 8,5 in Iceland (survey before the economic recession) to 3,2 in Tanzania. In the top-five figure West-European nations next to Latin American nations. At the bottom are African nations. The USA is in the sub-top with an average of 7.0. The full report is available at:

Happy Life Years

The degree to which people live long and happy in a country is measured using an index of ‘Happy Life Years’ (HLY). The highest score is observed in Iceland where the average citizen lives 69 years happily and the lowest in Zimbabwe where the number is only 13. Though Latin Americans tend to be quite happy, they do not live so long and as a result the number of happy life years varies between 60 and 50 in that part of the world. The USA fits that pattern with 55 happy life years. The full rank report on this matter is available at:

Inequality of Happiness

Difference in happiness across citizens in a country is measured using the standard deviation of responses on the 0 to10 happiness scale. Standard-deviations vary between 1,5 in the Netherlands to 3,6 in Tanzania. Inequality is smallest in Western nations, among which the USA. Inequality is higher in most Latin American nations and in African countries. The full rank report is available at:

Inequality-Adjusted Happiness
The degree to which nations combine a high level of happiness with low inequality is reflected in an index of Inequality-Adjusted Happiness (IAH). Scores on this index range from 79 in Iceland to 20 in Tanzania. Several Latin American nations rank high on this list, e.g. Colombia with a score of 73. The USA is in the top quarter with a score of 63. The full rank report is available at:

More detail about these measures of happiness and their determinants are found in Measures of Gross National Happiness

Read more ...

Impact of Public Services on Quality-of-Life Indicators

I've been reading Exploring the Impact of Public Services on Quality of Life Indicators (PDF), a research paper from the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York in the UK. The April 2009 paper, authored by Adriana Castelli, Rowena Jacobs, Maria Goddard, and Peter C. Smith, sets out to understand "the degree to which Public Service Organisations (PSOs) can influence a range of aspects of the quality of life of citizens across a broad range of measures both within and outside their usual domains of influence."

They took a set of quality-of-life indicators, and examined them across a number of small geographies and looked for the impact of public policies on these indicators. They found that public policy influenced people's quality of life, that real differences exist at the neighborhood level, and that the impacts of public policies often extended beyond the public service organisation's particular focus.

And they reinforced the importance of building social capital at the neighborhood level.

All in all, a serious study addressing matters important to those of us involved in community indicators work and public policy advocacy. More information about the study follows if you click the "Read More" link ...

From their introduction:

  • The fundamental aim of public services is to improve the quality of life of citizens. The main objective of this study was to investigate the influence of public service organisations (PSOs) on aspects of quality of life (broadly measured) of citizens at a local level.
  • Quality of life is a multi-dimensional concept incorporating facets such as health and social wellbeing,economic well-being, quality of education, level of security and safety, access to transport,and other aspects of life at a local level.
  • Quality of life and well-being is linked closely to the notion of social capital which broadly concerns networks and shared values and understanding that exist within and between groups. Social capital highlights the importance of many aspects of the social associations that people encounter in their everyday life that may contribute to their well-being and quality of life. Public policy has a current emphasis on the role of social capital and the responsibility of organisations and agencies to work together to address the needs of local communities in terms of creating the conditions that enhance social capital.
  • Moreover, there has been increasing policy emphasis on the responsibility of PSOs to promote the well-being of their area and this explicitly entails working with other agencies - even where boundaries are not coterminous - in order to develop sustainable community strategies thataddress the full range of quality of life issues.
  • The increasing emphasis on notions of ‘community’ and ‘neighbourhood’ as levels at which wellbeing, community cohesion and social capital are fostered, implies that it is useful to look beyond the usual regional, local authority or health area level to smaller geographical areas.
They analyze a series of quality-of-life indicators across a number of geographies and look for the impacts of public policies on these indicators. Here's what they found:

We draw two sets of conclusions. First, from a methodological perspective, our work provides new evidence on the complex interactions between PSOs and the potential influence they may have on the quality of life of citizens at a local level. This is the first study of its kind to provide evidence on the sources of variation in quality of life indicators at small area level and to use advanced methods to disentangle this variation. We provide insights into whether the three approaches SUR, ML and MVML are suitable methods to examine the complex interplay between different hierarchical levels that are commonplace in all public services.

Second, from a policy perspective we have demonstrated that it is important to consider the influence of PSOs on quality of life in areas that fall outside their traditional domains. Moreover, our results give a flavour of the relative influence that health care and local government organisations may have on measures that span health, education, environment, safety, housing and others. We also illustrated the potential significance of considering the small area level in public policy making. The existence of substantial variation in quality of life measures at this level suggests that PSOs with responsibilities at higher level should be aware of the variation that exists at this level within their area and the differential impact their policies may have locally. As we outlined earlier, government policy highlights the importance of local communities and neighbourhoods and although there are no obvious PSOs that have responsibility for quality of life at small area level, the thrust of policy has been to encourage PSOs to become more responsive to local needs and to devolve to communities a greater role in decision-making, including the handling of resources at neighbourhood group and community level (Dept for Communities and Local Government, 2008). Also, as the literature suggests, fostering social capital can enhance the quality of life of citizens and protect them from social exclusion. Neighbourhood and community networks and relationships appear to play an important role in the creation and maintenance of social capital. Our results therefore suggest that policy attention to the local level may well be a fruitful approach if the aim is to enhance the overall well-being of citizens.

The study includes a list of the indicators they used, and some explanation about why they were chosen. I highly recommend reviewing this material.

I'd be interested in your comments.

Read more ...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Unemployment and Job Loss Data

We now have a new source for trying to understand underemployment numbers. The standard unemployment data we use obscure a significant number of workers and don't tell a complete story. Our friends at the Community Action Network (CAN) in Austin, Texas describe the issue this way:

The official unemployment rate includes people without a job who are available to work and who have actually sought work in the past four weeks. Discouraged workers and under-employed part-time workers who want full employment are not included in this rate. For the first time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is releasing "labor underutilization rates" by state that do include these populations.

So what does that mean for your state? In Florida, while the official 2008 unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, by using a broader definition that includes discouraged workers and the underemployed we get a much higher percentage, nearly double, at 11.9 percent. Check out the BLS data sets for yourself. The other thing that would make this more useful for community planning is if they had the data available at the community level. But this is a good start.

CAN also wanted to make sure we knew about another resource. I looked at this last month, couldn't get it to work for me, and gave up -- but maybe this will work for you. At Slate magazine they have a map for you to play with to see county-by-county job losses. They describe the map this way:

Using the Labor Department's local area unemployment statistics, Slate presents the recession as told by unemployment numbers for each county in America. Because the data are not seasonally adjusted for natural employment cycles throughout the year, the numbers you see show the change in the number of people employed compared with the same month in the previous year. Blue dots represent a net increase in jobs, while red dots indicate a decrease. The larger the dot, the greater the number of jobs gained or lost. Click the arrows or calendar at the bottom to see each month of data. Click the green play button to see an animation of the data.

Now, if I wasn't having problems with my flash player every time I went to this site, I'm sure that's exactly what I'd see. This gives us more localized information, so this may be a useful resource for your community.

And thanks for the updates! Keep sharing this kind of information!

Read more ...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Call for Presentations: CIC Conference

The Community Indicators Consortium has issued a call for proposals for presentations, panels, posters, and workshops as well as sponsors and exhibitors.

The conference, to be held October 1-October 2, 2009 at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue Washington, USA, has the theme: "Community Indicators as Tools for Social Change: Tracking Change and Increasing Accountability."

More information about the conference, including a PDF for the call for proposals, is available here. Proposals are due by June 4, 2009.

Read more ...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Community Indicators: Citizen Scientists

I like the trend highlighted in this report from CNN's SciTech blog -- everyday people contributing to data collection. John Sutter calls it the "democratization of science" -- people capturing photos of wildlife, entering GPS locations of animals found, recording bird migrations -- all adding to a much broader scientific picture. It's the same message we've been trumpeting about data openness -- except it's headed the other way, with ordinary citizens providing information that scales upward.

This brings data sharing full circle, and I like it. See how you can be involved with this list of citizen scientist opportunities. I think we as community indicators practitioners ought to be paying attention to this trend, and with the right kind of framework/schema, we can be haviing more and more citizen-generated data aggregating upward to tell us much more about our communities, states, and the country we live in.

If you have experience in citizen-created data collection, please share!

Read more ...

Demographics: What We Know Is Wrong

I just read a fascinating article at The Wilson Quarterly on world demographics. I highly recommend reading the whole article to get a vastly different picture of world population dynamics than we've been talking about in recent years.

For those of you who are still here and not reading the article like I told you to, here are some highlights:

  • "In 2050, according to United Nations projections, it is possible that nearly as many babies will be born in the United States as in China. Indeed, the population of the world’s current demographic colossus will be shrinking."
  • "In Russia, the effects of declining fertility are amplified by a phenomenon so extreme that it has given rise to an ominous new ­term—­hypermortality. As a result of the rampant spread of maladies such as HIV/AIDS and alcoholism and the deterioration of the Russian ­health ­care system, says a 2008 report by the UN Development Program, “mortality in Russia is 3–5 times higher for men and twice as high for women” than in other countries at a comparable stage of development. The report—which echoes earlier findings by demographers such as the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Murray ­Feshbach—­predicts that within little more than a decade the ­working-­age population will be shrinking by up to one million people annually. Russia is suffering a demographic decline on a scale that is normally associated with the effects of a major ­war."
  • "[B]irthrates of Muslim women in Europe—and around the world—have been falling significantly for some time. ...These sharp reductions in fertility among Muslim immigrants reflect important cultural shifts, which include universal female education, rising living standards, the inculcation of local mores, and widespread availability of contraception. Broadly speaking, birthrates among immigrants tend to rise or fall to the local statistical norm within two ­generations. The decline of Muslim birthrates is a global phenomenon."
  • "[T]he total depen­d­ency ratios of the 21st century are going to look remarkably similar to those of the 1960s. In the United States, the most onerous year for dependency was 1965, when there were 95 dependents for every 100 adults between the ages of 20 and 64. That occurred be­cause “dependents” includes people both younger and older than working age. By 2002, there were only 49 dependents for every 100 ­working-­age Americans. By 2025 there are projected to be 80, still well below the peak of 1965. The difference is that while most dependents in the 1960s were young, with their working and saving and contributing lives ahead of them, most of the dependents of 2009 are older, with more dependency still to come. But the point is clear: There is nothing outlandish about having almost as many dependents as working ­adults."

There's more, but that should be enough to pique your interest.

Comments? Agree? Disagree? Implications?

Read more ...