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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

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.


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