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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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



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