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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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

Patchwork Nation

There's a fascinating new website from the Christian Science Monitor called Patchwork Nation. It uses a series of data points to show geographic clusters of people across the United States in 12 distinct categories.

What makes it even more interesting is its ability to display county-specific data on a series of indicators, and to overlay two indicators to see interactions.

From their description:

About the Patchwork Nation project

The United States is a vast, diverse place – more than 300 million people spread over 3.5 million square miles. Yet our understanding of its complexities is limited. We think of demographic slices or broad regions, or we fall back on the overused, oversimplified ideas of red and blue America.

Patchwork Nation, funded by the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic organization based in Miami, is designed to help us get past those views and understand how different communities and cultures within the US experience different realities – and shape the whole.

As America enters a period of great uncertainty – with a new president, a stumbling economy, rising foreign financial powers, energy challenges, and an unstable world – it’s never been so important and so difficult to understand the United States. That’s what Patchwork Nation is about.

We’ve identified 12 types of places across the US, which are distinct voter communities. They are:

* Boom Towns - growing and diversifying
* Campus and Careers - young and collegiate
* Emptying Nests - having retirees and baby boomers
* Evangelical Epicenters - culturally conservative
* Immigration Nation - heavily Hispanic
* Industrial Metropolis - big-city
* Military Bastions - bordering or encompassing bases for the armed forces
* Minority Central - heavily African-American
* Monied 'Burbs - wealthy and educated
* Mormon Outposts - many LDS adherents
* Service Worker Centers - small-town
* Tractor Country - rural and agricultural

We’ve also pinpointed specific communities that represent each type of place. For example, Sioux Center, Iowa, typifies “Tractor Country.”

Special thanks to Edwin Quiambao of the Annie E. Casey Foundation for drawing it to my attention. He pointed out some of the indicators available at the county level:

-election information

-hardship index

-health uninsured

-density of doctors

-chrysler dealers/closures

-hospital beds

-foreclosure rate2009

-unemployment rate

-median household income

-war deaths per 100,000

-high school graduates

-college graduates

Take a look!


  1. It's a fascinating project, but I think counties are much too blunt of an instrument, at least in the west, where they tend to be much larger than in the East, Midwest, and South. San Diego County, where I grew up, is called a "Monied 'Burb," but in fact with a population of maybe 2 million-plus, different parts of the county have characteristics of several different community types. Division by zip code would probably be much more accurate, although maybe the data for that isn't available.

  2. I have a friend in DuPage County, Illinois, which is perceived as well-off (and the county-level indicators certainly support this perception.) Yet the county struggles with the same sorts of issues with people in poverty that other counties do.

    The advantage larger counties have, as several local philanthropists keep reminding us here, is that the county has both the problems common to other locations and the resources necessary to address them, if we can only find the will.