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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Defending GDP: WSJ Opinion

On the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal Online, Brian Domitrovic poses a novel defense of GDP as a measure of national progress: President Sarkozy only wants to change the measure because he's "losing."

The argument goes something like this: The U.S. has high GDP. France once was on par with the U.S. France didn't follow Reagan and Thatcher in 1982 deregulation. So Frane's only interest in challenging GDP as a measure is to "move the goalposts" and develop a different measure of progress that shows them as competitive.

At no point in this article does Domitrovic display any hints that he has read the report of the Stiglitz commission (at one point, he suggests a measure of leisure time ought to be included in the report, because he says France is good at that. In the U.S., we work so much because we want to, and would spurn additional vacationif offered.)

We've talked about the flaws of GDP for some time now, and the need to measure progress more broadly. I don't think we need to re-hash those discussions. But you might want to see this op-ed piece just to remind yourself that change alwwys meets with resistance, even if that resistance involved merely sticking one's fingers in one's ears and extending the tongue in gratuitous French-bashing.

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Graphs That Work

We've talked about how to select the right graph/data visualization before, and we've talked about the importance of storytelling with graphs. Seth Godin now gives us a few rules for creating graphs that work, and they're worth considering.

The good folks at Junk Charts have commented on Godin's rules -- you may enjoy their perspective. (The rules are mostly good, they say.) And Andrew Gelman is the one that brought Godin's rules to their attention -- the comments on Gelman's blog make sense.

Summarizing the rules and discussion and adding a couple thoughts of my own:

Rule 1. Don't let popular spreadsheets be in charge of the way you look

His argument: the default settings in Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint tend to dominate presentations, and that gets boring. The counter-argument: default standards can be good, like reading from left to right or publishing books using a standard font and font size. My thought: If you're telling a story, don't let the blandness of default settings interfere with the message (especially when the defaults in Excel are pretty awful), but don't let creativity run amuck and make it too hard to see the story behind the strange graphics. Be compelling, and use the style necessary to make your point clear.

Rule 2. Tell a story

Godin says:

There are only four reasons I can imagine you would want to show someone a graph (not a chart, or an infogram or a diagram, but a graph of numbers):
  1. Things are going great, look!
  2. Things are a disaster, help!
  3. Nothing much is happening.
  4. We need to work together to figure out what the data means.

We've been pounding the data-as-storytelling thought a lot here -- that's why we do community indicators. Godin suggests discarding graphs that fit category 3 as pointless and 4 as a work session and not a presentation. However, "nothing much is happening" is a compelling story, especially after significant community effort/resources are poured into a problem. Failure to bend the trend line is sometimes the most important story we tell -- what we're doing isn't working, and we need to try something else.

Rule 3. Follow some simple rules

This is where he says to use known conventions -- time on the x-axis, increasing left to right. He suggests that the data/y-axis be structured so that upward-moving trend lines are good. We tried that, once upon a time. Graphing the "employment rate" rather than the unemployment rate was just silly, and meant that viewers couldn't see the story while they were trying to figure out why we were being cute. That said, following patterns in how data are displayed can help the real story line pop out -- the less time trying to decipher the message, the better.

Rule 4. Break some other rules

Somehow, your graph has to be memorable -- the story has to stick. That means mixing things up once in a while. Hard to argue with that.

So what rules would you add? What do you use as your guidelines as you present your information?

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Int'l Society of Child Indicators Newsletter Released

The International Society of Child Indicators has released its Summer 2009 Newsletter. You'll want to take a look at the following:

  • Their 2nd International Conference scheduled for November 3-5, 2009, at the University of Western Sydney, Australia;
  • The collected papers from their first 2007 conference;
  • A nice write-up of Measure DHS (Demographic and Health Surveys), a collection of free data from more than 200 surveys in 75 countries. "The strategic objective of MEASURE DHS is to improve and institutionalize the collection and use of data by host countries for program monitoring and evaluation and for policy development decisions."

You'll also be interested in this announcement:

Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago has published a report on “Improving Indicators of Child Well-Being.” The report makes a number of recommendations on new directions for child well-being indicators, including the areas of early childhood and young adult transitions. It also argues for additional indicators on childcare, poverty, and immigration. The report follows a symposium on child well-being indicators held in December 2008, attended by leading experts from universities, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. It is available on the Chapin Hall website at

Take a look at ISCI. Membership is available.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

JCCI Releases New Indicators Website

I'm excited to announce that we at JCCI have finally launched our own interactive web-based indicators portal!

Come visit our new site at, click on "Indicators", and you'll see three options for accessing our local/regional indicator sets:

The Community Snapshot is powered by InstantAtlas, which is a pretty neat software package. John Bartholomew from GeoWise, the company that produces the software, will be at the CIC Conference demonstrating what they've put together.

We're just launching our effort, and right now we've only included one mapping template and state/regional/county-level data for our indicators. Phase II of our community indicators reporting will take many of these indicators down to a neighborhood level, and then allow us to do some interesting performance evaluation work with community targets.

In the meantime, here's your chance to take a look and give me some feedback!

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American Community Survey Data Release and Update

UPDATE - U.S. Census Bureau Release of 2008 ACS 1-Year Estimates

The Census Bureau has released social, demographic, housing, and some economic data from the 2008 ACS for areas with populations of 65,000 or more.

On September 29, 2009, the remaining 2008 ACS economic data will be released. The delayed release of these data is due to the discovery of a coding error that affected the estimates of poverty, family income, and food stamp receipt. The Census Bureau released all tables that weren't affected by the coding error. For a list of the impacted tables, please see the revised release schedule

Below is a sample of the topics included in the current release:

  • Educational attainment
  • Industry
  • Occupation
  • Class of worker
  • Journey to work
  • Employment status
  • Work status
  • Veteran status
  • Housing
  • Foreign born
  • Migration

Information about the 2008 ACS data release can be found at:

What's New and Notable

Economic Briefs - The Census Bureau is introducing a series of briefs spotlighting the economic characteristics of the nation, states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico using data from the 2008 ACS 1-year estimates.
You can access these briefs at

Table Shells - New Table Shells are available at our 2008 Data Products Details page

Comparison Guidance - New guidance is available for comparing 2008 ACS 1-year estimates with 2007 ACS 1-year estimates, as well as comparing 2008 ACS 1-year estimates with Census 2000 estimates. This guidance can be found at:

Information on Data for New and Revised Content Beginning in January 2008, three new questions were added to the ACS and 12 questions were revised. In addition, the wording and format of the age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, relationship, and tenure questions were revised to be consistent with the 2010 Census. A summary document on the differences between the 2008 ACS and earlier years can be found at

A Look Ahead

October 27, 2009 - Planned release of 2006-2008 ACS 3-Year estimates.

Fall, 2009 - The Census Bureau has revised the release dates for the 2008 ACS 1-year and 2006-2008 3-year PUMS. We expect to release the 2008 ACS 1-year PUMS by the end of October and release the 2006-2008 3-year PUMS by the end of November or in December. We will issue an ACS Alert when each of these files is ready for release.

Contact Us

If you have questions or comments about the American Community Survey, please call (800) 923-8282 or visit

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ola Rosling at Gov 2.0 Summit

The Gov 2.0 Summit was held September 9-10 in Washington, D.C. Much of what was talked about is highly interesting, especially as we think about new ways for civic engagement, transparency, performance measurement, and the like.

One of the speakers was Ola Rosling, who is Dr. Hans Rosling's son who works at Google. He takes us into the world of GapMinder and some of the new data sets and tools available for us to use, and what some of the take-aways might be from that data visualization. (Favorite quote: "A static image is lying, because the world changes.")


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Update on CSIN Conference

Just a quick update on the upcoming Canadian Sustainability Indicators Network conference we mentioned before ... there's an updated conference brochure and registration form available on their website.

They also have opportunities to sponsor the conference and an application for conference scholarships available.

The updated materials look very good. To stay in the loop on what the organization is doing, consider joining CSIN -- it's free and you'll get their alerts via their listserve. Plus you can follow them on Twitter -- @CSIN2010.

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Introducing Neighborhood Nexus

Flattery gets you everywhere. I received this nice note from Marcus Estes over at

The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta just launched a new community indicators project serving the citizens of great Atlanta. It's called Neighborhood Nexus:

I work with OpenSourcery, the web company that developed the technology for them. It involves a few innovations, including a custom spreadsheet
upload tool that allows them to change the indicators they're tracking merely by changing their spreadsheet, without having to rely upon a tech company for more development work.

We've open sourced it, and we're seeking additional partners to help us improve upon the software for use in other areas. Please give Neighborhood Nexus a little much-deserved attention on your (wonderful and informative) blog, and let me know if you see opportunities for us to use this software to help other organizations.

Naturally, I went to the site to explore Neighborhood Nexus. I saw quite a bit I liked.

1. Getting to the data is quick, easy, and intuitive. Select an indicator, then a level of geography, and bam! the table is there for you. Minor quibble: using a tiny yellow font in the headers against a graduated blue background mad them really hard to read, though the result looked pretty. The options on the left to change measures, years, and filter out geographies were simple to use.

2. Learning more about the data involved clicking on a Data Sources button, which had some information, and following that up by clicking on the Glossary button. Even then, I was left with some unanswered questions about just what some of the indicators were measuring, and to get that information I needed to follow the links to the data source providers. I liked that I could find the information. I did, however, remind myself once again that at some point those of us who work with indicators need to get together to devise a core set of metadata standards. Maybe we can have that conversation at the CIC conference in Seattle.

3. Full, interactive maps are coming soon, according to the site. In the meantime, they have some nice maps they've created using some of the indicators on the site. I liked the concept (and execution) of the map of "where Gen-Xers live."

4. They also provide a neighborhood factbook that compiles the indicators by neighborhood into a set of PDF documents.

There's a survey for site users to describe what indicators are missing and how the site might be improved.

Overall, a good site, with more in development. What makes this site something to really pay attention to is that it was built as open source software, and is one of the early efforts to bring open source solutions to the community indicators community. There are other open source efforts underway. We should be paying close attention to this trend to see how it plays out.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

OECD World Forum -- Register Now!

Here's a reminder about the upcoming OECD conference in Busan, Korea. I'm not going to be able to attend (unfortunately!), but I'd love to hear from any of you who will be attending. The conference looks like it will be fantastic.

Register Now!
If you would like to attend, then go and
REGISTER now please on this webpage, by following the instructions. You will also find here logistical information including transport and hotels in Busan. We strongly encourage you to register as soon as possible to secure your place. Please note that the special discount rate for accommodation is until 30 September 2009.

The 3rd OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy will address some crucial questions that today, in the current economic crisis, have become more important than ever. See the Preliminary Agenda. There are will be over 40 sessions that consider how the world is progressing (and how to measure that progress), what does a focus on wellbeing and progress mean for policy making and how can we improve the ways in which evidence on progress promotes change.

Some of the high level speakers include:

  • Bader Omar Al-Dafa, Under Secretary-General of the UN, Executive Secretary of UN-ESCWA
  • Fabrizio Barca, Director General, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Italy
  • Ohm Collins Chabane, Minister in The Presidency, South Africa
  • Juan Díez-Nicolás, President of ASEP, Spain
  • Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the UN Office for Partnerships
  • John Evans, General Secretary of Trade Union Advisory Council to the OECD (TUAC)
  • Jean-Paul Fitoussi, President of the "Observatoire français des conjonctures économiques"
  • Arturo González de Aragón, Auditor, General, Superior Audit Office of Mexico, Chairman of the Governing Board of INTOSAI
  • Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the OECD
  • Oh-Seok Hyun, President, Korea Development Institute, KDI
  • Katsuji Imata, Deputy Secretary General of CIVICUS
  • Jeni Klugman, Director of the UNDP Human Development Report Office
  • Tae-shin Kwon, Minister, Prime Minister's Office, Korea
  • Lord Richard Layard, London School of Economics
  • Yanghee Lee, Chair of the UN Commission on the Rights of the Child
  • Ahmed Lahlimi Alami, High Commissioner for Planning, Morocco
  • Denise Lievesley, President of the international Statistical Institute
  • Antonio Marzano, President, National Economic and Labour Council (CNEL)
  • Geoff Mulgan, Director of the Young Foundation, UK
  • Mark Orkin, Director General, South African Management Development Institute, SAMDI
  • Pier Carlo Padoan, Deputy Secretary-General, OECD
  • Roger Ricafort, Director, Oxfam Hong Kong
  • Sergey Stephashin, Chairman of the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation
  • Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, Columbia University, New York
  • Danilo Türk, President of Slovenia
  • Anders Wijkman, Vice-President of the Club of Rome
  • Insill Yi, Commissioner, Statistics Korea

"6 BILLION OTHERS" Yann Arthus-Bertrand launched the project “6 Billion Others”, in 2003, following “The Earth from above“. The concept is simple: go out and meet the 6 billion inhabitants of this planet, listen to their testimonies and share them with others. We are pleased to announce that “6 Billion Others” will be part of the 3rd OECD World Forum and will present a film focused on the question: ”What does progress mean for us?”. The participants in the World Forum will have the opportunity to be interviewed during the event and to offer their views on the same questions.

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Canada's Social Indicators Show Poverty Is Greatest Challenge

The Conference Board of Canada released their report card on social indicators for Canada, and addressing poverty remains the top concern.

The gives letter grades to Canada and 16 other "peer countries" for 17 indicators of Society, divided into three main categories: Self-Sufficiency, Equity, and Social Cohesion. The framework for understanding these indicators, as well as the indicators chosen, is interesting--take a look (click on the image to make it larger):

From their website:

Self-sufficiency is assessed by two indicators that measure the financial autonomy of individuals within the economy and society. For most people, employment participation is probably the most important means of achieving self-sufficiency. Canada’s relatively low unemployment rate implies that our economy is doing a good job at ensuring that people who want to work are able to do so. But the situations of two vulnerable sub-populations—youth and people with disabilities—are often masked by the overall numbers.

Equity has two broad dimensions: equality of outcome and equality of opportunity. Opinions on what is a “fair” or “just” distribution of resources vary widely, and it is difficult to obtain measurable and comparable information on equality of opportunity. One indicator can be seen as a measure of equality of opportunity—intergenerational income mobility. It assesses the likelihood that individuals can break out of the income class into which they are born. The remaining five equity indicators focus on equity of outcomes: elderly poverty, child poverty, working-age poverty, income inequality, and the gender income gap.

Social cohesion is assessed through indicators that:

The Conference Board also releases a separate report card for Economy, Education and Skills, Innovation, Environment, and Health. The framework is interesting, and the indicators are a fascinating set.

When you look at the display layout, the combination of letter grades and colors make it easy to quickly see where the problems are. What's even more interesting is to use their radar chart to look at the indicators against peer averages.

Take a look and see if your country is included in the peer comparisons. When you click on the specific indicator (in the left-hand column), you get more charts, maps of the data, and quite a bit of contextual information and research (footnoted) about the indicator. This setup provides clean, clear messages to a target population -- which is different, perhaps, than some of the target populations served by community indicators projects. However, the report as structured looks very helpful in setting priorities for national policy.

There's a great deal to learn from this report, and I highly encourage you to take the time to prowl through the data and the reasons why these indicators were selected.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Bending the Curve" Under Attack

Constrained curmudgeons among us have risen up in opposition to the phrase "bending the curve." William Safire writes in the New York Times that

Came the current recession, the graphic-metaphor crowd stopped worrying about a cost line bending inexorably upward and directed its attention to the need to get the upward-bending unemployment figures bending down. Thus, the meaning of the phrase bending the curve is switching from “bend that awful, upward-curving line down before we can’t afford an aspirin” to “bend that line up down quick, before we all head for the bread line!” This leads to metaphoric confusion. It’s what happens when you fall in love with full-color graphs to explain to the screen-entranced set what’s happening and scorn plain words.

Next we turn to Benjamin Zimmer at Language Log (which is a fascinating place to wander through, especially when one wants to experience the same blank-eyed sensation that too many in our communities have when they ogle our data.) Zimmer says,

The idea that the rise of something undesirable can be altered by "bending the curve" has been around for quite a while.

He cites a number of examples, suggesting that the phrase is not of such recent origin (or due to such nefarious pandering to policy-justification-through-optics-rather-than-words) as denounced by Safire. However, Zimmer's readers shudder at the use of the phrase.

I wonder how they would feel about the casual way I bat about the term "trend-bending"?

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BEA Delays Release of Personal Income Data

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) has issued the following announcement today:

State personal income statistics for the second quarter of 2009 and comprehensive revisions to those statistics for earlier periods that had been scheduled for release tomorrow, Friday, September 18, instead will be released on Friday, October 16.

BEA had accelerated the production of the revised state personal income statistics that are consistent with the recently-released comprehensive revision of the GDP statistics, with the aim of releasing those statistics more quickly than in previous comprehensive revisions. Due to discrepancies just discovered in the data, we are unable to meet the accelerated schedule. We apologize for the delay; but the statistics BEA produces must meet our standards for accuracy.

More information available at

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Job Openings at IPUMS

Here's a message I needed to pass along. If you haven't used IPUMS before, you might want to check out what they have available.

Dear IPUMS Users,

I am writing to pass on information about several job openings at the Minnesota Population Center, and to inform you of upcoming data release plans.

The Minnesota Population Center is recruiting a post-doctoral researcher to work on IPUMS-CPS; the start date is flexible. We also have immediate openings for Research Associates/Research Scientists to work on IPUMS-USA and two other projects.

To obtain more information and download position announcements, please visit our website at

The Census Bureau plans to release microdata from the 2008 American Community Survey (ACS) on September 22nd, 2009. We will produce an IPUMS version of this dataset within a week of its public release. The IPUMS version of the data will be available via the IPUMS-USA site at

Finally, earlier today we released the IPUMS version of the 2009 March Current Population Survey, available on the IPUMS-CPS site at

Please redistribute this message to any researchers who might be interested.


Steve Ruggles
IPUMS Principal Investigator
Regents Professor
University of Minnesota

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Stiglitz Op-Ed in the Guardian

Thought you might also enjoy reading this.

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Stiglitz Commission Reports; Sarkozy Implements

The Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (often referred to as the Stiglitz Commission, after its chair, Joseph Stiglitz) has released its report on recommended measures of performance (PDF). France's president Nicolas Sarkozy "urged other countries to adopt proposed new measures of economic output," according to the Financial Times, and has already instructed France's statistical reporting arm to implement the recommendations.

The report begins with this:

"... statistical indicators are important for designing and assessing policies aiming at advancing the progress of society, as well as for assessing and influencing the functioning of economic markets. Their role has increased significantly over the last two decades. This reflects improvements in the level of education in the population, increases in the complexity of modern economies and the widespread use of information technology. In the “information society”, access to data, including statistical data, is much easier. More and more people look at statistics to be better informed or to make decisions. To respond to the growing demand for information, the supply of statistics has also increased considerably, covering new domains and phenomena.

"What we measure affects what we do; and if our measurements are flawed, decisions may be distorted."

They present a compelling case for the problems with measuring GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as a sole measure of progress. We've talked about some of those problems before; here Stiglitz and Amartya Sen and a host of others present 80 pages of analysis on the question. It's worth reading, and summarizing it would be a disservice (their summary is 20 pages long on this question alone!)

The report then discusses quality of life, which it defines thusly:

"Quality of life is a broader concept than economic production and living standards. It includes the full range of factors that influences what we value in living, reaching beyond its material side."

They make the point that trying to measure quality-of-life aspects through extending the economic accounting system is inherently flawed -- it's not just about resources and resource allocation. People experience the use of resources differently, many of the transactions don't act within traditional markets and resource assignments would be highly variable and non-comparable, and much of quality-of-life is related to life circumstances that cannot be described as resources with immutable prices.

They summarize three approaches to quality-of-life measurement as subjective well-being, capabilities, and fair allocations. This is a fascinating section of the report. Read this part, at least the summary piece!

The third section deals with sustainable development and the environment. You will find the discussion of sustainability indicators familiar. The connection of the three (economic, quality of life, and sustainability measures) is what we've been working on for some time in local communities and global networks.

This report was completed during a time of global financial crisis and an emerging environmental crisis. Here's how the authors addressed that: "...the whole Commission is convinced that the crisis is teaching us a very important lesson: those attempting to guide the economy and our societies are like pilots trying to steering a course without a reliable compass. The decisions they (and we as individual citizens) make depend on what we measure, how good our measurements are and how well our measures are understood. We are almost blind when the metrics on which action is based are ill-designed or when they are not well understood. For many purposes, we need better metrics. Fortunately, research in recent years has enabled us to improve our metrics, and it is time to incorporate in our measurement systems some of these advances. There is also consensus among the Commission members that better measures may enable us to steer our economies better through and out of crises. Many of the indicators put forward by the report will lend themselves to this purpose."

This is probably my favorite quote in the report:

"The report is about measurement rather than policies, thus it does not discuss how best our societies could advance through collective actions in the pursuit of various goals. However, as what we measure shapes what we collectively strive to pursue – and what we pursue determines what we measure - the report and its implementation may have a significant impact on the way in which our societies looks at themselves and, therefore, on the way in which policies are designed, implemented and assessed."

Anyway, check out the report. This is of tremendous value on a global scale to discuss well-being of nations, and should also be of great help on a local scale as we debate the importance of measuring community indicators.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

CIC Announces Panelists for 2009 Conference

Here's an update from the Community Indicators Consortium:

There are still some spaces available in our 5 exciting preconference workshops including:

And this isn't all. The final draft schedule of panels and panelists for CIC's Seventh International Conference on Indicators is now posted on our website. Take a look today to see some of the interesting and exciting topics and participants from across North America and beyond.

We'll be adding detailed descriptions of the sessions and additions regularly over the next days. Join us at the Meydenbauer Conference Center in Bellevue, WA, September 30 - October 2nd, so you don't miss a single learning and networking opportunity. Register now!

REMEMBER: We have two hotels offering rooms at a special conference rate: the rooms at the Marriott Courtyard are $149/night and just across the street from the Meydenbauer. The rooms at the Coast Hotel are only $94/night and several blocks away. These special room rates will run out soon, so make your reservation.

Note from me: I'll be there, and I'll be providing a half-day workshop as well as providing input into a couple of the conference sessions. If you're going to the conference, take a moment to say hello! If you're still deciding whether or not to attend, take a look at the schedule -- there's quite a lot of amazing information to share and people to meet and connect with. If you're at all interested in community indicators, this is the conference you need to attend.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Beyond GDP Followup: Exciting News!

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while remember this series of articles I wrote from a hotel room in Belgium in Fall 2007 at the Beyond GDP conference. Now there's really good news about the results of the work launched at that conference. Let me share that with you:

4 September 2009

European Commission adopts Communication "GDP and beyond"

At the closing of the Beyond GDP conference, Commissioner Dimas announced that the European Commission will present a policy paper that takes the ideas presented at the conference and moulds them into a road map for action. On 20 August 2009, the European Commission released its Communication “GDP and beyond: Measuring progress in a changing world”.

The Communication outlines an EU roadmap with five key actions to be undertaken now and in the near term. The text of the Communication is available in 22 languages.

The five key actions support the Commission’s aims to develop indicators relevant to the challenges of today—ones that provide an improved basis for public discussion and policy-making. The five key actions are:

* Complementing GDP with environmental and social indicators
* Near real-time information for decision-making
* More accurate reporting on distribution and inequalities
* Developing a European Sustainable Development Scoreboard
* Extending National Accounts to environmental and social issues

Live online video of presentation event for Communication “GDP and beyond”

The adopted Communication “GDP and beyond” will be presented and discussed with key stakeholders at an event on 8 September 2009 and will be streamed live online in 6 languages from 14:30 to 17:00 CET. Confirmed speakers include: Stavros Dimas (European Commission); Elisabet Falemo (Swedish EU Presidency); Aart de Geus (OECD); Pedro Diaz Muñoz (Eurostat); and Enrico Giovannini (Italian Statistical Institute). Speaker presentations will be followed by a discussion session with the stakeholders in attendance.

More information about this communication, including how to be involved in the live conference, is available at

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Kurt Metzger on Metromode

Kurt Metzger is a guest blogger on Metromode. Check it out!

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Music, Literature, and College Performance

Sometimes we bring up creative indicators that strike our fancy for their unusual use of data to tell an interesting story. This isn't necessarily to suggest that these measures would be great community indicators -- we're not going to add "boxers or briefs" to our community survey any time soon -- but the way in which these measures are constructed can maybe set us thinking about how else we could measure key trends in our own communities outside of the more standard data sets.

The following data set provides that kind of out-of-the-milk-crate thinking. In Music That Makes You Dumb, Virgil Griffith at CalTech examined Facebook data to see what music college students were listening to. In Books That Make You Dumb, he did the same thing (but with books, not music.) (You probably figured that one out without me.)

He took Facebook network stats from 1,352 schools and the top music/books that their students listed as their favorites, and then mashed that data up with average SAT/ACT scores fro those schools, to get a correlation between music or book choices and IQ. (Yes, it's correlation and not causation. He says that a number of times.)

But check out the results -- you can look up your own school and see what the favorites are and how they rank, or you can look up you favorite music/books and see where they are.

Any way you slice it, it's an interesting data set. And you might see a book or a musical group you may want to try out.

Increased smartness or improved SAT scores not guaranteed.

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Community Indicators and Performance Measures Update

A number of initiatives are underway in improving government performance measurement systems and linking those systems with community indicators. If you are interested in thinking about how your community measures the effectiveness and efficiency of government services, and would like to bring those trend lines together with trends on civic engagement and community governance, and wrap it all under a picture of how the community is doing in relation to an overall vision of improvement, you need to be aware of several initiatives and opportunities.

First of all, two conferences are coming up that you should seriously think about attending. The Community Indicators Consortium will be meeting September 30 - October 2 at their Seventh Annual Conference in Seattle. The conference will focus on four aspects of effective indicator efforts:

  • From Planning to Implementation
  • Creating Partnerships and Crossing Boundaries
  • Promoting Social Change
  • Integrating Indicators & Performance Measures
I'll be providing a half-day workshop on the 30th and will be part of at least one other session during the conference, so if you're planning on attending please look me up and say hello. CIC will be sharing a great deal about its Integrating Community Indicators and Performance Measures initiative, including an awards presentation and discussion of its Real Stories project.

The AGA will be having its 2009 Performance Management conference November 5-6, also in Seattle. Sessions include:
  • Lessons Learned about Strategic Planning and Performance Management
  • Listening to the Numbers: How to Use Performance Data to Improve Service Delivery
  • Using Performance Measures to Improve Service Delivery
  • Public Interest in Government Accountability and Performance
  • What’s New: Toolkit for Preparing an Award-Winning Performance Report
  • Let’s Take a Look at Performance Based Management Reporting
  • Integrating Performance Measures and Community Indicators to Enhance Governance, Citizen Engagement and Results
  • The Chief Executive Officer’s Strategic Partnership: Critical to Driving Transformational Change
  • Performance 2.0—From Measurement to Management
Evie Barry says "Don’t miss this annual event if you are starting to think about performance reporting for your community or you are a seasoned performance reporter wanting to learn about innovative ideas from other governments."

You'll also want to take some time to provide your input to the GASB SEA effort. Go to GASB's website for more information and instructions on how to comment on their Proposed Suggested Guidelines for Voluntary Reporting, SEA Performance Information. Deadline is October 30, so you need to hurry. More information is available at the AGA blog.

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