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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.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, November 29, 2010

Community Indicators and the Visioning Process

I've been busy with the SA2020 community visioning exercise for San Antonio, Texas and we just moved into the part of the process where the community is engaged in developing indicators to measure progress towards reaching their community vision.  

Two of the youth participants at the last forum.
The shirts say, "My voice was heard. SA2020"

I received a good comment back from the exercise, and thought I might share the answer I provided with you for your comment and discussion.

I was glad to participate in my third SA2020 event. This time I found that the process was ahead of where it should be. We were instructed to develop measures for determine how visions were being realized. Since visions are not concrete, I found this difficult. There should be a step of designing strategies for bringing visions into reality. These strategies can and should be measured. I love participating in the very worthy SA2020 process. Thank you for considering my opinion.

Here's my response: This is a good comment, and there’s a critically important reason why community indicators need to be used at this point in the process, prior to the development of strategies.

Indicators operationalize the vision statements; they take the abstract notions of community well-being and clarify them with specific measures of the intended/desired outcomes. These outcome measures then serve as a framework within which strategies can be constructed. This allows the strategies to proceed with the end in mind and focus those efforts on important aspects of the quality of life. The measures also allow for an upper-level evaluation of the effectiveness of the strategies in influencing the vision statements.

With the indicators in place, strategies can be developed – and when strategies are developed, they should be accompanied with specific process and performance metrics. The use of measures at this stage of the process does not remove the need for measurements for each of the action steps, which [the commenter] is right to observe. However, we have often seen communities that focus entirely on performance measures for specific strategies to determine whether the action was completed as desired without taking the next step to see if the outcomes of that strategy accomplished the overall purpose of moving the community closer to its desired vision. For example, No Child Left Behind was created with concerns about all students receiving a quality education. One strategy to advance the purpose of quality education was to implement at the state level a set of standardized tests, and additional actions were built around those test outcomes. Because many of the states focused directly on one strategic initiative (standardized testing) and the metrics embedded within it, too often the larger picture (quality education) was forgotten as curricula, school year start times, retention policies, and other initiatives were developed in response to the strategy (instead of focusing on the overall goal).

So [the commenter] is right – we need specific metrics tied to strategies. But we also need, to balance out the picture and keep us focused on why we selected those strategies in the first place, a constellation of measures tied directly to the vision statements themselves. In this fashion, we preserve both accountability and focus. 

How would you have answered that question?

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Engaging Dialogue about Community Indicators

We had a great session talking about community indicators at the Community Matters '10 Conference in Denver yesterday. Delia Clark facilitated a panel discussion with Rhonda Phillips, Shanna Ratner, and me as we talked about why community indicators were important and how to use them in creating sustainable community change. While we were talking, highlights of the panel discussion were captured on flipcharts as shown below:

The fun part was that we asked the group for their questions before we started speaking, and filled two flip chart pages with questions. After the short (15 minutes each) presentations we provided, we encouraged the session participants to form small groups and talk with each other about community indicators. They reported out their comments and questions, and we turned the session into open dialogue around indicators. At the end, the panelists each got five minutes to respond to any questions that remained unanswered from the opening list.

All in all, it was a good example of using a civic engagement process to discuss the importance of using community indicators in civic engagement processes.  Looking forward to using similar processes in other conference sessions. Special thanks to Delia Clark for the facilitation that made it all happen.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Visioning, Indicators, and Mariachi Bands

One of the breakout groups for SA2020
I was reflecting this week on the world of community indicators and how widely they're being used now. This past weekend I was in San Antonio to help launch their community visioning effort. A thousand people came together to talk about what challenges the community is facing, what is good about the community that needs to be preserved or maintained, and what the opportunities are for improvement or change in the next 10 years. From that vision, we will draw indicators, set targets, and move into community action. One of the more exciting aspects of the SA2020 process has been the integration of social and online media into the conversation, with live web-streaming of the launch event, over 2200 web-based comments during the live feed, and strong online comment captures, including on the website (, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

This month also provides the opportunity to celebrate World Statistics Day on 20/10/2010 (that's October 20, 2010, for those of us who put the month first in our dating system.)

Next week I get to join Rhonda Phillips and Shanna Ratner in a discussion of community indicators and measuring progress as part of the CommunityMatters '10 Conference in Denver, Colorado.

And we have just celebrated the 35th anniversary of my organization, JCCI (Jacksonville Community Council Inc.), along with the 25th anniversary of our Quality of Life Progress Report, 10th anniversary of JCCI Forward, and 5th anniversary of our Race Relations Progress Report.

This has been a week to think about how communities can transform through the action of good people working together on a shared concern, and how data, properly used, can bring those people together in a common understanding of the issues at hand.  And as our local government (along with many, many others) has struggled with questions of how to prioritize spending in an era of increasing demand and shrinking resources, it's sobering to reflect on where we might be without community indicators to help make the really hard decisions.

I hope to have good notes to share with you from the Community Matters conference (I'll let you know when I know the hashtag for the event -- CM10 is being used right now for the Chicago marathon, which I am not participating in this year.) And keep an eye out on the #SA2020 conversations -- the work is just beginning to create community-defined indicators.

And yes, the SA2020 launch event included both a marching band to welcome people into the facility and a youth mariachi band to serenade them once inside. Tremendous experiences, wonderful energy levels, and an astounding city.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Community Indicators Growing Up

This January we released our 25th annual edition of our signature community indicators project. We've launched an interactive indicators portal allowing us to update indicators as quickly as the data become available. We also celebrated the fifth anniversary of our annual community indicators report focused on racial and ethnic disparities.

At the same time, we got assistance from a talented graphics designer to transform our model for community change into something hopefully more understandable (and more friendly!) And we began using twitter as a way of communicating news and updates about community indicators, rather than blog posts (you can read the news feeds and the twitter feeds on the right-hand column of this blog.)

This past summer has felt like a summer of transformation in the community indicators world -- a sense that the movement is growing up. You can see what I'm talking about at the new website for the Community Indicators Consortium. You can follow along on the Facebook pages for The State of the USA project. You can see the exciting developments in graphic design, data sharing, mapping technologies, and all of the other amazing tools exploding onto the data-sharing scene.

So as we work with communities now on creating and sustaining community indicators projects today, the conversations are different than they used to be. The concern is not about whether communities need good data to make responsible decisions (of course they do.) The questions are not about where to find good, reliable data (we're choking in it!) The conversations don't even focus as much on how data can be displayed or used effectively (hundreds of excellent examples are a Google search away.)

We're circling around to conversations about community engagement, re-invigorating local democracy, and making public participation in community visioning both meaningful and effective.

We're having conversations about measuring the effectiveness of your community indicators project, and knowing whether or not your community indicators project is making a difference.

Those are, I think, important conversations to have. And with these thoughts, the focus of this blog will shift slightly -- from updating you on community indicators news, conferences, job openings, events, and report releases (you'll get more of that on the Community Indicators Consortium and on Twitter) to conversations and articles about the field.

And I'm interested in your input as well into what we need to be talking about as the movement proceeds.

Thanks for your time and attention and for being a loyal reader of this blog for the past three years!

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Call for Proposals: Integrating Community Indicators and Performance Measures

The Community Indicators Consortium (CIC), as part of a grant from 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.

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 or linking these two types of efforts. The published Real Stories, from 5-20 pages in length, will be used to advance the knowledge of community indicators-organizational performance measures integration and for training and other outreach material to community leaders as a way to improve or inform decision-making and create measurable, positive change in communities.

We are looking for proposals from individuals and groups who are directly involved in these efforts as well as individuals and organizations that work with community indicator and performance measurement projects. A stipend of $2,000 will be awarded for each Real Stories published.Three-to-five Real Stories will be selected for publication in 2010.

The deadline for submitting proposals for the 2010 Call for Real Stories is June 22, 2010. Notification of selected proposals and guidelines for development will be sent on July 15th. The deadline for the written first draft is September 15, 2010.

Visit the CIC web site for more information about the Real Stories project and the call for proposals. You can also download the Real Stories Proposal submittal form for more details, or contact the Project Steering committee at


Allen Lomax and Cheryle Broom
Integrating Community Indicators and Performance Measures Co-Chairs

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Indicators, Civic Engagement, and a Bright Future in Apucarana

This morning I shared JCCI's 35 years of experience with community engagement, studies, and indicators with a group of business, civic, and political leaders in Apucurana, Brazil. That's located in the state of Parana in the south of Brazil, and is part of the same north Parana region as Londrina.

They're using indicators and community-based studies and civic engagement in tangible ways in the region. I got to meet a number of people representing organizations doing some very good work.

One of the groups that shared their work was the Social Observatory of Maringa. In order for the country as a whole to develop properly, they argued, they really only needed two things: resources, and the correct application of those resources. Unfortunately, according to their data, 32 percent of taxes collected in Brazil are lost to corruption. The people of Maringa organized and took action. Their Social Observatory goes carefully through the local government budget and finances, looking for cost reductions in what is spent, ensuring the money is spent for the public good, and checking to make sure the government received what it paid for. They have saved millions by ensuring that the costs for goods and services paid by the government are in line with the local market, that purchases are made only for what is really needed, and that what is delivered meets contract specifications. In one instance, they made sure every school had a scale they could use to measure the amounts of goods purchased, since some vendors had been significantly shorting the school system. Just by being there, they've increased the sense of risk for would-be defrauders of the government. And by catching problems up front, they save real money, since the government's approach to catching fraud seldom results in full recovery even if there's a conviction. The key to the program is 3,000 volunteer hours a year to create real transparency in government. Pretty amazing stuff.

CODEM Maringa is another civic organization focused on local development. They want to connect government and the community together to work for the common good. They use indicators to measure progress and studies to find solutions to economic development. Their challenge, like many others, is how you define "community" -- participation in these efforts appears restricted to the usual community suspects, and adding new voices to the table is difficult.

We heard from a couple of others, including the Forum Desenvolve Londrina (who intentionally patterned themselves after JCCI seven years ago and is making great progress), and then I shared some case studies around the JCCI Model for Community Improvement.

By the time we headed out for the local churrascaria, we had seen a number of examples that showed us:

1. The future of a community is too important to let happen by chance or at the whims of the few. Community involvement is critical to both design and create/implement your desired future.
2. Community indicators are critical tools for measuring progress, creating shared community priorities, engaging institutions in solutions, and evaluating the results of changes made.
3. Civic-minded people are the same the world over, no matter what language they speak.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Community Indicators in Londrina, Brazil

I'm spending thisweek in Londrina, Brazil as a follow-up to earlier conversations and visits about effective community indicators. When I return, I'll share something of the dialogue and exciting work happening in this area.

What's really interesting to me is the continued validation of the efficacy of community indicator systems in created desired community change. There's something about the process that transcends culture and geography (though some of the discussions we've had about different perspectives on community governance and civic engagement in different countries show that location/culture/history does matter in the design/implementation of the indicators system and the model of change built around it.)

As the GAO continues its efforts to document the state of indicators systems in the United States and to support the development of a Key National Indicators system, this message of the universal importance of broadly-available community-informed public data systems for decision-making and action is an important one to recognize.

Anyway, those are the kinds of things I'm thinking about right now. A full report comes later.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

GDP v GNH: The Economist Debates

There's an interesting debate over at The Economist over replacing GDP as a measure of progress with something else, such as a Gross National Happiness index.

You may be interested in watching the debate, seeing the arguments, or voting on the outcome.

Click here for more information.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gapminder Updates Web Site

Here's a quick update from

We have given Gapminder's web site a major overhaul. In the process we added many new, helpful functions to make it easier to use Gapminder.

The news include better navigation, Hans Rosling's twitter, an easier way to find and download data and a new page especially for teachers.

The biggest improvement is the new Gapminder World. We have made it easier to find interesting stories in the vast amount of data. To use, simply click the “Open graph menu” and choose from the list of stories.

And yes, everything now looks much better!

Gapminder is a non-profit foundation based in Stockholm, Sweden. We are promoting sustainable global development and the achieve- ment of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by unveiling the beauty of statistics for a fact based world view.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

NAPC Conference, Day Two

Last night at the NAPC conference we had a nice reception where Irv Katz, from the National Human Services Assembly, addressed us on some of the critical issues they're addressing -- you can see what's on their policy agenda here: National Assembly

After a series of participant introductions this morning (fascinating work being done around the country and Canada by members), the focus turned to where we are now economically. Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute addressed us.

Heidi -- "The Recession is Over -- but over for whom?"

In past recessions, quick bounce-back in employment after the recession -- until the last two recessions. In early  1990s, "jobless recovery" term was coined. In early 2000s, recession ended with a 'job-loss recovery." That's what we're facing now -- jobless (or perhaps job-loss) recovery. So the key benchmark isn't GDP growth but unemployment rate -- now 9.7 nationally, will likely continue to rise through the end of thisyear and will reach its peak then --we're not going to feel like a recovery util next year.

Now we're in the calm after the storm, looking at the damage in the labor market. We've lost over 8 million jobs, but population rising -- so we need to add on the order of 100,000 jobs a month just to keep unemployment stable. Overall, we're really down 11 million jobs (job losses + labor market growth) to get to pre-recession unemployment levels.

Layoffs are now down to pre-recession levels -- that's good. But hiring has not picked up -- that's bad. In fact, the peak of the business cycle in 2007 is still worse than the pre-recession late 1990s -- we hit this current recession in the worst shape with the least cushion of any prior recession (post-Depression).

After recession of the 1990s was over, had year and a half of increasing unemployment before it started to improve. The same thing in the early 2000s. We're seeing the same thing now. (And that's not counting the discouraged workers!)

In fact, when we add in the unemployed, involuntary part-time, and marginally employed workers, we're up to 17 percent underemployment -- up from around 7 in 2000. Largest increase isn't in discouraged workers  (which is still a big increase) but in involuntary part-timers. "The huge involuntary part-time is a threat to reducing unemployment." Employers who cut hours, not workers, to cut costs, means that employers can increase production by adding hours, not workers, further delaying any new hiring. And when jobs do pick up, 3 million more people will enter into the labor market if the labor market participation returns to normal -- meaning job growth won't move the dial on unemployment rate for a while.

The overall unemployment rate masks other issues. Men have been harder hit than women in the recession. Racial and ethnic minorities hit harder than whites. People with less education getting hit harder too. Young workers hit much harder -- nearly 20 percent of 16 to 24 unemployed. Older workers, on the other hand, have been slammed on the wealth  front (housing value, retirement funds), while younger workers are slammed in the labor market.

In labor market, the chart seems to show that best case scenario is older white college-educated woman -- hardest hit is young black male without high school education.

This summer people leaving school now face the worst labor market in 70 years. (Sucks to be born in the 80's, and not just because of the music and hair!) We're also looking at a 8-10 year swath of long-term unemployment for younger people. Without summer jobs, what are young people going to do with their time? School enrollment going up, but not matching the growth in non-labor market participation. Growth in Nene's -- not enrolled, not employed.

Seeing increased labor market participation among older workers -- because of attack on wealth, people not retiring. Stock market improvement might help unemployment rate.

Long-term unemployment recession -- shattering every record for length of unemployment. We haven't reached the peak of unemployment in the 80s recession, but the length of unemployment is unprecedented. Number of job seekers per  job opening is huge -- 5.5 people per job. So extending unemployment insurance doesn't keep people from taking jobs -- there aren't jobs for them to take.

"The worst recession since the Great Depression? Absolutely."

The recession started out super-mild, until Lehman Brothers -- the collapse of the financial market accelerated the recession to unbelievable levels -- at one point losing 700,000 jobs a month. Also twice as many people in the country now since the Great Depression -- principle of large numbers say the impacts in places with the large numbers affected has an exponential effect.

What's in store? We do not have to settle for permanently high unemployment. But the short and medium term are going to be ugly. Recovery will take a long time. To fill the 11 million jobs gap, we would need 1 million new jobs a month to fill it in 1 year. To fill in 5 years, we would need nearly 300,000 jobs a month (every month!) The latest "really good news" had 167,000 new jobs in a month. Projections: 10.1 unemployment averaged this year, 9.5 next year, 8 in 2012, 2013 6.3 percent unemployment -- still worse than the worst year of the early 2000s recession.

Again, communities are facing long-term ugly unemployment and it could take much longer to fill the jobs gap. Projections still based on people behaving the same way they did before the recession -- but people aren't behaving the same way, and not retiring when projected because they can't afford to. And social security is in trouble.

Clear relationship between unemployment rates and family income. Real family middle income has been hammered. The 2000s recovery never got family income back to pre-recession levels, and now with this recession even in 2015 the typical family income will not get back to where it was at the low point of the early 2000s recession, let alone as high as it was in the pre-2000s recession time. There's no upward pressure on wage growth, and won't be for a while.

Overall poverty rate around 15 percent -- not dropping down to turn-of-the century rates by 2015. And  for kids it's worse, and for racial and ethnic minorities worse -- about 1/3 black poverty rate now, perhaps down to 24 percent in 2015.

So what should be done? Communities are going to be suffering a lot for at least the next five years -- things will get better over time. National level answer? Heidi says it's more stimulus dollars, and much more. Real, measurable GDP change with the Recovery Act -- estimated 2.5 million more job losses without it, is on track to reach 3-4 million jobs, just wasn't on the right scope of this crisis. Really need something on the scope of $1.5 trillion.

Can we afford it? What about the deficit? 2 time horizons: short-term and long-term. A key way to bring the deficit down is to deficit-spend to create jobs. What has added to the deficit? Increases in the deficit: Bank bailout: $184 billion (TARP) about 15 percent increase in deficit. 15 percent ($181 billion) is stimulus. $841 billion is the recession -- high unemployment, low income, business loss, resulting in fewer taxes paid. So deficit-spend to create taxpayers is the long-term solution to deal with the deficit, according to Heidi Shierholz.

We need to bail out state and local governments. The most job bang for the buck is state fiscal relief. Because states must balance the budget, they have to either raise taxes or cut services, and both of them drain the economy. National stimulus packages would otherwise just fight against "50 Herbert Hoovers" at the state level counterbalancing economic stimulus efforts with economic drains.

"This recession, make no mistake, was the bursting of the housing bubble -- the bursting of an $8 trillion housing bubble is what creates something like this." And the roots of the problems go back through multiple political administrations.

(Then we got talking about the intersection of economics and politics, and folks got really, really depressed. I won't even go there.)

Heidi's presentation will be available at For those of us at the conference, the presentation challenges us to re-examine what community planning and community-based work looks like. For those who like economic indicators, check out the charts in Heidi's presentation and think about the economic indicators you might be using in your community to monitor these changes -- and how you might best tell the story of the unprecedented impacts of this recession.

ETA: Here's Heidi's presentation: click here

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NAPC Conference, Day One: CI-PM Integration

I'm at the NAPC Conference in Alexandria, Virginia. Our opening pre-conference session features Allen Lomax from the Community Indicators Consortium talking about their project to integrate community indicators and government performance measures. I'll be participating with a NAPC Forward project to increase the use of social media among community planning agencies, so you'll see more if you follow @N_A_P_C on Twitter (you can follow me, too, at @BenWarner.) You'll see more about the conference also on the NAPC blog and the NAPC YouTube channel.

Allen's presentation is now online at -- excellent examples of communities  trying to engage the community and government around data and the policy implications of using good, shared information. The Community Indicators Consortium is about to put out a call for more Real Stories -- case studies of integration efforts, successful or not -- so watch for that.

The conversation got really interesting, as multiple folk shared their initiatives in their local communities -- the topic appeared to strongly resonate with NAPC members who have been trying to bring community indicators together with performance measures and have important lessons to share. This is a critical connection for this conversation, and I hope more NAPC members get involved in helping this project along.

In other news, you can follow live tweeting of the conference through the #NAPC10 hashtag.


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Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I'm having some fun playing with, a tool that pulls state data sets (many, but not all, from and allows you to throw data sets together to find interesting information and stories.

Take births divided by population and you get a list of the Most Reproductive States (not surprisingly, Utah leads the pack, but Texas and Alaska are right on their heels.) Select Alcohol consumption/Binge Drinkers and multiply that by the Firearm death rate per 100,000 and you have the Boozin' & Shootin' Index -- D.C. edges out Nevada and Alaska (Utah's way at the bottom for this one!)

You can get your results in a map or a table, and you can suggest additional data sets you think might be useful. 

Have some fun with the site, and think about how your own community indicators project might benefit from this kind of tool.

Hat tip: DataPoints blog via @Kidsdata

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Job Openings: IPUMS

Dear IPUMS Users,

I am writing to pass on information about job openings at the Minnesota Population Center.

We are recruiting a post-doctoral associate to play an important role in the improvement and expansion of IPUMS-USA data and internal U.S. Census Bureau data files, starting in fall 2010. MPC postdocs are expected to spend 25% of their effort working on their own research agenda, and the associate's access to restricted Census Bureau data will open up exciting research and publication opportunities.

The position announcement is attached and can also be found at our website ( ).

We will be at the upcoming PAA annual meeting (exhibit #204) to answer any questions you might have.

We also have open positions for software developers:

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


Steve Ruggles
Regents Professor
Director, Minnesota Population Center
Principal Investigator, IPUMS Projects
University of Minnesota

IPUMS Projects
Minnesota Population Center
University of Minnesota

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Friday, April 9, 2010

New Economic Measures

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article in its April 8 edition called "New Ways to Read Economy: Experts Scour Oddball Data to Help See Trends Before Official Information Is Available." (The link will be available for non-paid subscribers for 7 days only).

I'm quoted in it, but that's not why you should read the article. The point of the piece is that, in the changing/turbulent/volatile economic times we're in, traditional economic measures might be too slow (or antiquated) to tell us what we need to know. So many of us are turning to new data sources that are quicker, localized, and more responsive.

The article begins:

When the city's top economist needs a rough prediction of sales tax revenues, he watches the number of subway passengers emerging from the Powell Street Station on Saturdays.

Ted Egan, chief economist in the San Francisco Controller's Office, said he could wait six months for California to release the detailed sales-tax data he needs for city revenue projections. But it's quicker to look at passenger tallies from the station closest to the Union Square shopping district, which generates roughly 10% of the city's sales-tax revenue. The Bay Area Rapid Transit District releases the data within three days, he said: "Why should I have to wait?"

Mr. Egan is among a growing number of economists and urban planners who scour for economic clues in unconventional urban data—oddball measures of how people are moving, spending and working.

Broadway ticket sales are a favorite indicator for the chief economist of the New York City Economic Development Corp., Francesco Brindisi. He says they are a good gauge of city tourism.

In Jacksonville, Fla., community planner Ben Warner keeps tabs on calls to the city's 2-1-1 hotline for social services. Since late 2008, he has seen spikes in calls for help with food, housing, utilities payments and suicide prevention. It is "direct, real-time monitoring of the economic and social situation," he said.

I'm a big fan of nontraditional indicators -- they force us to look at our communities through fresh eyes.

If you had been called by the reporter (her name is Cari Tuna, and I found her a delightful professional to work with!), what other examples could you have provided?

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Two-Part Webinar on Supplemental Poverty Measure

The U.S. Census Bureau has announced plans to develop a supplemental poverty measure based on recommendations by the National Academy of Sciences. This modern assessment of deprivation will be released initially in the fall of 2011 and will be used alongside the official poverty measure, developed half a century ago.

The webinar series is co-sponsored by the Brookings Center on Children and Families, the Half-in-Ten Campaign, the New America Foundation, the National League of Cities, and Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.

Together, the two webinars are designed to provide a thorough review of the supplemental poverty measure. You are strongly encouraged to register for the two webinars. Both webinars are free.


A Supplemental Poverty Measure: What It Will and Won't Do

Learn why a new poverty measure is needed and how the supplemental poverty measure will compare to the official poverty measure. Find out how the poverty threshold for each measure will differ. Hear what role Congress will play.

When: Wednesday, April 14, 2-3 p.m. (ET)

Moderator: Michael Laracy, Annie E. Casey Foundation

Speakers: Arloc Sherman, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Indivar Dutta-Gupta, House Committee on Ways and Means,

Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support

Annette Case, Strategies to Eliminate Poverty, The Seattle Foundation

Register here for A Supplemental Poverty Measure: What It Will and Won't Do: .


Behind the Scenes: Adopting a Supplemental Poverty Measure

Hear from the top about what the Obama Administration's key issues are and how the process will work. Find out why the supplemental poverty measure gets and deserves support across the political spectrum. Learn about state and local efforts to adopt more accurate measures of poverty.

When: Wednesday, April 21, 2-3 p.m. (ET)

Moderator: Clifford Johnson, National League of Cities

Speakers: Rebecca M. Blank, U.S. Department of Commerce

Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution

Mark Levitan, New York City Center for Economic Opportunity

Register here for Behind the Scenes: Adopting a Supplemental Poverty Measure: .

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Citizen DAN Proposal Intrigues Me

There's an interesting proposal up for the Knight News Challenge awards this year. The proposal is for something called "Citizen DAN", with DAN standing for Public Data Appliance and Network.

You can read the proposal here, which includes external links for more information.

Here's a short description of the project:

Citizen DAN is an open source framework to leverage relevant local data for citizen journalists. It is a:

■Appliance for filtering and analyzing data specific to local community indicators

■Means to visualize local data over time or by neighborhood

■Meeting place for the public to upload and share local data and information

■Web data portal that can be individually tailored by any local community

■Node in a global network of communities across which to compare indicators of community well-being.

Good decisions and good journalism require good information. Starting with pre-loaded government data, Citizen DAN provides any citizen the framework to learn and compare local statistics and data with other similar communities. This helps to promote the grist for citizen journalism; it is also a vehicle for discovery and learning across the community.

Citizen DAN comes pre-packaged with all necessary deployment components and documentation, including local data from government sources. It includes facilities for direct upload of additional local data in formats from spreadsheets to standard databases. Many standard converters are included with the basic package.

Citizen DAN may be implemented by local governments or by community advocacy groups. When deployed, using its clear documentation, sponsors may choose whether or what portions of local data are exposed to the broader Citizen DAN network. Data exposed on the network is automatically available to any other network community for comparison and analysis purposes.

This data appliance and network (DAN) is multi-lingual. It will be tested in three cities in Canada and the US, showing its multi-lingual capabilities in English, Spanish and French.

What has me most excited is not just the project itself, but the growth in open-source solutions to data presentation/management for community indicators programs. These should lower the barriers to entry for many communities to establish/maintain a useful indicators set, and help spur increased innovation in both what we measure and how we use what we measure.

As more of these solutions move from the drawing board through testing and implementation, we'll share them here. In the meantime, I applaud the many folks out there doing good work to make my job both easier and more effective.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Community Indicator Projects and Role Challenges

I had the privilege yesterday of meeting with the people behind the Arizona Indicators Project that we've talked about before. One of the topics that came up in conversation was the difficulty in managing the role relationships among being a trusted data provider, a neutral convener, and an effective advocate for change.

I've been thinking about the topic since I arrived back in Jacksonville (in the remaining moments before I head up to Beaufort, South Carolina to talk to them about their indicators work!) Let me lay out the issues and how we've navigated them, mostly successfully, in Jacksonville. Then I'd love to hear your comments about different models to manage these potential role conflicts.

First of all, the role of the trusted data provider is paramount (in my opinion) to having a successful community indicators project. People need to have confidence in the information you're providing. If they don't trust the data, or think you're manipulating it in some way to push a particular agenda, you're sunk -- your integrity has to be central to how you're perceived if your data are going to be used.

The second role, that of a neutral convener, stems from our experience in Jacksonville. We existed to bring the community together around key local issues before we began publishing community indicators reports, and so my perception of the functions of an organization are colored by that history and experience. That being said, we don't publish indicators reports just because we like looking at numbers. We do so with an intent to influence decision-making in a positive fashion, to pull people and institutions into doing better things and doing things better because they have good data to inform them. Being the trusted data source creates a good fit with being the trusted convener around the issues identified by the data. This convening function or role is critical to addressing problems that persist despite the best efforts of the current systems.

The indicators report also connects issues across traditional boundaries. A good report highlights the interrelationships among different issue areas or sectors -- how education affects economic development, and how that affects environmental sustainability, and how that affects health, etc. Because we're talking about community indicators with a broad sweep across multiple areas, the indicators organization is often well suited to bring multiple partners and perspectives together to identify solutions to the problems. And because the data are trusted, the organization is in a good position to be trusted to facilitate an even-handed, honest discussion. 

The third role, that of being an effective advocate for change, creates difficulties. We do indicators because we want change -- and we know whether or not the change is happening, because that's what we're measuring. Here's where the role conflicts and different organizational models show up. Organizations can passively wait for someone else to do good things to make things happen and improve the indicators -- to the extreme, this is a publish-and-wait approach. These projects tend to spend a lot of time battling for relevancy. On the other extreme, organizations can actively push a change agenda. These organizations have to fight the perception that they are no longer neutral, and fight to maintain perceived integrity behind their data.

Clearly, the model for community improvement centered around the indicators project has to be involved enough to galvanize action for change, yet removed enough to remain a neutral convener and a trusted, independent data source. This turns out to be challenging, but by no means impossible -- what is needed is a level of intentionality and foresight in the approach to community change. The model for community change that your organization develops has to, again in my opinion, wrestle through these issues and identify how the organization is going to address each of these important functions.

In Jacksonville, we've been successful in maintaining both relevance and trust through leveraging the neutral convener role to engage citizens as advocates for change. We give them the information to be better involved in community improvement, and allow them to take the descriptive indicator information and articulate their own prescriptions for improvement. We've seen widespread community debates on the proper course of action around an issue centered on the indicators, where each side in a political debate use our same report to justify their preferred course of action.

And that, I think, is as it should be -- we want to create a community culture of data-informed decision-making processes, and when the debates are data-rich and thoughtful, we're seeing democracy at its best.

What are your thoughts?

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

It's Census Time!

The 2010 Census is upon us, and many of us are involved in encouraging people to fill out their Census forms and send them back. At a recent Complete Count Committee meeting here in Jacksonville, a Census worker suggested that participation in the census was a more important civic engagement exercise than voting.

We had a great conversation last year at the National Association of Planning Councils' conference on Census issues, and I'd suggest you look at those speaker presentations for some interesting information. I know that we in the indicators world tend to use census information a lot, and the changes with the ACS sample size and lack of a long form survey pose challenges to data use.

At the same time, a new study has come out challenging the accuracy of the IPUMS data, especially as it relates to people over age 65. When you think about the sheer number of policy decisions that are based on Census information, you quickly see the critical need to get it right in not just the count but in the ways the numbers are statistically modified to protect privacy.

So let me ask: How are you using Census data? ACS data? How are you involved in encouraging people to fill out their Census information? And if you had a wish list, what would you do to improve the census information-gathering and reporting processes?

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

JCCI Releases 25th Annual Quality of Life Progress Report

The Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI) releases its Silver Anniversary edition of the Quality of Life Progress Report. The 2009 report reflects a complete redesign of the 25-year-old report on trends in the quality of life in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, along with new interactive web-based mapping technology to provide state-wide comparisons of much of the data.

The report assesses the quality of life in Jacksonville through more than one hundred individual indicators that detail trends in nine sections of the community: Achieving Educational Excellence; Growing a Vibrant Economy; Preserving the Natural Environment; Promoting Social Wellbeing & Harmony; Enjoying Arts, Culture & Recreation; Sustaining a Healthy Community; Maintaining a Responsive Government; Moving Around Efficiently; and Keeping the Community Safe.

“For 25 years the JCCI Quality of Life Progress Report has provided vital data about where we are, where we’ve been and where we need to be,” says Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton in the report: “This Silver Anniversary edition continues to guide us as a community.”

The 18-page Summary Report being released Tuesday provides a succinct assessment of our quality of life using two Key Indicators and up to 5 supporting indicators per section. A companion online Reference Document provides greater detail as well as additional indicators.

The third piece being unveiled at the release is JCCI’s Community Snapshot, a new online data display and mapping technology. “I can’t overstate the technological leap we have made with this upgrade,” said JCCI President Chris Arab. “It literally makes data come alive.” With Community Snapshot, JCCI will update indicators as soon as new data is provided. Community policy and resource decision makers will be able to assess progress and make their decisions with the latest information possible.

Newly installed Regional Chamber of Commerce Chair Kelly Madden led the 21-person review committee that rebuilt this year’s report and prioritized the indicators for each section. “We took our work seriously“, said Madden, understanding they were creating a new framework for conveying the story of Jacksonville’s quality of life. Ms. Madden will present the report to Mayor Peyton and the citizens of Jacksonville. Mayor Peyton will also speak at the event.

JCCI’s Quality of Life Report is the longest continuously running community indicators report in the nation. Created in 1985 by community volunteers, it is an internationally recognized standard. JCCI will recognize those 1985 pioneers during this Silver Anniversary event.

The data for the Quality of Life Progress Report is obtained from the records and documents of public and private organizations. An annual opinion survey provides the remaining data.

Read more in this story from The Florida Times-Union.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Seattle Information Technology Indicators Project

Since this blog tends to attract people who are both technologically savvy (at least savvy enough to read a blog!) and interested in community indicators, I thought you might want to read about this new effort, the Seattle Information Technology Indicators Project.

The Seattle IT department conducted city-wide surveys and focus groups in order to understand how well they're doing in creating a "technologically healthy community." This link provides access to their goals, indicators, and reports they've created to answer the question.

I was leading a training session this morning in my community about our new web-based indicators tool and got into an interesting discussion about future indicator sets -- are we thinking now about the things we will need to measure to understand our community in the face of constant, exponential change in so many aspects of society? I don't have an answer to that question yet -- I'll be mulling it over and would love your inputs -- but what they're doing in Seattle is likely an important step in rethinking community visions and the indicators we need to be measuring.

Hat tip: Jonl via twitter

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Friday, January 8, 2010

JCCI Releases 5th Annual Race Relations Progress Report

The Jacksonville Community Council Inc (JCCI) released its 2009 Race Relations Progress Report during the Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Breakfast on January 8th at the Prime Osborn Convention Center. This is the fifth edition of the annual report that examines progress in addressing racial disparities and improving race relations in Jacksonville.

The 2009 report examines perceptions about race gained by annual survey and hard data that portray the realities of race and racial disparities across the Jacksonville community. Created as the result of JCCI’s 2002 citizen-led study, Beyond the Talk: Improving Race Relations (PDF), the progress report provides historical data spanning as much as 25 years across six areas: Education; Employment and Income; Housing and Neighborhoods; Health; Justice and the Legal System; and Civic Engagement and the Political System.

Jennifer Chapman of Fidelity Investments and Broderick Green of the Chamber’s Cornerstone Regional Development Partnership led the team that reviewed this year’s report and presented their findings at Friday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Breakfast. “Eliminating racial disparities in our community is not only a moral imperative – it’s an economic one,” Chapman and Green stated. Among highlights in the 2009 report is the widening black-white gap in the perception of whether racism is a problem in Jacksonville. This hinders the community’s ability to come together to take action and solve the real problems that exist, according to the JCCI report.

The report reflects mixed signals in the area of education, where graduation rates improved but racial disparities widened. Of great concern were growing racial disparities in the areas of employment and income, fueled by the recession, where black minority populations were hit especially hard. Positive indicators included perceptions of neighborhood safety, heart disease death rates, declining homicide rates, voter turnout, and black felony inmate admissions, although significant racial disparities in several of these areas.

Copies of the report were distributed at the MLK Breakfast and are available in hard copy from the JCCI offices or online at For more information contact JCCI at 904-396-3052.

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