Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Wednesday, May 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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