The Future of Community Indicator Systems

The Future of Community Indicator Systems

TitleThe Future of Community Indicator Systems
AuthorJ. Benjamin Warner, President & CEO of Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI)

Which measures matter & who decides which measures matter?


1.The community indicators movement, invigorated by 30 years of experience & local innovation, will evolve from democratizing data to galvanizing civic progress.

2. Efforts to develop standard global progress measures, led by OECD & UN, will continue.

3. Demand for creating a uniform, national well-being index for US, one that surpasses traditional indicators like gross domestic product (GDP), will continue to grow.

4. Several factors (e.g., technology & data availability, literacy & visualization) will enhance our capacity to measure civic progress, but some factors (e.g., data proliferation) will make it harder to select effective measures.

As Is:

1. Community indicator systems distill data in ways that help civic groups shape priorities, assess conditions, forge strategies & take civic action; they are a vital component of any effective community change model

2. Community indicator systems, while evolving, are not without defects, e.g.:

     Political pressures can distort decision-making, threaten funding & undermine efforts to sustain a broad civic progress agenda

     Some systems are designed to preserve, advocate or promote rather than to address long-term civic needs

     Some indicators are excluded that could illuminate cross-cutting issues, prompt unconventional thinking or suggest innovative solutions

3. When issues defy easy measurement, some leaders shoehorn clumsy proxy indicators

Jacksonville, Florida

1. Nation’s oldest community indicator system, “Quality of Life Progress Report.”

     System designed to measure progress over time, not to compare other cities

     Initial system included 83 measures covering economy, public safety, health, education, environment, mobility, government, social & culture

     System since expanded to measure other aspects of community life (e.g., poverty impact)

     Indicators & methodologies continually revised as better data become available

     Annually, leaders use data to highlight negative trends & mobilize civic action

2. Citizen input critical to success & growth of indicator system, e.g.:

     Indicators selected by citizens & informed by experts

     Citizen input used to improve data usability for laypersons

     Multiple presentation options offered (e.g., simple briefings, detailed reports & interactive web-based mapping) to accommodate diverse audiences

3. Biggest challenge facing system is securing support from political leaders without sacrificing system’s political independence (never championed by single official).

To Do:

1. Design indicator system to promote needed civic change, not leaders or institutions:

     Build system that serves interests of entire community & represents vital constituencies & geographic units, not just civic institutions or political incumbents

     Select reliable indicators with direction (i.e., highlight performance gaps, spot future trends & suggest needs for improvement)

     In selecting indicators, strike balance between possible & practical, rigorous & familiar

2. Create unifying index for aggregating data, simplifying complex issues, connecting citizens to data & enhancing system utility for compelling civic change.

3. Use system to tell vital stories, anticipate civic problems & spur civic change.

4. Diversify civic leadership groups not only to better visualize civic progress, select measures & set priorities, but to ensure that the entire community’s interests are served.

Our Take:

We agree that the challenge facing communities is not so much to bring more data to citizens, but better data. With better data (& more compelling stories), communities can track their progress. The Community Indicators Consortium (CIC) offers training & research to help communities build civic tracking systems & share their experiences. We also applaud CIC’s effort to integrate community indicators with government performance measures. Ultimately, this initiative could yield a powerful platform for spurring civic progress in every community.