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Community Indicators for Central Asia is TSPC's on-going in-house project aimed at identifying, developing, and analyzing social and economic indicators to develop data-driven strategies and initiatives by all stakeholders.
By Seth Fearey
When trying to decide how to spend scarce resources most wisely, community leaders often find that they either don’t have the data they need, or they are drowning in data that is incomprehensible, and possibly suspect.
Data is needed to answer fundamental questions:
The data needs to be organized and presented in ways that anyone, not just trained economists, can understand and discuss what the data is saying.
“Community indicators are measurements that provide information about past and current trends and assist planners and community leaders in making decisions that affect future outcomes. They provide insight into the overall direction of a community: whether it is improving, declining, or staying the same, or is some mix of all three.” (Wikipedia)
Unlike economic indicators, community indicators incorporate social factors. They can provide insight into quality of life, the environment, health, education, climate change, leisure, safety, and governance. Community indicators are often provided as time series graphs. They can also use other formats, such as maps and tables.
The choice of what to measure is difficult. Indicators are typically selected by a committee that includes representatives from the most important sectors of the community. The committee debates each selection. Good indicators,
Indicators can be linked to goals that have been set by the community, e.g. to reduce waste going into landfills, to report on the progress of a project to increase immunizations.
Indicators can be for a single community, a city, region, state, nation, or group of nations.
Comparisons can be made to other communities, but comparisons need to be made with communities that are truly comparable so that the analysis is meaningful.
The text of the report should explain the meaning of the indicator and why it is important for the community.
The number of indicators should be kept down to keep the report readable. The list of indicators should evolve over time as the priorities of the community change. Some indicators can be reported every year; others should provide useful data for current subjects that the community has identified as priorities.
Some categories of Indicators
Arts & Culture
In the United States, indicator reports are normally put together by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). Data for the indicators is contributed by a wide variety of governmental agencies, business associations, and community organizations. As much as possible, data should follow industry standards, such as the Standard Occupational Classification for job classifications in the United States.
In some cases, surveys will have to be conducted, as when a community sees a high priority opportunity, but no one is collecting the data.
It is critical that people trust the data. It must be prepared by objective, independent organizations that can not be suspected of having an agenda to promote.
Community indicators should be presented to the community as objective information, not as part of an agenda. The report should explain what the data means and why it is important. The report should not try to explain why the numbers went up or down, or what should be done in response.
Indicators reports are often issued at public events. Speakers discuss the findings and can present their views on what the indicators are saying. Panels of speakers can discuss issues in the health system, education, transportation, or whatever is topical. The audience will leave with a good understanding of what the indicators are saying. The local press should be encouraged to develop a series of articles that go into more depth about indicators that are of most interest to the public.
Then local NGOs and community groups can discuss the data internally. They may seen affirmation of their work, or they may see opportunities to improve their programs or develop new programs to address issues they see in the data. Citizens may go to their city councils to ask questions about the data, and propose solutions to problems they see.
A key benefit of the community indicators approach is that it can energize many organizations to work on real community priorities, rather than looking to a single source of leadership, or having organizations working in areas that are not in need of help.
Because community indicators are data driven, it is possible to update the data regularly to see if the data is moving in the right direction.