The Power of Community Indicators

The Power of Community Indicators


Recently, a colleague asked for my help to ensure that her new project was using the right metrics to both improve its performance and demonstrate effectiveness for continued funding. She had thought carefully about internal data collection processes and could quantify both inputs and a series of service delivery measures, the metrics seemed incomplete. And they were.

Philip Lee argued in a recent column for the Federal Times (http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20100516/ADOP06/5160303/ ) for an ‘ends-to-means’ approach to performance measurement, where accountability “… should not begin with the performance of programs; rather, it should begin with improving qualities of life.” Given that programs exist to have impact in the communities they serve, measuring performance must include both what was accomplished and how it effected the community.

For performance reporting to be effective it must connect program or agency activities with community quality-of-life results. This interweaving of performance measurement and community indicators ensures that the focus of program activities remains on achieving desired community results, and that the internal metrics are consistently aligned to create the most effective impacts.

Some may argue that community issues are effected by sources well beyond the scope of any given manager, program or agency. However, it is critical to measure the success of a program through the community indicators within a performance measurement framework to the extent possible all the same. In fact, recognizing that many programs and agencies may have overlapping spheres of impact in a community may facilitate and yield more effective collaborative partnerships and leverage organizational efforts with other community actors.  

Integrating community indicators with performance measurement systems does more than increase our ability to connect with others addressing the same issues. The process of focusing on the desired community impact allows for the meaningful evaluation of program activities – not just the efficiency with which services are delivered, but also how effective the services are in creating the desired changes in the community’s quality of life. Community indicators, in this case, serve the same function as a product feedback mechanism. For example, we might monitor performance internally to ensure that we are the leanest possible producer of buggy whips, but if community conditions have changed, buggy whip production may be irrelevant to current community needs.

What did this mean for my colleague? Simply put, the most effective way to develop performance metrics is to determine first what you want to accomplish. Why does this service or program exist? What would success look like? Once the desired community impact is identified then the metrics fall in place, beginning with measuring community indicators and marching the process back through the specifics of the program or services in place to change those outcomes.

For programs that have been in place for a long time, this assessment can sometimes be illuminating.  One program I worked with a few years back had completely lost track of why the services were established originally. They had concentrated so much on internal measures of “clients served” and internal satisfaction surveys that they missed the community impact towards which they had once aimed. Once the community indicators were reinstated as performance drivers, the internal measures (and many of the processes) had to change to transform the program from a nice initiative to an effective program that resulted in strong community impact and relevance. 

For more information about integrating community indicators and performance measures, see the Community Indicators Consortium http://www.communityindicators.net/communities-of-practice,ci-pm-integration

Ben Warner is the Vice President of Jacksonville Community Council Inc.

(JCCI), where he is responsible for JCCI's annual Quality of Life Progress Report and Race Relations Progress Report. He has served as President of the National Association of Planning Councils and was the inaugural President of the international Community Indicators Consortium.

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