Advances in the Science and Practice of Community Indicators

Presentation by Terri J. Bailey
March 11, 2004

Shift Research Lab   (Denver)

These were opening remarks from the Director of Research at the Piton Foundation  at the Community Quality of Life Conference in Reno, Nevada.


  1. I've learned you have to be in relationship with those who need your data. You can’t do this work from an ivory tower.
  2. I've learned it is not up to us outside community to decide what is relevant or meaningful to people inside community. We do not know what is best for them. I've learned that one size does not fit all. The most elegant, scientifically sound indicators have limited use when they are all you have to offer. Literally every discussion I’ve had in community about the data or indicators I’ve brought them, including ones where I walk in with exactly what they’ve asked for, ends up a conversation about what is missing, and what else they need. Our grab bag needs to be very, very large and deep.
  3.  I’ve learned the process is not linear. We tend to think the process goes something like this: you engage citizens in selecting indicators, you produce and make available those indicators, and you hold people publicly accountable for improving on those indicators. But we in this room know that we must constantly be engaging citizens, defining and adapting indicators, and being accountable ourselves to whether those indicators are proven meaningful.
  4. I've learned there is no action without ownership. People own data that they’ve asked for, that they’ve produced, that they themselves analyze, that they themselves communicate. The more we do for them, the less it belongs to them and the less they are able to use it in meaningful ways.
  5. I’ve learned that the task is even larger than one of creating data and tools. It is one of broadly diffusing the data, tools and skills that communities need. Poor communities are even more disenfranchised than most in this age of information because not only are the data, tools, and skills held by a few, but those few typically exist outside their community. This makes the challenge of diffusing one of not only moving knowledge and tools from the hands of the few to the hands of the many, but also moving knowledge and tools from outside community to inside community. This is no small task. But at the end of the day, if more people do not know what we know and have access to what we have access to, then we will have failed.
  6. I’ve learned that we need to find ways to credential community wisdom both within and beyond community. Communities have lost their voice. Providing data about community is not the same as lifting up their voice. I was in a meeting recently with resident leaders from cities around the country and one woman said, “I don’t care how many initials you have after your name. Your four or more years of college are not worth more than my 40 years of experience.” We need to find ways to place a value on and elevate their wisdom.
  7. And finally, I’ve learned we need to actively address issues of power and within that the role of race, class, culture and gender.
Event Name: 
Community Quality of Life Conference