July 2005

Grant Results

SUMMARY

Since the 1960's, social scientists and people interested in community well-being have used social indicators — i.e., measures of trends in such areas as demographics, education, environment and health — to monitor quality of life in communities across the country.

From 2001 to 2004, staff at the Health Research and Educational Trust, Chicago, undertook a variety of activities, including conference sessions, presentations and publications, to strengthen and support the use of social indicators.

Key Results

  • At the "Advances in the Sciences and Practice of Community Indicators" conference, held in Reno, Nevada, March 10–13, 2004, project staff co-sponsored, with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four sessions on public health indicators for communities. The sessions were:
    • "Developing Indicators That Have Impact"
    • "Did We Make a Difference? Community Indicators and Evaluation"
    • "From Research to Action to Results (Part II): A Tale of Three Cities — Exploring Experiences of Developing and Using QOL Indicators in Summit County (Ohio), Jacksonville (Fla.) and Pasadena (Calif.)"
    • "Health & QOL: What Should We Be Measuring?"
  • Project staff produced a report titled A Community Indicators Report: Selected Stories from the 2004 Community Indicators Conference.
  • Steering committee members — all of whom are leaders in the social indicators movement — committed to place the topic of social indicators on the agendas of their national meetings.

Key Recommendations

  • The steering committee made the following recommendations to enhance the social indicators movement:
    • Provide forums and resources for sharing best practices and stimulating new concepts within the field.
    • Advance policies that promote better quality data and greater availability for their use in developing and reporting social indicators.
    • Provide education and training on the development and use of social indicators in order to make advocates of social health reporting more effective.
    • Frame the case for the importance of using social indicators to monitor community well-being.

Funding
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported the project with a grant of $109,514 from May 2001 through April 2004.

 See Grant Detail & Contact Information
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THE PROBLEM

Over the past decade, cities, counties and states across the country have begun to develop and gather data for social indicators to help them assess their communities' well-being.

Social indicators measure trends in such areas as demographics, education, environment, employment levels, health and public safety. They provide a strong foundation upon which to monitor social progress and assess community health and well-being, and can capture the interest of both policy-makers and citizens who want to improve the quality of life in their communities.

According to the project director, after years of isolated effort, the social indicators movement has reached a critical juncture and needs to harness its energy and increase its impact nationwide.

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THE PROJECT

With this project, staff from the Chicago-based Health Research and Educational Trust, a nonprofit organization working to transform health care through research and education, collaborated with the Fordham Institute for Innovation in Social Policy under a subcontract to accomplish two major goals: first, strengthen and support the social indicator movement and second, develop specific plans for a national conference.

The Fordham Institute was established in 1986 and devotes its full capacity to the analysis and publication of social indicators. In March 2002, project staff convened a 23-member steering committee of individuals from academia, government and nonprofit organizations to discuss how to improve and strengthen the social indicator movement and plan for a national conference. (See the Appendix for a list of committee members.)

The steering committee agreed on four recommendations to strengthen and support the movement (see Recommendations). Members also decided that the Health Research and Educational Trust should not plan its own national conference, but instead collaborate with two other organizations on their joint 2004 conference.

The other organizations were the International Society for Quality of Life Studies, a nonprofit working to promote research in the field of quality-of-life studies; and the newly formed Community Indicators Consortium, which works to advance to advance the art and science of the development and application of community indicators.

Project staff brought a public health perspective to the planning committee for the conference titled "Advances in the Sciences and Practice of Community Indicators." The conference was otherwise focused on a broad range of social indicators.

Using RWJF funds, staff paid for seven members of the Association for Community Health Improvement to attend the conference. The Association for Community Health Improvement, a program of the Health Research and Educational Trust, is a national individual membership organization for those interested in community health. Project staff asked the seven attendees to write summaries on the sessions they attended. The staff then used these summaries to produce a report on the conference.

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RESULTS

The project yielded the following results:

  • At the "Advances in the Sciences and Practice of Community Indicators" conference, held in Reno March 10–13, 2004, project staff co-sponsored, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four sessions on public health indicators for communities. The sessions were:
    • "Developing Indicators That Have Impact"
    • "Did We Make a Difference? Community Indicators and Evaluation"
    • "From Research to Action to Results (Part II): A Tale of Three Cities — Exploring Experiences of Developing and Using QOL Indicators in Summit County (Ohio), Jacksonville (Fla.) and Pasadena (Calif.)"
    • "Health & QOL: What Should We Be Measuring?"
  • Project staff produced a report titled A Community Indicators Report: Selected Stories from the 2004 Community Indicators Conference. A writer hired by the Health Research and Educational Trust based the report on the original presentations and the session summaries written by the seven Association for Community Health Improvement members whose attendance was covered by RWJF funds.
  • Steering committee members — all of whom are leaders in the social indicators movement — committed to place the topic of social indicators on the agendas of their national meetings. For example, the National Association of Planning Councils incorporated a session on social indicators into their national meeting held in Spring 2002.
  • Marc Miringoff, M.S.W., Ph.D., then director of the Fordham Institute for Innovations in Social Policy, made a presentation on social indicators in Baltimore on April 15, 2003.

Recommendations

The steering committee made the following recommendations to enhance the social indicators movement:

  • Provide forums and resources for sharing best practices and stimulating new concepts within the field.
  • Advance policies that promote better quality data and greater availability for their use in developing and reporting social indicators.
  • Provide education and training on the development and use of social indicators in order to make advocates of social health reporting more effective.
  • Frame the case for the importance of using social indicators to monitor community well-being.

Communications

The report, A Community Indicators Report: Selected Stories from the 2004 Community Indicators Conference, is available online and has been downloaded more than 2,500 times. The American Hospital Association also distributed copies of it to their members. See the Bibliography for details.

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AFTER THE GRANT

Because the Health Research and Education Trust has a seat on the steering committee of the newly formed Community Indicators Consortium, the trust's staff expects to contribute to its development as a voice for social, health and community indicators.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Convening a National Forum to Advance Social Indicators

Grantee

Health Research and Educational Trust (Chicago,  IL)

  • Amount: $ 109,514
    Dates: May 2001 to April 2004
    ID#:  042130

Contact

Sandra Opdycke
(845) 452-7332
opdycke@earthlink.net
Frances S. Margolin, M.A.
(312) 422-2607
fmargolin@aha.org

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APPENDICES


Appendix 1

(Current as of the time of the grant; provided by the grantee organization; not verified by RWJF.)

Steering Committee Members

Martha Blaine
Executive Director, Community Council of Greater Dallas
National Association of Planning Councils
Dallas, Texas

Deborah Bohr, M.P.H.
Senior Director, Special Projects
Health Research and Educational Trust
Chicago, Ill.

Brett V. Brown
Director, Social Indicators Research
Child Trends
Washington, D.C.

Randy Cohen
Vice President for Research and Information
Americans for the Arts
Washington, D.C.

Regan Crump, D.P.H.
Director, Division of Programs for Special Populations
Bureau of Primary Health Care, Health Resources and Services Administration
Washington, D.C.

Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.
Director of Public Health and Health Officer
Los Angeles County
Los Angeles, Calif.

Daphne Greenwood, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
Director, Center for Colorado Policy Studies
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Romana Hasnain-Wynia, Ph.D.
Senior Director, Research and Evaluation
Health Research and Educational Trust
Chicago, Ill.

Richard Hofrichter
Author, Health and Social Justice

Maria-Rosario Jackson, Ph.DBR> Senior Research Associate
The Urban Institute
Washington, D.C.

John T. Kesler
Principal, Learning Democracy Associates
Salt Lake City, Utah

Jeffrey Madrick
Independent Media Consultant

Marc Miringoff, Ph.D. (deceased)
Co-Chair, Fordham Institute for Innovation in Social Policy
Bronx, N.Y.

Anne Nelson
Director, International Programs
Graduate School of Journalism
Columbia University
New York, N.Y.

Tyler Norris
Director, U.S. Healthier Communities Initiative
National Civic League
Denver, Colo.

Drew O'Connor
Assistant Director, Community Services
National Civic League
Denver, Colo.

Sandra Opdycke
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Chris Patterson
Consultant, Sustainable Measures
Andover, Mass.

Mary A. Pittman, Dr.P.H.
President and Co-chair, Health Research and Educational Trust
Chicago, Ill.

David Swain
Associate Director, Jacksonville Community Council
Jacksonville, Fla.

Alvin Tarlov, M.D.
Executive Director, Texas Institute for Society and Health
Houston, Texas

Jeffrey Tryens
Director, Oregon Progress Board, State of Oregon
Salem, Ore.

Irene Wielawski
Independent Healthcare Journalist
Pound Ridge, N.Y.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Reports

A Community Indicators Report: Selected Stories from the 2004 Community Indicators Conference. Chicago: Health Research and Educational Trust, 2005. Also appears online.

Survey Instruments

"Social Indicators Survey." Health Research and Educational Trust, fielded April 2004.

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Report prepared by: Barbara Matacera Barr
Reviewed by: Robert Crum
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Susan B. Hassmiller

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