We are what we measure.   It's time to measure what we want to be.

Indicator data sources

Data for indicators can be found in a wide variety of places, including local government agencies, state government agencies, academic institutions, large government databases, and reports at your local library. In most cases, the more local the source of data, the more relevant it will be to your community. Finding the data sources is a matter of talking to different people. If you have succeeded in having a diverse cross section of the community represented in your project, locating data sources will be easier because of the expertise of the people working on the project. Everyone will know at least one potential source of information, some people will know many.

Local Sources of Data

Local agencies are a valuable source of local information. The town, city or county clerk generally has information about population and voting. The clerk's office may also have information about local motor vehicle registration and housing. The department of public works has information on water use, the generation of solid waste and waste water, and recycling rates. Public health departments can provide information on illness and disease. Local school boards or superintendent offices can provide information on school graduation rates, free lunch programs and other education related issues. The town finance department will have information on tax revenue, tax rates, and government expenditures. The local welfare office may be able to provide information related to food and housing subsidies. These information sources will be the most relevant to local indicators of sustainable community.

Local organizations or local branches of national organizations are also good sources of information. In some cases these organizations may have conducted surveys or researched specific issues within the community. In other cases, local organizations may have the support of a national parent organization that can provide information. For example, the local League of Women of Voters may have done a survey on citizen participation rates. The local Audubon Society chapter may have organized a survey of local bird species. Local chambers of commerce may have information on shopping habits or local businesses. The local United Way or another charitable organization may have done an assessment of the community's need for health care and other services. Each of these information sources provides community specific data that could be useful for local indicators.

Local colleges and universities are a valuable source of information on a wide variety of issues and in many different forms. Frequently there are professors and researchers at these institutions who have experience in areas ranging from economics to environment to health and social services. Often the schools have related institutions which publish reports and do surveys on community related issues. These can provide information about the community and a point of comparison to other similar communities.

Your local library is also an important source of information in three ways: First, many libraries have copies of U.S. Census reports and similar national or regional reports. Getting federal data may be as easy as asking your reference librarian. Second, in addition to having copies of reports from national groups, local libraries often have copies of reports researched and written locally that are specific to your community. Third, local libraries are helpful in locating additional sources of information. Most reference librarians can provide suggestions for where to find additional sources of information and frequently may even be able to get copies for you.

State and National Sources of Data

Although they probably will not be useful as a primary source of data for local community indicators, there are also regional and national sources of information. These will be particularly useful in the beginning stages of a project. These sources of data show general information and trends over time that can be used to interest people in the process. The types of information include changes in population, changes in employment and changes in housing.

Regional and state agencies can provide information on a variety of issues. Most states have a planning board or a planning commission whose job it is to keep track of information about activities in the state and project how those activities may change over time. For example, the planning board may have yearly population projections for towns and cities in the state. The board may also have information about traffic patterns and expected changes in those patterns. Environmental agencies at the state and national level can provide information about air and water quality.

We have compiled a list of data sources that have been used by some of the existing sustainability projects for specific categories of indicators. This list is provided to help you think of other possible data sources, not to limit the places you go for information or to limit the type of information that your community chooses to use for monitoring its progress. The best indicators are those that fit your community and link the community's economic, environmental and social well-being.