Plea for national measure of community progress

By Rachel Borchardt
Government, community members and business leaders have been urged to explore a better way to measure levels of progress within Australian communities.

While gross domestic product data is often used to provide a guide to how an economy is travelling, RMIT University social science and planning adjunct professor Mike Salvaris told attendees at the Community Indicators Summit 2009 that a new gauge of progress is required.

Addressing more than 150 delegates at the summit – held late last week in Brisbane – he explained the need for a national community framework of indicators.

“Regular and reliable methods of repository of Australian community [information] are crucial for democracy and good government,” said Salvaris, who is an advisor to the Australian Bureau of Statistics on progress measurement.

While the Tasmanian, Victorian and Queensland governments are developing their own set of community indicators, a national framework has yet to be established that measures factors such as joblessness, family and community ties, health and education.

“For local, state and federal governments … a strong system of community indicators represents the building blocks for knowledge and policy evaluation,” Salvaris said.

By sharing ideas and experiences, the summit board, run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, hoped to get feedback on a draft declaration to guide the development of a national community indicators strategy. Outcomes of the summit will be taken to the 3rd World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy to be held in South Korea later this year.

Salvaris told attendees national progress could not be effectively measured without national community indicators.
“They are the lifeblood of integrated and municipal planning and are a critical way to engage citizens democratically.

Therefore, we think it is important all levels of government support community indicators.”

He urged attendees to promote the need for a nationwide indicator set.
Salvaris identified five key challenges that are halting the progress of national community indicators: a lack of national consistency and failure to share data; the need for governments to take indicators seriously and apply quality resources and budgets to their uptake; a shortage of small-area data; a requirement for greater diversity in the range of indicators to reflect what is important to the community; and the need for a longer-term debate about the meaning of progress.
He hoped that by encouraging further discussion some of these barriers could be broken down.
“If we agree on it (the declaration) we would like to think the delegates here will circulate this and discuss this in their workplaces when they return.”

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