Community Assessment Project (CAP)
Beyond Data to Action in Local Community Indicator Projects
New Article Published in Applied Research in Quality of Life Journal (ARIQ) by Springer
Springer has just published a new article about one of the oldest community indicator projects in the world and the long term social and political impacts of the project. The indicator project is located in Santa Cruz County California and is conducted by Applied Survey Research (an OECD correspondent for the Global Project). The article appears in a special edition of the Applied Research in Quality of Life Journal (ARIQ) of the International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS) which is focused on community indicators that are used as tools for social change.
The article focuses on how the Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project (CAP), which began in 1994, has contributed directly to improvements in the areas of teen drug and alcohol use and universal health care for children (a rarity in the United States). The CAP, by virtue of its longevity, strength, and structure has also contributed to several indirect outcomes such as new community leadership, new interagency commitment to social change, community level agreement on political action plans, new ways to combine and draw in funding, and ongoing evaluation of program performance and population level changes.
There are many other key benefits of community indicator projects that can be witnessed in Santa Cruz County and other communities that have launched their own indicator projects. A community indicator project:
- Brings together a diverse group of residents in the community to discuss issues that are most important to them.
- Allows community members to come together to develop shared outcomes for how they would like their community to look in the future.
- Monitors local issues that people really care about.
- Creates new data sources about local issues where there were no previous data sources.
- Community assets can be highlighted in addition to the challenges they face.
- Creates a standard for data collection and analysis and reframes how decisions are made from anecdotal-based decision making to data-driven solutions.
- Allows individuals to understand their community in a wider context by providing local data and data at other regional and national levels.
- Draws public attention to local issues of concern to community members.
- Local data motivate individuals, non-profit organizations, businesses, and government agencies to make political and social changes to improve the quality of life.
- Community indicators may be institutionalized into local government performance measures.
- Tracks the progress of community-wide interventions to improve the community quality of life.
Most research of community indicator projects focuses on the potential of indicator projects to deliver new knowledge about the quality of life in local communities. But there is little research about how these projects can also contribute to local social and political change. This new article provides a case study of a community indicator project with an explicit plan to move beyond data to action. The Santa Cruz County project shows how an action oriented community improvement cycle has contributed to measurable improvements for children and youth. The ten-step community improvement cycle, developed by Applied Survey Research (ASR), is unique in that there are explicit action steps where community members come together to develop action plans based on community data findings. The following figure shows the 10 separate steps that Santa Cruz County took to create their indicator project and move from data to action:
The Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project (CAP) began in 1994 with the support of the United Way of Santa Cruz County (a non-profit organization) and Dominican Hospital (the major local hospital), with ASR as the research partner. ASR staff members studied the first community indicator project that started in the United States 25 years ago in Jacksonville, Florida by the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. ASR borrowed from that first Jacksonville Project and then developed explicit community action steps based on Results Based Accountability (RBA), a model developed by Mark Friedman. RBA starts with the “ends” that a community wants to achieve, and then works backwards to determine the right “means.” The Santa Cruz County community members created several goals, two of which were: all children will have access to health and dental care and; alcohol and drug use by youth will be below the California average. The local community rallied around these goals and was able to put action plans in place to create a universal health care program for children 0-18 who come from low-income families, and to greatly reduce drug and alcohol use by youth.
The Santa Cruz County CAP evaluates the quality of life in the county in six subject areas: the economy, education, health, public safety, the social environment and the natural environment. It provides data about more than 130 quality of life indicators, from secondary sources and from a telephone survey of a representative sample of local residents. For more information about the Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project, click here.
Over the last two decades, several hundred communities in the United States have followed in the footsteps of that first indicator project in Jacksonville, Florida. There are also well-known community indicator projects in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany and Columbia. For a partial list of indicator projects across the globe or to add your community to that list, please visit the community indicator consortium, an on-line network of people and organizations interested in community indicator projects.
The new article was written by ASR staff members Deanna Zachary, Susan Brutschy, Tracy Keenan and Abigail Stevens in addition to Sue West of the McCaughey Centre at the Melbourne School of Population Health in Australia where she works on a community indicator project called Community Indicators Victoria. The article is available on-line from Springer.