Quality of life: Worth work

Filed under: Daily News,Opinion,Print | Tags:,

By John “JD” Dallager and Susan Saksa

Last month, the fourth edition of the Quality of Life Indicators for the Pikes Peak Region was released. This 124-page publication is modeled after community benchmark and report-card initiatives that drive successful community strategies, actions, and accountability in cities and counties across the country. These efforts to develop comprehensive statistics on the well-being of a community go beyond traditional macroeconomic indicators and attempt to illustrate the social, economic and environmental dimensions that make up a quality community.

Communities publish and use a report like ours to:

Provide an easily accessible, fact-based sketch of the community.

Help community residents and potential residents understand the true conditions (strengths and opportunities) in the community.

Establish a foundation of data that can be used by governmental and civic leaders to understand conditions, plan for the future, and take action.

Assist policy leaders and community organizations to collaboratively develop strategies and action plans, and help them track and measure how well the community is doing.

So how does our effort stack up? First, it’s a huge undertaking. But thanks to 178 volunteers, each working in their area of expertise, we compile, analyze and publish nearly 100 indicators as a community-led effort. The fact that this happens as a volunteer effort is a remarkable testimony to the positive can-do spirit of many individuals and organizations in our region. Second, it’s important to note that we’re not alone in using volunteers — most communities do. But many of the best publications also receive city or county support (dollars or staffing) or funding from a major nonprofit or university. Why not here? And thirdly, and most importantly, is this information being used effectively? Is it driving action and accountability?

Said another way, is the considerable time and effort put in by all these volunteers and partner organizations worth it? Are we as a community — the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors — making full use of this report?

The answer perhaps is that it’s time for this publication to take the next step and move from easy-to-use, interesting data to an accountability tool public and private sectors routinely use to measure progress, drive decision-making, and allocate resources.

But how?

One of the communities that we benchmark our publication against is

Jacksonville, Fla. Jacksonville pioneered indicator reporting and recently produced its 25th anniversary report. It’s considered the national “gold standard”. We modeled our report after theirs. And in its report, Jacksonville states, “The Quality of Life Progress report began in 1985 through the tireless effort of nearly 100 community leaders from diverse backgrounds, occupations and interests. For 25 years it has guided funders and providers to direct resources toward the most challenging community concerns and shaped our strategies to address those issues.” (See www.jcci.org)

Closer to home, we’ve also benchmarked against Albuquerque, N.M. (Check out its report at www.cabq.gov/progress). In its Albuquerque Progress Report (APR) the city of Albuquerque says, “the APR sits at the pinnacle of the City of Albuquerque’s management and measurement system, which is designed to link community developed goals with city government programs and performance.”

Here in the Pikes Peak Region we have yet to integrate the data and information contained in this report in a meaningful way into the planning, decision-making, action agendas, and tracking systems of our community. The good news is it’s not a difficult thing to do.

Cutting to the chase, this report can and should, we believe, be used by decision-makers in government, private business, nonprofit organizations and community groups in at least two primary ways:

For planning and action — determining priorities for action, identifying areas to invest resources, and developing programs and policies to address those needs

For evaluation — assessing the results of and holding ourselves accountable to those decisions and actions.

So here’s our challenge. Are we as leaders across sectors willing to select indicators contained in the 2010 report and make a commitment to act on this information? To develop programs and strategies? And will we support the on-going tracking of these indicators as a measure of our success? In short, once embarked, are we willing to hold ourselves accountable?

If so, the Quality of Life Indicators of the Pikes Peak Region is worth its weight in gold. But it’s up to us. If you believe we can do what other communities around the country have successfully done, then please jump on board.

Instead of asking “Is it worth the effort,” maybe we should be asking, “Can we afford not to?”

Want to engage? Contact: Susan Saksa at Leadership Pikes Peak 632-2618, susan@leadershippikespeak.org to get connected.

John “JD” Dallager is president and CEO of the Pikes Peak United Way. He can be reached at JD@ppunitedway.org. Susan Saksa is the executive director of Leadership Pikes Peak. You can reach her at susan@leadershippikespeak.org