David Diehl of FSA and Betty Cooke of the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning provided a brief overview. They began by providing definitions. (These, and other definitions that follow, are taken from Diehl's Powerpoint presentation.)
What are outcomes and indicators?
An outcome is a desired condition of well-being for children, families, and communities. (Similar terms include "result" or "goal".)
An indicator is a measure that helps to quantify the achievement of an outcome. (Similar terms include "benchmark" and "milestone".)
What are traditional and promotional indicators?
A traditional indicator is a measure of the reduction or elimination of diseases or dysfunctional or at-risk behaviors and conditions.
Promotional indicators are measure of the functioning or development of children, youth, families, and communities that reflect an increased capacity to successfully address challenges.
Diehl and Cooke said that accountability frameworks operate at the state, community, and program levels. Although the indicators chosen at each of these levels can be the same, more detailed and specific data are easier to collect as the boundaries become closer to the target families (i.e., it is easier to collect detailed information in a program than in an entire community and easier to collect more detailed information in a community than in an entire state.) An example of a state-level indicator might be the percentage of children whose skills are within normal range for preschoolers. A community-level indicator might look at the percentage of children who are read to three or more times a week. At the program level, the critical issue might be measuring reciprocal engagement, whether a child is engaged in play and interaction. Other examples of promotional indicators include:
- The percentage of parents/caregivers who practice child-rearing skills supportive of children's development
- The percentage of parents who have back-up adult support to assist in educating, protecting, and nurturing their children
- The percentage of children and youth who have frequent involvement with and receive emotional support from both parents
Traditional indicators often measure other things, such as:
- The rate of substantiated child abuse and neglect
- The percentage of children in out-of-home placement
- The rate of pregnancy among teenage girls
Diehl and Cooke offered three reasons to use promotional indicators.
To bring a strengths-based approach to how we measure conditions of well-being for children, youth, families, and communities
To identify intermediate markers of growth, development, and functioning that are highly correlated with successful long-term outcomes for children and families
To demonstrate the value of family support strategies
They also quoted Michael Patton, who at an earlier meeting, said:
I would propose to you that a primary use of indicators of this kind, that is a real challenge, but that you are well positioned as a coalition to take on, is to use indicators to promote dialogue about healthy families rather than provide answers about the state of the world.
Diehl and Cooke then noted that their goal was to expand the role of promotional indicators, but not replace traditional indicators entirely. They closed with a number of key questions.
- What are the key promotional indicators that states, communities, and programs can use to measure progress?
- What is the link between promotional indicators and the achievement of long-term outcomes?
- What are the best practices and strategies that are linked to achieving progress on promotional indicators?
- What strengths-based instruments are available to measure progress on promotional indicators?
- What are the most effective approaches for working with states and communities to infuse promotional indicators into their day-to-day thinking?
- What kind of framework can we use to organize our work and communicate better about promotional indicators and related ideas?