West Virginia works to support the development of community-level indicators that fall underneath an umbrella of state-level effort. Forty-five West Virginia communities were invited to participate in the selection process, which led to the selection of two communities for pilot studies. Each community chose its own outcomes and indicators so that the product is a local report card. West Virginia defined an outcome by asking, "What do you want for your children, youth, families and communities?" Indicators are then identified to help measure whether or not they are approaching those outcomes.
These pilot efforts worked to orient communities toward strength-based approaches and measures of positive development. Some data, such as pre-K assessment data, are not reported to the state and are available at the community level only. The promotional indicators chosen as part of the pilot project included:
- The percentage of children who are read to by their parents more than three times a week. (Martha Moorehouse said that data on parents reading to children is collected by a federal household survey and that this measure is included in a federal indicators report, offering communities using such measures the opportunity of benchmarking.)
- The percentage of children who receive satisfactory on a social responsibility grade (based on 6th and 9th grade assessments unique to the schools in one of the pilot sites).
- The percentage of people who get regular exercise.
- The percentages of children who successfully complete the pre-K survey (that collects information on cognitive language development, health, vision, and hearing).
- The percentage of people who report volunteering (like the social responsibility grade, this is a community-specific measure).
The pilot efforts encountered a number of challenges, including:
- Obtaining broad community involvement
- Keeping it simple
- Data collection and management
- Tendency to rely on existing data
- Bridging program-level and community-level information
- Impacting state practices
Lessons the state felt it learned were that such efforts:
- Require work, resources, and commitment
- Need to be connected to other efforts
- Need to identify a neutral "home" for the work, such as a cross-agency home
- Need to identify key people and ensure broad representation
- Need to ensure that the community "gets it" and supports the effort
David Murphey reported that, like West Virginia, Vermont has a rather direct relationship between the communities and the state. Vermont uses the tools developed by the Search Institute to get the conversation started, but Vermont doesn't contend that Search's approach is the only way. Murphey sketched some local-level challenges:
Appropriateness. There is controversy over the appropriateness of some of the questions on the survey when asked of younger children. To address this circumstance, each principal or other school staff member responsible for the survey had to complete the instrument during training so that they would be familiar with it.
Academic language. Some find it difficult to deal with the academic language. To address this, the state took care to explain the data carefully. They found that describing resiliency connected better with communities than did asset or promotional terminology.
Involving youth. Giving youth meaningful, responsible roles requires a lot of support.
Holding to the vision. It is easy to fall back on old ways of thinking and easy to think of humans as a collection of deficits. As is true in West Virginia, communities understand the danger of negative thinking and also recognize that, although they sometimes feel powerless to impact negative measures, they can impact positive ones.
Reactant: Susan Ault, Cass County, Minnesota
Susan Ault supervises Child Protection Services in Cass County. A few years ago, the county and the adjoining Leech Lake Reservation were given a chance to work together, along with the Pew Charitable Trusts, on child protection issues. From this beginning, with the support of Pew and other nongovernment and government funding sources, they began a seven-year process to find out what they needed to know about what was going on in their communities. They used strength-based family support principles as a guide.
The process began with the creation of a vision and outcomes developed through a broad-based community dialogue. Cass County/Leech Lake Reservation's vision is that
All families have what they need to do what is best for themselves and their children.
Steps in this process have included
- Focusing on a target and directing funds to particular programs to reach it
- Understanding the context they are working on (organizational structure, and strategic planning framework)
- Examining implementation (that is, examining how services are delivered in the county)
Ault says that her community understands that this work ultimately leads to better services in the end .