A number of parallel efforts with a common focus (on balancing environmental, economic, and social concerns) and an emphasis on community participation emerged during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Healthy Community and Sustainable Community movements, as well as a host of quality-of-life initiatives, are among them. All of these groups and projects share an interest in developing and using community indicators to collect data on which to base discussion and decisions. Indicators are used to illustrate current conditions, track trends overtime, and identify important issues. Although the recent wave of community indicator projects has its own unique characteristics, the trend itself draws from a history of economic, social, urban, and more recently environmental indicators. The current use of indicators in community well-being movements owes a significant intellectual debt to the social indicators movement in particular, which has long advocated an expanded set of measures of human well-being beyond trad itional economic indicators. (1)
Modern interest in applying indicators to social and health issues can be traced to social reform efforts of the 1830s in Belgium, France, England, and the United States. Looking for ways to understand the nature of epidemics in industrial cities, physicians and statisticians began using social components of census data, collected for the first time during this period. (2) The temperance movement used public health indicators to try to prove that alcohol was the cause of numerous social problems. (3) The earliest collections of national statistics included demographic data, unemployment rates, crime rates, and consumption levels. Conflict over wages, unemployment, and the conditions of the working class in the latter third of the nineteenth century led to the creation of the U.S. Bureau of Labor, which provided some of the first social statistics gathered officially. (4)
A study released by the Russell Sage Foundation in 1914, based on a survey of industrial conditions in Pittsburgh, was an early precursor to the community indicator efforts of the 1990s. (5) The 1914 work generated a wave of interest in other cities for similar studies, resulting in more than two thousand local surveys on education, recreation, public health, crime, and general social conditions. The information gathered in the surveys was then relayed to the public in the hope of influencing public opinion and mobilizing people to press for reform.
The National Bureau of Economic Research was founded in 1920 and began to amass time series data on the economy Efforts to improve national statistics accelerated during the 1920s and 1930s. President Hoover established the Research Committee on Social Trends, which, under the directorship of William Ogburn of the University of Chicago, released the sixteen-hundred-page tome Recent Social Trends in 1933, covering a variety of demographic, health, and education indicators. (6) The Depression and World War II heightened the importance of macroeconomic indicators. Following the work of Simon Kuznets on national income accounts, a host of measures were developed to produce better data on employment and production levels.
Events in the late 1950s and early 1960s brought about a rethinking of national priorities in the United States. (7) Russian successes in space spurred increased funding for the U.S. space program and new emphasis on scientific research and education. A project sponsored by NASA to study the effects of the space program on society led to publication of Social Indicators in 1966, edited by Raymond Bauer. The researchers found that to understand "second-order" effects on social, political, and economic life, a broad set of measures was needed. They did not have the resources to complete the comprehensive data gathering, but the report proved popular and coined the term social indicators as a parallel to economic indicators, which was by then well established.
The Social Indicators Movement
In the 1960s, increasing public concern over such domestic issues as poverty, race, unemployment, and housing spurred interest in quantitative measures as a way to better understand and solve social problems. (8) The momentum for developing a system of national social accounting was fueled in part by the economic policy making of the Kennedy administration. Using indicators and models, economists had recommended a tax cut to revive the economy President Kennedy took their advice and the economy responded in the predicted way, with GNP increasing by approximately the estimated amount; this lent a great deal of credibility to use of indicators in policy formation.
Social policy advocates pushed for a similar system of social measures. Walter Mondale and others were instrumental in gaining Senate approval for a national-level social reporting system to institutionalize social indicators as a guide for policy, but the House never passed the measure. Critics argued that social indicators were not so useful as economic indicators because social theory was not so well-developed as economic theory and social objectives were fuzzier than economic ones were. (9) However, public and professional interest in comprehensive social indicators did not wane, and a series of publications in the late 1960s encouraged intellectual development in the field. The publication Toward a Social Report, issued by the Department of Health and Welfare on the last day of the Johnson administration in 1969, further increased public and professional interest in social indicators.
Work on social indicators flourished during the early 1970s. The journal Social Indicators Research was founded in 1974; and thousands of books and articles on the topic were published. (10) A self-described social indicators movement was born, and substantial institutional, conceptual, and methodological advances in the field were made. (11)
Work on urban indicators also peaked during this time period. Citizens and local leaders sought data that reflected the state of affairs in their immediate environment. International, national, and state indicators have an important bearing on local conditions, but the aggregate level of the data limits their usefulness for making decisions at the local level. (12) Carley asserts that "social indicators have found some of their most extensive practical (and impractical) applications in the field of urban analysis--the study of the nature and the …