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Social Indicator Projects: American and International

The idea of social indicators has taken root in the United States at the community, city, state, and regional level. Internationally, many countries have established National Social Reports that serve a similar purpose. Together, these American and foreign reports suggest how valuable social indicators can be in keeping the public informed about changing social conditions.

The American Community Indicators Movement

During the past two decades, social reporting at the local level has become well established in communities across the United States. Cities, towns, states, and sometimes regions have set up regular monitoring systems to measure progress over time.

The reports go under many diverse names, including benchmarks, milestones, report cards, scorecards, quality-of-life reports, snapshots, portraits, profiles, pulse-taking, thermometers, compasses, vital signs, progress reports, road-maps, and status reports. Project sponsors also vary: they include state, county, and local governments; community organizations; foundations; universities; business groups; and a variety of public-private partnerships.

Many factors have led communities to develop indicator projects. Some are concerned with over-rapid growth and use indicators to monitor local conditions; other communities worry they are losing population. Additional influences include the civic renewal movement, the drive for greater government accountability, the Healthy Cities initiative sponsored by the World Health Organization, the sustainable development movement, and the corporate management tool of benchmarking.

Despite this diversity, the community indicator projects have many characteristics in common. In terms of overall goals, they generally seek to foster democratic participation, to achieve a higher quality of life, to encourage public action on social problems, and in an increasing number of cases, to incorporate the notion of “sustainability” as a standard for community well-being.

Please use the link below to access a list of selected American community indicator projects.

American Projects

National Social Reports

During the last days of Lyndon Johnson’s term in office, in 1969, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare issued a white paper entitled “Toward a National Social Report.” It echoed a bill submitted by Senator Walter Mondale two years earlier, entitled “The Full Opportunity and Social Accounting Act.” This proposed legislation called for an annual National Social Report, similar to the annual Economic Report to the President. The National Social Report would provide an accounting of the social state of the nation.

The United States, unfortunately, never took up this call, but the idea found a home internationally. Today, virtually every European nation has a national social report. Many industrial countries in other parts of the world, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Venezuela, also have such reports, as do an increasing number of developing nations. These documents, most of which are produced by the government or a subcontract agency, are designed to reflect the social concerns of their nations. Many have been published regularly for a decade or more.

Each report has its own unique elements. For example, Great Britain’s Social Trends provides a rich array of social indicators compiled from a variety of government departments and private organizations. Sweden’s Survey of Living Conditions pioneered a model for social surveys that has been adopted throughout Europe. And in the Philippines, the Social Weather Stations program produces quarterly data about a wide range of social, economic, and political trends.

Please use the link below to access a list of selected national social reports from around the world.

International Projects