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The Community Pulse – Measuring what Matters

Port Phillip
Australia

 

Community Pulse involves community members in setting benchmarks, measuring, and analysing long-term trends to help prevent the aspects that they love about their neighbourhoods from being lost. The indicators stretch across environmental, both natural (penguins) and built (affordable housing), social (Smiles per Hour), economic (cost of groceries), and cultural (local icons) environments and build evidence to stimulate political and community action.

Over the past nine years, Community Pulse has actively reported on 40 locally determined measures from 13 indicators developed within each of the four pillars of sustainability: social, cultural, environmental, and economic. These indicators were identified by City of Port Phillip residents as tools to track progress towards or away from their aspirations. In response to the question ‘How do you know your neighbourhood is getting better?’, individuals who live, work, and play in this local government area expressed they wanted a city that valued connectedness, affordability, diversity, safety, and a healthy environment. It was also declared that they wanted a community where they feel a sense of control over their destiny.

The Community Pulse intentionally uses measures that relate to people's everyday experiences, rather than being solely based on available data or technical validity. These are unique place-based indicators, not designed to measure government service provision or other external benchmarks, but to track how neighbourhoods are changing and the quality of residents’ lives, and to engage residents in expressing, understanding, and acting on things they value locally. Further, Community Pulse has been designed to stimulate social change.

The Pulse is an integrated approach for the whole of local government and community to be engaged in both determining the vision and evaluating local progress for their city. It aims to stimulate social change though the process of data collection and awareness, while drawing attention to local values and early warning signs of potential problems. Data is collected by community groups and residents as well as public state and federal organizations and the private business sector.

Imagined as a handshake between policy, indicator theory, and engagement practice, this data is fed back up the food chain to decision-makers and back down to citizens in a variety of creative ways. This project has an initial commitment from Council over ten years, to understand long-term change trends. This commitment provides minimal resources for a part-time staff person and endorsement of a local advisory committee comprised of residents, Councillors, and staff representatives. The project is cyclical, constantly evolving, and entrepreneurial, partnering with many local organizations and initiatives to fulfil its aims.

The CoPP is known for its social and cultural diversity and its active commitment to the inclusion of marginalized voices in decision-making processes by Council. The Pulse is characterised equally, by how the data is collected. As a partnership between Council, community organizations, and residents, this process of social inclusion and participatory democracy are the major achievements of the project. Detailed data from independent measures also provide a long-term integrated picture of sustainability for residents and the City of Port Phillip. The Pulse supports the work of community members and groups to catalyse the changes they want to see in their community. Through this engagement, the Pulse asks residents to help tell the story of how our community is fairing, so their role in collectively finding the solutions is ensured.

Community engagement and social change are long-term goals. A task like this can quickly become extremely complex or overwhelming, and the project does not want to make this process unsustainable itself. Therefore, the Community Pulse has been designed as an evolving and on-going project, with its true value being evident in the longer term.