Declaration of the Australian Community Indicators Summit
MEASURING THE PROGRESS OF AUSTRALIAN
COMMUNITIES IN THE 21ST CENTURY
We, the delegates to the Australian Community Indicators Summit in Brisbane in July 2009, representing a wide range of interests and perspectives in government, community, business and universities, have agreed on the following Declaration to guide the development of a national community indicators strategy for Australia in the 21st century.
A. Principles and achievements
1. Regular and reliable measures of the progress of Australian communities are crucial for informed democracy and good governance. Community indicators, developed through an open and inclusive process, promote citizen engagement and government accountability. They improve evidence-based planning and policy making and generate new ideas and relationships. In these ways, they contribute to the well-being of our communities and our people.
2. In Australia and internationally, community indicators have been a key driver of the broader global movement to redefine the meaning and measurement of the progress of societies ‘beyond GDP’ and towards a more integrated vision. This vision recognises the essential linkages between the different dimensions of true progress and wellbeing - economic, social, environmental and democratic, as well as spiritual, emotional and cultural. It values healthy individuals as well as healthy communities; reflects new and traditional learning; and seeks to increase both the equity and sustainability of well-being.
3. Great improvements have been made in measuring progress in Australia in the last decade. There have been many outstanding projects at local, state and national levels, such as: the ABS Measures of Australia’s Progress, Tasmania Together, Queensland’s Community Services Information System (COMSIS) and the VicHealth-supported Community Indicators Victoria.
B. Issues and challenges
4. There are major challenges facing community indicators in the coming years:
a. There has been no national consistency or coordination in the development and use of community indicators. Benefits and learnings have been unevenly spread and often poorly shared or communicated.
b. Governments at all levels need to apply progress and wellbeing indicators more systematically and transparently to actual planning, policy making and budgets. They need to use indicators as part of the process of setting and measuring clearly defined community goals; as a tool for community development as well as performance management; and to ensure that social and environmental conditions are reported regularly and on equal terms with GDP and other economic indicators.
c. There are a number of problems with local and small area data. Essential data is often unavailable or poorly shared, and the resources for its development are lacking. Data collection and dissemination methods need to take better account of remoteness of location and different cultural practices, especially for Indigenous Australians. Finally, local data needs to be used to ensure fair comparisons between different communities.
d. We need to develop new and more diverse local well-being indicators, which recognise that citizens and policymakers often have different priorities and perspectives: for example, indicators of community strength and local attachment, or indices of overall community wellbeing and sustainability;
e. We must strengthen and support the capacity of communities and local governments to understand community indicators and use them to improve their own communities, and the processes and resources needed to enable citizen engagement;
f. Most importantly of all, better measures of progress must be underpinned by a wider debate and a shared consensus about the meaning and priorities of progress, well-being and sustainability in Australian communities, and the impact of major challenges such as climate change, inequality, and globalisation.
C. Government’s role
5. All Australian governments benefit from strong, effective and comparable systems of community well-being measurement. For local governments, they are the basis for integrated municipal planning and reporting, for community development and citizen engagement. For state and federal governments, they supply essential information on state and national well-being, help identify communities in need and provide the evidence base for policy development and the building blocks for regional, state and national planning. For these reasons, all levels of government should support the development and maintenance of community indicators and indicator systems, and the organisations which provide them; all should ensure that their data is consistent, reliable and widely accessible; and all should promote the broader goals of this Declaration.
D. National Strategy and leadership
6. To take this work forward and to promote a more effective and consistent approach to the development of community indicators across Australia and internationally, there is now a need for national coordination and leadership and a long term national strategy. Such a strategy must engage and draw leadership from all sectors of society – community, government, business and universities – if it is to achieve the changes needed to deliver true progress and ensure that new indicators of progress have the widest legitimacy. It must include the following goals:
a. establish a national network of community indicator users and practitioners, aimed to link community, government and research sectors, share information and best practice, develop coordinated action and raise awareness of community indicators;
b. encourage the development of a national community wellbeing measurement system: based on a common framework, agreed indicators and the best available statistics, but also providing a ‘bank’ of reliable additional indicators for local communities to select from;
c. develop a state-of-the-art national website, an information and best practice clearing-house, and a strong technical base, for community well-being measures, designed to be attractive and accessible to all Australians and all communities and drawing on world best practice models such as the Newfoundland and Labrador Community Accounts system;
d. build support for the role of community indicators in state, local and federal government, in the community, and the media; and in policy making and public debate;
e. build the capacity of local communities and local governments to use and understand community indicators for the improvement of their communities and to engage local citizens in the process, especially in disadvantaged and remote communities and through the development of accessible information, education and training programs, workshops and conferences;
f. work for increased investment in better local and small area data, especially in fields such as local environment issues, community strengthening, Indigenous well-being, and local economic development, and support a greater national role for the ABS in local data gathering and coordination;
g. develop a strategic research program, and partnerships between universities, communities, governments and statistical agencies, to identify the best ways to measure, promote and report on community well-being;
h. support the development of broader initiatives to ensure regular, reliable and well publicised reporting of national progress and wellbeing, including initiatives such as Measures of Australia’s Progress and a National Wellbeing or Development Index;
i. promote an inclusive national and community debate about the meaning of progress for Australia in the 21st century, aimed to identify a shared vision of equitable and sustainable well-being, and to stimulate discussion about the policies and actions needed to achieve it;
j. support and strengthen the global movement for a more holistic way of measuring societal progress, including especially the OECD Global Project on “Measuring the Progress of Societies”.
E. Commitment and Conclusion
7. As delegates to this Summit, we commit ourselves to support this Declaration, to put it into effect in our own organisations and workplaces where we can, and to help promote its wider circulation and implementation in the community and in government.
8. Finally, we express our appreciation to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, for hosting this Summit, for providing national leadership on community indicators and for its crucial and respected role as Australia’s independent, national statistics agency. We urge the Australian government to recognise and fully support this role.