Prevention Institute reviewed 79 community indicator reports and 9 popular-culture report cards and interviewed 64 key informants. A review of literature also informed the study. As defined in Good Health Counts, the term community indicator reports means published reports that use a carefully selected set of indicators to track the social, health, and economic conditions in a defined geographic area. Report cards are community indicator reports that use letter grades or rankings for each report element.
Community indicator reports use different naming conventions to categorize information. For example, the term indicator can mean the actual data or can refer to an aggregation of data measures. No standard definition was found among reports. In this paper, an indicator is defined as a construct consisting of more than one measure, with measures being the actual data. Indicators either relate to the entire population or subpopulation or, in the case of a performance measurement, the effectiveness of a service or program.
The reports reviewed for Good Health Counts were self-identified as indicator reports, were available on the Internet, and were published in English. Additional reports were suggested by individuals or mentioned in other indicator reports or in the community indicators literature. The geographic scope was limited to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, other English-speaking countries, Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong. Reports from international nongovernmental agencies, such as the World Health Organization, were also reviewed.
Community indicator reports
Community indicator reports share many common features and criteria for development, even though they often differ in their approaches. The reports reviewed were categorized as quality of life, sustainability, health status, social well-being, and government performance. Many of the reports were not specifically referred to as community health reports, yet they offered valuable information about one or more elements in the community environment that contribute to the health of the community they describe.
Generally, community indicator reports are comprehensive summaries of community conditions, including health status, that include explanations about what each indicator means and why it is important. Occasionally, community report cards will feature highlights from larger reports and provide additional meaning to the information by adding grades, rankings, or comparisons as a way to track progress or performance over time in a way that readers recognize. They are, by definition, selective in what they report, but the use of grades and other types of judgments can be effective in improving community health outcomes. For example, providing incentives for change, especially when the grades identify key indicators and establish priorities, contributes to ownership and to action around potential solutions.