Every good organization--be it a business or government organization--has to know where it stands, has to have some metrics which help evaluate its success. Tim Welsh, Director McKinsey & Co.

Introduction

Behavior change is tough but possible. One of the essential elements of behavior change is tracking. Dieters track their weight, lawyers their time, drivers their speed and sales people their contacts. People who track their activity in relation to their objective are more likely to achieve them.

In this vein, many communities are interested in behavior change too. As part of that effort, they have come together to decide how to measure the success of their community and track the results. Often, part of that effort is making comparisons to similar communities.

For governments and economic development organizations, the behavior or data is often displayed on a “dashboard.” The “dashboard” concept is derived from cars where the speedometer provides continuous information, or feedback, to the driver. The driver can adjust his or her conduct based on the speedometer readings.

Governments and economic development organizations build dashboards of significant economic data so that the community can monitor its success or failure and adjust its behavior in response.

Minneapolis-St. Paul Economic Dashboard

Rather than take on new initiatives in economic development, Minneapolis - St. Paul began by building an economic dashboard. They began with metrics and data first which may seem boring and unconventional. However, in order to be effective, the group needed to find a common direction and focus on what was important.

The idea was to “[g]et multiple organizations and leaders to agree on common performance outcomes for the region to better align often conflicting priorities and disconnected strategies.” Business leaders, philanthropies, non-profits, and government officials negotiated for months to reach an agreement.

According to an article by Brookings, “Many cities [and counties] struggle with regional coordination. Leaders in greater Minneapolis-St. Paul made a different bet: Agree on the end game, and regional alignment will follow.” Below is their dashboard, now in its third year.

MSP Dashboard
Source: Greater MSP Regional Economic Dashboard.

Other Dashboards

Resources

Eberts, Randall, Development of a Regional Economic Dashboard, Employment Research 13(3): 3-5 (2006)

Questions

Many have defined Henderson’s success in terms of a one-dimensional “jobs” indicator. Is the number of jobs indicative of the kind of community you want to live in?

What other metrics should be tracked to determine livability?

Would you advocate for tracking the number of full-time, above-the-median pay jobs with healthcare benefits?

Should education, health and environmental factors be included?

Most authorities believe that economic development should be done regionally. Do you feel that Henderson is part of Western Kentucky, Evansville or both?

Summary

The process that occurred in Minneapolis-St. Paul could be used as a model here. A large, representative committee could be convened to determine the most important indicators of Henderson’s success. Henderson’s dashboard might look very different from Minneapolis due to the different values and priorities in each community. These indicators could be placed on the city, county or economic development web page and tracked over time. Henderson would also need to determine what peers it should be compared to. And ideally, the initiative should enlist our regional partners. If Henderson is going change its future behavior, then it needs to set a goal and track the data. Change is necessary for Henderson to regain its swagger.