sources, such as service program data, health surveillance, vital statistics, school performance data, decennial census, police reports, and so on. Because of the limited nature of these data, some communities are fielding their own surveys for a more complete assessment. In many cases, however, community programs for youth are started in response to needs that are obvious to those who work with the youth without consulting any data resources. Nonetheless, however, a more formal documenting of need can help even in these cases to elicit the cooperation and interest of other actors both inside and outside the community, including funders.

Tracking Progress Toward Goals

Virtually all youth initiatives have some goals that can be translated into social indicator language. Community-wide youth initiatives often set goals to improve selected dimensions of youth well-being in specific and measurable ways. These goals then serve to focus the activities of multiple organizations in the community. In Tillamook County, Oregon, for example, the community agreed to focus on lowering the teen birth rate, which was then one of the highest in the state. Many local organizations, some with very different ideas and strategies for addressing the issue, worked to reduce teen births in the county. Over a period of four years, the rate was cut by 70 percent, giving the county the lowest teen birth rate in the state (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 1997).

The federal Healthy People 2010 initiative is another useful example. Participating states and communities adopt specific goals across a host of health outcomes to be achieved by the year 2010.1 Public and private health organizations focus their efforts on one or more of these goals so that, together, they can make measurable progress at the community or state level. Social indicator data are the primary source used to assess this progress. Individual programs can also use social indicator data as tools for setting and tracking progress toward their specific goals.


Social indicator data are increasingly used by funders to hold programs and initiatives accountable for measurable results in many areas,


For more information, visit <>

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement