Archive for September, 2011

September 28, 2011

A cohesive vision of how to measure the strength of local community services

In a timely piece of research, given the current budget debates at the municipal level, St. Michael’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health (CRICH) released a report titled Community Service System in Toronto neighbourhoods: What should the City pay attention to?

The report concluded “Torontonians want the Community Service System to offer programs that are accessible, available and well funded.”

The CRICH research centre asked Torontonians to respond to the question

“If the City of Toronto wants to know if the Community Service System is working well in a neighbourhood, one thing it should pay attention to is…”

Eight key areas were identified as important to take into consideration when measuring if community services were working well at a local level:

  • Accessibility & Availability (9 ideas)
  • Supporting Civic & Social Engagement (ideas)
  • Collaboration & Evaluation (ideas)
  • Funding (ideas)
  • Meeting Residents’ Needs (ideas)
  • Improving Social Outcomes (ideas)
  • Resident  Involvement (ideas)
  • Staff and Volunteers (ideas)

Sessions were held across the city. Funders and non-profits were also asked to provide input in separate sessions from city residents. Groups for additional languages and youth were also set up.

In follow-up sessions, the researchers asked participants to rank the importance of the identified areas.

Locally available services came out on top (only being beaten out by funding when community organizations responded).

Comparisons of the results across groups are interesting. The researchers did further analysis of the responses and found little difference in the responses between men  and women, between native English speakers and those who speak it as a foreign language, residents and staff at community agencies, people who use community services and those who don’t.

However, depending on one’s connection to community agencies, some interesting differences emerged when identifying what’s important to measuring the health of the community service system. So while residents, community organizations, and funders each identified the same issues as priorities, they placed them in different orders.

City residents identified the most important ideas as Accessibility & Availability, Funding, and Resident Involvement (almost tied to Collaboration and Evaluation); The top three ideas identified by community organizations were Funding, Accessibility & Availability, and Collaboration & Evaluation (almost tied with Resident Involvement; Funders identified Accessibility & Availability, Resident Involvement and Collaboration & Evaluation as their top three areas.

Still the cohesion and strength of the research results affirm the importance Torontonians attach to community services that are available and stable.

Now that the CRICH report has been done, city staff will use it to build a strong neighbourhood-level measurement system.

(Disclaimer: I participated on the advisory committee for this workgroup, doing training in the methodology used.)


September 26, 2011

A critical look at international city rankings

“Well, big deal,” the Montreal Gazette sneered in Montreal and its place in the world, its editorial response to a recent international survey on urban quality-of-life. Montreal was behind Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. As a native Montrealer, I have to concur with the Gazette’s summary:

…rankings tend to favour an ideal, cleanly scrubbed and tidily tended city – which is essentially a suburb.

The editorial consoled readers, throwing in that New York City came 56th on the list.

So how accurate is the measuring stick for the wide range of surveys which rank cities?

This is the question that Toronto’s Intergovernmental Committee on Economic and Labour Force Development (ICE Committee) asked when it commissioned a review of the various urban ranking surveys last year.

As expected, the final report found methodological weaknesses in the comparisons and poor interpretations of the findings by the media and public creates more confusion than clarity when it came to grading the world’s cities. The report author reviewed forty-four rankings and identified seven key lessons:

  • Audience and purpose matter
  • Beware of over-simplification
  • Look at the scores, not the rankings
  • Be wary of data that has been overly manipulated and processed.
  • Longitudinal data are more useful than one-off “snapshot” studied, but watch out for iterative studied that change the rules as they go.
  • Stale source data may leave a false impression.
  • Make sure that apples are being compared to apples.
Probably the fairest explanation for why these studies continue to pop up in the media is attributed to Joel Garreau:
 “These lists are journalistic catnip. Fun to read and look at the pictures but I find the liveable cities lists intellectually on a par with People magazine’s ‘sexiest people’ lists.”

(Still, if you lean towards parochialism, patriotism, or partisan, if you believe Toronto is the centre of the world, you will be glad to know that Toronto generally does well on these international scorecards.)

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