What We Measure Matters for Healthy Communities

In creating healthy communities, what we measure matters. The data we use, metrics we measure with, and methodologies we employ are key components in the effort to build healthy, vibrant communities.

On March 8, planners and public health professionals came together to discuss the importance of measurement in building healthy communities as part of the Planners4Health curriculum series.

The panelists, from the Prevention Institute, Georgia Tech School of City & Regional Planning, and Health by Design, brought a range of perspectives and expertise.

Sandra Viera, MPA, and Rachel Bennett, MPH, MURP, from the Prevention Institute discussed data sources traditionally used in public health and how they can be leveraged by planning. They discused the challenges of working with data and said the institute emphasized the importance of tracking progress and considering a broader notion of evidence to include experiential and contextual evidence. Bennett and Viera reminded attendees that community data creates momentum:

“The indicators a society chooses to report to itself about itself are surprisingly powerful. They reflect collective values and inform collective decisions."
— Donella Meadows, Environmental Scientist and Author

In moving from data to action, community considerations are of the utmost importance. This includes considering how best to translate data to policy makers, stakeholders, and community members.

Nisha Botchwey, MPH, MURP, from the Georgia Tech School of City & Regional Planning shared her work analyzing the quality of life and health in Atlanta neighborhoods. By leveraging data and identifying community-specific metrics, the Neighborhood Quality of Life & Health Project was able to have a strong equity focus.

This was a core component of the project, as the leads knew that social conditions determine health status much more so than clinical medical care. According to the Institute of Medicine, 70 percent of health outcomes are the result of living and working conditions, economic and social opportunities, and the individual behaviors that those structural factors enable.

Kim Irwin, MPH, from Health by Design, discussed the opportunities and challenges of prioritization in the face of limited resources.

As part of the Plan4Health project, Irwin led Indianapolis's work to create the first Master Pedestrian Plan. This effort to make Indianapolis a more walkable and healthy community necessitated a deep understanding of the community's challenges and opportunities. Irwin and her team asked: "Why are things the way they are?" — and used data to move to action.

Watch the full webinar:

Learn more about building healthy communities by tuning in for future Planners4Health sessions.

Top image: Drawing from the Indianapolis/Marion County Pedestrian Plan.


About the Author
Aliza Stein Norcross, MPH, is project associate for APA's Planning and Community Health Center.

March 31, 2017

By Aliza Norcross