Many communities around the nation are working to improve their health. But how can they measure progress? Knowing there are many ways to do this and one size may not fit all, here is some guidance to help see if you are on the right track.
Use Ranks as a Tool
Ranks are great for garnering attention, simplifying a lot of complex data, and making comparisons between one community and another at a point in time—but they shouldn’t be used alone to measure a single community’s progress. Rather, look at them as one tool among many. Because ranks are relative, they aren’t as helpful in isolation -- your county’s rank depends not only on what is happening in your county, but also on what happens in all the other counties in your state. In fact, if every county in a state improved its health equally, their ranks would all stay the same. So look for ranks to inform your progress measurement, not drive it.
Change and Data Take Time
Be realistic about how quickly you can move the needle—it will take time for your efforts to improve your health outcomes.
- When you reduce your adult smoking rates significantly, it will still take some time before this positive change reduces the number of preventable deaths due to smoking.
- When you increase high school graduation rates, some effects will be immediate but it will be years before premature deaths are reduced.
Also, most data collection (via census or survey) has lag times. For example, our premature death rates represent a lag of more than three years, and to be sure that we have reliable data for communities of all sizes, we use three years of data. So, the premature death rates you see for the current Rankings reflect premature deaths from four to six years ago.
So, what should you look at when it comes to measuring progress?