A county’s rank tells a community how healthy it is today compared to other counties in its state but a rank alone cannot fully capture progress. Because ranks are dependent on how other counties are doing, they are not as helpful as a standalone measure of progress. A county’s rank could actually get worse even though its health is getting better. For example, the premature death rate for Bexar County in Texas (home to San Antonio) improved by 6 percent from our initial 2010 Rankings to 2015 while its rank for length of life dropped by 8 places (from 58 to 66). People are living longer lives in Bexar but its rate of improvement has been outpaced by other counties in Texas.

To examine progress beyond ranks, we might suggest exploring:

Specific measure estimates over time
Look to the underlying CHR measures to examine change over time. For instance, take a look at the trend graph for your county’s premature death estimate and how your county trends compare to state and national trends. Of note, it is also important to consider the error margins associated with measure estimates. Year-to-year, even if a county’s true rate does not change, there will be some fluctuation in the estimate due to random variation.

Diverse data sources and local information
Look for information from existing local data sources. These sources may contain measures that can better capture the health needs and opportunities that are important to measuring progress in your community.

Mixed methods approaches
You will not be able to measure progress fully with a simple quantitative approach. Consider ways to collect information through interviews, focus groups, or surveys, particularly for near-term progress measures.