Decisions for future based on indicators of today

Now that the Kaua‘i Planning and Action Alliance has wrapped up its three community meetings, attention turns to gathering the data. During the three meetings, held between May 17 and May 22 in Lihu‘e, Waimea and Kilauea, officials revealed 48 “community indicators” to community leaders and concerned citizens.

It was the first public step in KPAA’s “Measuring What Matters for Kaua‘i: A Community Indicators Project.”

“It will be a basis of information for someone in a decision-making position,” said KPAA’s Diane Zachary. “Government officials, business people, nonprofit organizations…we as individuals can also make decisions based on the information.”

In theory, anyone from a county official to a one-man lawnmowing service can access the KPAA data set and make educated decisions based on specific Kaua‘i data, whether they need to know how best to allocate a multi-million dollar federal grant or if the Princeville lawn care market can support another tree-trimmer.

The indicators were divided into five categories: Economy, natural environment, neighborhood and community well-being, land use and rural character and Kaua‘i cultures and arts.

While Zachary said it was difficult to assign some issues to one category (a major resort development, for example, could affect all five), crossover isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“A good indicator links to many areas,” she said. “You want it to; that means it’s important. No need to measure what’s not important.”

While some indicators, like number one on the list, “income/self-sufficiency,” is measurable by how many Kauaians live above and below the poverty line, others, such as “civic engagement,” will require a more personal approach.

“We tried to identify indicators where there is already existing data or data sources,” Zachary said. “We reviewed projects happening around the country, looked at a database of 600 (community indicators), narrowed that down and added a few of our own that we couldn’t find in existing databases.”

That led to 48 indicators, most measurable by readily available data. For the others, like “civic engagement,” where two of the three measures are looking for the number of people who donated to charity and volunteered in the last year, KPAA plans to initiate an age-old data-gathering tactic this summer.

“We need to do a telephone survey in addition to the hard facts,” Zachary said. “(Those measures) are generally related to quality-of-life issues, and we need a sampling from the community that’s valid.”

Zachary hopes to complete the data-gathering process in June, and have the report in writing by August or September and available in hard copy and on the Internet by October.

Zachary said the project will be an annual one, with most expenses covered after the first year.

“The first year is much more expensive than subsequent years,” she said.

Much of the $50,000 for this year’s budget came from the county and various foundations, as well as donations from some of KPAA’s 75 members.

And while Zachary is concentrating on this year, she said KPAA has already identified categories to expand into, thanks to community input.

“Health and wellness didn’t seem as pressing (in the project planning stages) as some of the other categories,” Zachary said. “But every single community meeting we went to, that was the first thing that was brought up.”

KPAA was created for community indicator projects in 2003, and Zachary said planning for this year began last October. She said with all the issues of growth and traffic on the island, “the timing was really perfect this project to happen now.”

A complete list of all 48 community indicators is available online at www.kauainetwork.org.

• Ford Gunter, staff writer, may be reached at fgunter@kauaipubco.com, or 245-3681 (ext. 251).

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