Developed by Seabourne Consulting, experts in Exploratory Measures for Belonging and Civic Muscle

Exploratory Measures for Belonging and Civic Muscle

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Belonging and Civic Muscle is about having fulfilling relationships and social support that people need to thrive. It’s about being part of a community and contributing to its vibrancy. But how do you measure belonging and civic muscle? Through constructs such as social support, social inclusion, social cohesion, civic engagement, social capital and social infrastructure we can unpack and understand our community’s experience of belonging and civic muscle capacity. This feature offers a set of exploratory measures.

Social support through friends, family, and other networks contributes to our practical and emotional needs, enhances mental well-being, helps us navigate life’s challenges, and reinforces healthy behaviors. People with a stronger sense of efficacy, belonging, and social connectedness tend to live healthier, happier lives. Thriving and social and emotional support indicators paint a picture of social support and well-being.


Measure

Definition

Source

Thriving among adultsPercentage of adults age 18 years and over who score in the “thriving” category on Cantril's ladderWell-being Assessment (Adult) - 100 Million Healthier Lives
Thriving among youthPercentage of youth under 18 years of age who score in the “thriving” category on Cantril's ladderWell-being Assessment (Youth) - 100 Million Healthier Lives
Inadequate social and emotional supportPercentage of adults 18 years and over who report not receiving adequate social-emotional supportBehavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Supplement

Social inclusion is the process of creating equal opportunities for people to achieve their full potential. Many groups including people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA2+ people, women, incarcerated people experience social exclusion--lack or denial of resources, rights, goods and services--resulting in and exacerbating health and economic disparities. Several useful indicators through which to examine concepts of social inclusion and social exclusion include estimates of disconnection among youth, incarceration levels, linguistic isolation and access to information and resources.


Measure

Definition

Source

Youth not in school, not workingPercentage of the population aged 16-19 years who are not enrolled in school and not workingAmerican Community Survey
Incarcerated populationProportion of the population residing in federal detention centers, federal prisons, state prisons, local jails, residential correctional facilities, military jails, or juvenile correctional facilities on the day of the 2010 Census (April 1, 2010)Decennial Census
Limited English proficiencyPercentage of the population aged 5 years and older who speak English less than "very well"American Community Survey

Computer and internet accessPercentage of the population in households with a computer and a broadband internet subscriptionAmerican Community Survey

At the community and neighborhood level, social cohesion strengthens social ties and engenders collective attachment and belonging. Higher levels of social cohesion are associated with higher levels of trust, cooperation and social capital, providing the necessary foundation for working together across groups and sectors, and building the “civic infrastructure” for community members to co-create a shared future. These patterns can create a virtuous cycle—working together supports stronger communication and develops a sense of connectedness and mutual obligation. Indicators related to population change and mobility, racism and hate, and political isolation aid in understanding social cohesion at a local level.


Measure

Definition

Source

Population changePercentage change in population over a 5-year or 10-year periodAmerican Community Survey
Residential mobilityPercentage of renter-occupied housing units for which the householder moved in within the past yearAmerican Community Survey
Experiences of racismPercentage of adults who have felt emotionally upset as a result of how they were treated based on their race in the past 30 daysBehavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Supplement

Hate crimesNumber of reported hate crime offenses per 100,000 populationFBI Uniform Crime Report
Political segregationDifference between the average spatial exposure of partisans within a geographic unit to the average spatial isolation of out-partisansHarvard Dataverse

Relatedly, the concept of community or civic engagement is about participating in society, and political and non-political actions to protect public values or make change. Engaged communities often have greater social capital, or networks of between groups and individuals with shared norms, values and understanding that facilitates cooperation within and between groups. Through increased community and civic engagement and the growth of social capital civic muscle is built. These concepts can be examined with indicators such as voting participation, census engagement and Social Capital Index.


Measure

Definition

Source

Voting participationPercentage of total voting age population who cast votes in the most recent presidential electionNew York Times
Census engagementPercent of Decennial Census mail forms that were completed and returnedOpportunity Insights
Social Capital IndexStandardized index combining measures of voter turnout rates, the fraction of people who return their census forms, and measures of participation in community organizationsOpportunity Insights

Civic institutions like parks, libraries, cultural facilities and other public and nonprofit institutions are cornerstones of a civic democracy. Such institutions are vital for healthy, connected communities that enable all people to thrive. They make up our social infrastructure--which when robust fosters relationships, engagement, collaboration and connectedness between individuals and across groups. In this respect, social infrastructure sets the stage for building civic muscle. Below are several indicators that help us measure the strength and capacity of our civic institutions and social infrastructure.


Measure

Definition

Source

Social associationsNumber of membership associations per 10,000 populationCounty Business Patterns
Cultural, arts and entertainment institutionsNumber of cultural, arts, and entertainment institutions per 10,000 populationCounty Business Patterns
LibrariesNumber of libraries per 1,000 populationInstitute of Museum and Library Services
Park accessPercentage of the population living within 0.5 miles of a parkNational Environmental Public Health Tracking Network

The measures offered here are exploratory--a starter list for learning together about what it takes to engender belonging and build civic muscle in our communities. The list is certainly incomplete, and publicly accessible data only paints a picture with broad strokes. When used in combination with community engagement activities and local data, the picture comes into focus and we can begin to see how we continue creating together. 

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