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New project tracks regional indicators for success

Imagine a region that makes its major decisions based on data gathered consistently from reliable sources and feedback collected directly from its community. What potential impact could citizens play in shaping the future of the place they call home?

Inspired by the potential for engaging the community in determining and tracking the outcomes that are key to the region’s well being, the Portland State University’s Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies (IMS) launched Greater Portland Pulse (GPP) in the spring of 2010. In partnership with  Metro and many public, private, and nonprofit partners,  IMS  began a conversation with our community designed to identify goals and measure the keys to the region’s success.

After identifying the outcomes most important to the community, IMS began collecting data associated with the most crucial challenges and promising opportunities facing the Portland region. Greater Portland Pulse offers not only a set of measures, it also serves as an invaluable resource for policy makers, non-profits, and community leaders looking for insights to guide and align their policy and resource decisions.  Within the next few years, Greater Portland Pulse aspires to become a powerful tool for public, private and nonprofit collaboration toward charting and improving the progress of the region.

Recognizing that a project of this magnitude and importance requires additional intellectual and fiscal resources as well as broad community engagement, IMS formed a regional collaboration with Metro as well as over one hundred other organizations.  The project exceeds previous efforts to measure the community’s well-being by “connecting the dots” among many issue areas and across two states, four counties, and over 25 municipalities.

Sheila Martin, Director of the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies and the Population Research Center has led the effort from the start in partnership with Metro.  Martin says, “Greater Portland Pulse provides a ‘north star’ to guide us toward the goals we’ve set to improve our region.” 

The team worked to establish nine categories that community members felt were the most important to track and would give a strong indicator of the region’s challenges and opportunities.  The nine areas are economic opportunity; education; arts and culture; civic engagement; healthy people; safe people; access and mobility; quality housing and communities; and healthy, natural environment. 

A project advisory committee, led by PSU President Wim Wiewel and Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber President Gale Castillo, helped guide the project to ensure that it reflects the community’s priorities. The advisory group includes volunteers ranging from elected officials to nonprofit leaders. The committee examined the connections among each of the key outcomes to investigate and articulate how investments and outcomes in one category drives results in others. For example, demonstrating the connection between poor educational outcomes, higher unemployment, and greater poverty in the Portland and Vancouver communities helps offer a more comprehensive picture of the region's inter-related struggles, not just the implications of isolated decisions. 

IMS has created a visually compelling web site, Portlandpulse.org, to display the data in charts and maps and to help people interpret the data. IMS is making the data available to the public and conducting workshops on how to access the data and create custom reports.

The long-term impact of the project is yet to be determined, but leaders of Greater Portland Pulse believe that over time, it will become a key resource for the region’s civic leaders and citizens.