Informing Our Nation: Improving How to Understand and Assess the USA’s Position and Progress
A well-informed nation is an essential component of a healthy democracy. There is no substitute for being able to understand the whole (e.g., the position and progress of the nation) in order to better assess and act on the parts (e.g., the key issues that we face). Although a number of cities, states, and regions in the United States have comprehensive key indicator systems, there is no such system for the United States as a whole.
With respect to such systems, there is a large and growing amount of dialogue and activity taking place throughout the United States and around the world. For example, in November 2004, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in cooperation with the Italian government sponsored a World Indicators Forum to promote and sustain a global community of practice on developing national indicator systems. The opportunity before us is to build sophisticated information resources and comprehensive key indicator systems that aggregate and disaggregate vital information across sectors, levels of societies, and institutions.
Congressional and other leaders have recognized that they could benefit from the experiences of others who have already developed and implemented such key indicator systems. GAO's November 10, 2004, report entitled Informing Our Nation: Improving How to Understand and Assess the USA's Position and Progress found (1) citizens in diverse locations and at all levels of society have key indicator systems, (2) these systems are a noteworthy development with potentially broad applicability, and (3) Congress and the nation have options to consider for further action. It also offers observations and next steps.
For this report, GAO studied a diverse set of key indicator systems that provide economic, environmental, and social and cultural information for local, state, or regional jurisdictions, as well as several systems outside of the United States. Citizens in diverse locations and at all levels of society around the world have key indicator systems. GAO identified some positive effects that these systems have produced, common challenges they encountered, key design features that helped guide the development and implementation of indicator systems, and a range of organizational options.
Prior to this, on February 27, 2003, GAO, in cooperation with the National Academies, hosted a Forum on Key National Indicators in Washington, D.C. The objective was to discuss whether and how to develop a set of key national indicators for the United States.
Since that time, a consortium of non-profit, private, and public sector organizations--under the auspices of the National Academies-- has been established to create a pilot comprehensive key indicator system for the United States. This effort, known as the Key National Indicators Initiative, has grown to include a diverse group of over 200 leaders.
Going forward, GAO has a dual role in this effort.
- Responding to Congressional requests and conducting research and evaluation.
- Exchanging professional knowledge and engaging constructively through activities
- maintaining ongoing familiarity with the state of professional practice;
- providing routine advice to and informally collaborating with other institutions or associations; and
- Convening experts and facilitating the sharing of knowledge on indicator systems.
GAO will continue to conduct work on these important issues for the benefit of Congress and the nation as a whole.
Informing Our Nation: Improving How to Understand and Assess the USA's Position and Progress (GAO-05-1 ).
Environmental Indicators: Better Coordination Is Needed to Develop Environmental Indicator Sets That Inform Decisions (GAO-05-52 ).
Forum Report: Forum on Key National Indicators: Assessing the Nation's Position and Progress (GAO-03-672SP).
Forum Materials links to the executive package which was provided to all participants prior to the Forum and to a "working draft" of a USA indicator set and strategic approach which were presented at the Forum.
OECD.org/oecdworldforum provides an overview of the papers and presentations discussed at the OECD World Forum on Key Indicators held in Palermo, Italy on November 10-13, 2004, and links to OECD's Knowledge Base on National and International Experiences.