Wednesday, January 12, 2011


David W. Campbell writes, I have encouraged communities to benchmark themselves against peer communities across Canada - that way we get an apples to apples comparison.

Yes, but it depends very much on just what data is collected. As we see with the Learning Index, very different things can be used to differentiate between ‘intelligent’ and ’stupid’. It’s important to identify the *right* things.

Data is not automatically useful, and benchmarking is not automatically informative. You can draw some very incorrect conclusions and actually point your city in the wrong direction through a misuse of benchmarking.

Take, for example, ‘new cars’, which in the MoneySense report is “2007-2009 model year vehicles as a percent of total vehicles.” Does that reflect prosperity? Or does it reflect terrible road conditions? Or does it reflect a dysfunctional mass transit system? Attempting to increase the ‘new cars’ rating could be helpful to a city, or harmful.

My own view is that these benchmark comparisons often do more harm than good. Moncton is not Calgary or Vancouver, and we shouldn’t try to be. What works well, and reflects success, in those cities may be something very different from what works in Moncton. What we value here - bilingualism, say - might be thought of as unnecessary or worse in the other centres.

Evaluations of cities should be conducted according to their own criteria. What goals has the city set for itself? Is it approaching those goals? Vancouver decided it did not want freeways - it would rank very low compared to Edmonton, which has energetically constructed freeways. But the choice represents differing values, not the success of one and the failure of the other.

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