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Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission: Indicators Project

The Indicators Project

Progress begins with a goal. The goal can be grand (eliminate extreme poverty in the world); the goal can be subtle (increase school attendance rates). Small and large, the changes made around the world are driven by the goals and visions set by empowered communities. Both qualitative and quantitative data is used in the goal-setting process.

Hundreds of projects exist around the United States that are dedicated to tracking the health and wellbeing of a community (CIC, 2015). Most of these projects are known as “community indicators projects”, as each project typically identifies, acquires, and maintains sets of data indicative of the wellbeing of some part of the community (e.g. economy, education, health) (Van Assche, 2010). While the Metro Boston Region has been served by the Boston Indicators Project since 2000, the Central Massachusetts region lacks such a comprehensive resource (Roberts, et al., 2005).

The goal of this project was to work collaboratively with the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC) to provide them with a recommended framework for the development of a full-scale community indicators project in Central Massachusetts. We identified successful indicators projects from around the country and, in conjunction with content analysis of existing literature and reports, interviewed people directly involved with several of these indicators projects. We learned about their purpose, development, implementation, and sustainability of nine projects and sought recommendations for a fledgling indicators project for the Central Massachusetts region. We then synthesized all of this information to develop framework and process recommendations for a full-scale Central MA indicators project.

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Our Sponsor: The Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission

The Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission has spent half a century helping the communities in its region have a positive impact (CMRPC, 2015). We helped gather data to increase their resources and further their ability to serve as a repository for information on the region and to advise area stakeholders. To understand how our work fits into their goals, we look at their history, structure, and primary functions of the CMRPC.

The CMRPC was formed in 1963, to collaborate with local agencies on planning and development in Central Massachusetts. It advises on regional planning in the City of Worcester and the surrounding 39 communities, which includes the southern two-thirds of Worcester County. Commission delegates, who are comprised of 1-4 people (based on population) from 40 Central Massachusetts communities, meet quarterly, with an annual meeting in June of each year. The body of delegates bears responsibility for policy and budget items (CMRPC, 2015).

The stated goal of the CMRPC is to “improve the quality of life for those who work and live in the Central Massachusetts region.” The CMRPC works with officials and agencies from a local to federal level to offer local perspectives to issues, and works alongside them. They assist with municipal and regional planning, Community Development services, Transit Planning, Geographic Information Services, and other programs. (CMRPC, 2015)

In late August, 2015, the CMRPC was asked to weigh in on a proposed rail line in East Brookfield, MA. Several members of the small community were objecting due to the close proximity of the proposed rail line to their homes (Ellery, 2015). The function of the CMRPC is to help decide what projects are worth the time and money, what will have the greatest impact, and what will be disruptive to the communities in its jurisdiction.

Among numerous other land use planning functions, the CMRPC is at the helm of the new Central Massachusetts DataCommon, a data repository. CMRPC developed DataCommon, in conjunction with numerous area stakeholders, to be a data hub of high-quality information about Central Massachusetts (CMRPC, 2015). Our work contributes to the important addition of information to DataCommon, which is intended to be used by the community to make more informed decisions. In enabling informed decision making, indicators can present information which directly relates to the issues faced by members of the Central Massachusetts region.

In an effort to catalyze development of the Central Massachusetts Indicators Project, the CMRPC reached out to Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Worcester Community Project Center.

Consequently, in conjunction with the CMRPC, we developed recommendations for a systemic process for finding and working with relevant stakeholders to regularly reevaluate necessary indicators for community health and education. We worked with the CMRPC, and together developed a baseline for education and health in the Greater Worcester Community, to better understand these sectors of community wellbeing and how they have changed over time. Additionally, we worked to acquire maintenance funding for the project and develop a work program. All indicator information gathered as part of the indicators project was to be published to the DataCommon website in a manner which we helped to develop in order to make this resource accessible to all potential stakeholders. Our process for recommending a framework for the CMRPC took into account the limited resources available for the Central Massachusetts Indicators Program. DataCommon, was in stage two of development, the website was publicly available, with limited functionality and minimal use by community members. Roughly two full time staff positions were available for work on the indicators project. Minimal funding had been identified to cover initial expenses associated with the planning of the indicators project. The scope for the project aimed to serve 62 cities and towns in Central and Northern Massachusetts.

Who We Are

Jack PerryZac Temple
Jack is a junior studying industrial engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He’s passionate about rowing on the WPI Men’s Rowing Team and spends his free time with friends or by tinkering with technology.Zac studies mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He mentors robotics teams in both FIRST Lego League and FIRST Robotics Competition. In the off-season, Zac enjoys live music and fast cars.

Goals And Objectives

The goal of this project is to work collaboratively with the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC) to provide them with a recommended framework for the development of a full-scale indicators project in Central Massachusetts.

As CMRPC seeks to stand with the Boston Indicators Project as a leader in New England for indicators programs, we must first pay due diligence to existing programs, before laying the groundwork for a sustainable, ongoing community indicators project. In this chapter, we describe the four objectives we completed in order to achieve our overall goal. Our objectives are:

(1) Identify successful, currently operating indicators projects;

(2) Research and analyze methods used in indicators projects identified in Objective 1, focusing particularly on funding procurement

(3) Assist in the efforts to publicize DataCommon

(4) Develop framework and process recommendations for a full-scale Central MA indicators project using findings from objectives 1-3.

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