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Community Vital Signs



Identifying vital signs—what makes a city survive and thrive—to measure and report is fundamental to useful community planned change.  They will provide the decision-making criteria and transparency for city planning, development, implementation, evaluation, continual Improvement.


To determine whether a city is moving, and to empower its citizens to do so, in the right direction, requires ways to measure results and impacts – both positive and negative. Presented are suggested Community Vital Signs that have been developed with and for communities ranging from the US, Mexico, Europe, as well as Central and South America.

When you go to your physician, your vital signs are taken to get an overall view of your health.  If there are problems, they dive deeper into those vital signs to see what has to change and what doesn’t. And so it is with cities and communities. 


Writings about community status and condition (c.f. websites in references), often use varied labels that tend to cluster around:

  • Health and Community Characteristics

  • Education

  • Wealth

  • Employment

  • Environment

  • Quality of Life

  • Safety

  • Parks and Recreation

  • Housing and Neighborhoods

  • City Economy

  • Transportation and Public Works

  • Municipal Utilities and Environmental Impact

  • Government Finances and Operations.

Cities have both problems and opportunities. To define what is working and to change what is not, vital signs can provide evidence for making good decisions. The future belongs to those that plan and deliver it. What follow are possible community vital signs long with identified variables that may help further define each.


Why Community Vital Signs?


Decisions are constantly being made concerning cities and communities. It is important who makes the decisions, what are the decisions based on, and who benefits from the decisions and policies. The survival and well-being of communities is attracting increasing public scrutiny. Measuring and reporting believable information for planning and evaluation purposes is central for the improvement of where citizens live. 


Identifying vital signs—what makes a city survive and thrive--that should be measured and reported is fundamental to useful community well-being.  They provide the decision-making criteria and transparency for planning, development, implementation, evaluation, and continual improvement.


Assessment and change best includes the residents of the city so there is 360-degree feedback and transfer of ownership from the city to the community (c.f. Bernardez (2019-Feb. 20).


To determine whether a city is moving in the right direction, and to empower its citizens. to do so, requires ways to measure important results and impacts-–both positive and negative. Accordingly, the following are suggested Community Vital Signs that have been developed with and for communities ranging from the US, Mexico, Central America, Latin America, and Europe (Bernardez, 2018; City of Tallahassee, 2008; Fernandez, D. & Bernardez, M., 2018: July; Guerra-Lopez, (2018: July; Rodriquez, G., 2018: June; Wesley, J; 2018).


The importance of a Mega focus.


The successful city of the future will move ever-closer to an Ideal Vision—the kind of world we want to create for tomorrow’s child (Kaufman, 2011).  In its shortened form, the Ideal Vision says no one will be under the care, custody or control of another agency or substance.  Everyone will survive and be self-sufficient and have a positive quality of life. This focus on community and society in measurable performance terms is called Mega planning (Kaufman, 2011; Kaufman, R. 2018: June).


What are community vital signs and why they are important?


Vital Signs are the objective variables and measurable criteria for any city that cares deeply about its value to residents. They are similar to those vital signs that physicians use to assess your health status. For a city to measure community Vital Signs, they must determine what it does and delivers and assess how residents perceive and determine what impact their services and policies are delivering. Citizens involvement is essential.


Governments often measure themselves differently than how citizens measure their government.  It is suggested that any self-study presents the selected and agreed-upon vital signs criteria in a format of a needs assessment where citizens can identify, on a five-point scale, What Is and What Should Be in terms of results (Kaufman & Guerra-Lopez, 2013). Data collection initiatives might vary from questionnaires to town-hall meetings, to interviews.  In all cases, “hard” performance data should be collection for all vital signs selected and that and perceptions used to assure agreement (c.f. Bernardez, Arias, Kravatsy, & Kaufman, 2012).


Each community may choose and prioritize the vital signs they find important for their continual improvement. Citizen feedback should be used to refine or establish new measures for their future survival, self-sufficiency and quality of life; citizens become active participants in the welfare of their communities.


Possibly useful community vital signs.


The following vital signs and related performance measures are not intended to be all-inclusive. The ones suggested here are more of a menu of criteria and variables. There is some overlap between categories because City operations are dynamic and interactive and since some planners might select some but not all suggested vital signs and categories. There are many proposed because cities and communities are very complex. Each community should decide which ones are important to them.


Not all community vital signs are at the Mega level while others are indicators which will lead to Mega results and consequences. Not all vital signs may be the sole responsibility of the city or community.


In most cases, either a city or other entities, will have additional information that will enable the city to “drill down” into the details of each vital sign.


For example, for each of these vital signs and associated indicators, it would be useful to sort each by catchment area, gender, age, and racial association, and other relevant demographics to make sure that inappropriate discrimination is not happening. The ability to disaggregate data will be important to those interested in the details of specific programs and to the city when making policy choices and allocating scarce resources during budget deliberations.


The vital signs may be used to create positive social capital and avoid negative social capital for the continual improvement of their communities (Bernardez, M. & Kaufman, R (2013; May-June).   

References and Related Readings



  • Bernardez, M. (2005). Achieving Business Success by Developing Clients and Community: Lessons from Leading Companies, Emerging Economies and a Nine-Year Case Study. Performance Improvement Quarterly, Vol. 18, Number 3. Pp. 37-55.

  • Bernardez, M (2019: March 15) Focus on the User Experience (UX)  Social and            Organizational Performance Review.

  • Bernardez, M. (2018: June) Mega and City Doctors: Applications and Consequences. Performance Improvement Journal. Vol.57, No. 6. Pp. 15-23.

  • Bernardez, M., & Kaufman, R. (2013; May-June).  Turning Social Capital into Societal Performance: Three Case Studies and a New Framework for Value Creation.  Performance Improvement. Vol. 52, No. 5. Pp. 5-18.

  • Bernardez, M., R., Krivatsy, A., Arias, C. & Kaufman. (2012). City Doctors: A Systemic Approach to Transform Colon city, Panama. Performance Improvement Quarterly. 24(4), pp. 41-60.

  • City of Tallahassee (2008: Jan.).  City of Tallahassee Community and Organizational Vital Signs.  City Auditor’s Office, Tallahassee, Fl.

  • Drucker, P. F. (1992: Sept.-Oct.).  The new society of organizations.  Harvard business review, 70(5), pp. 95-104.

  • Drucker, P. F. (1993).  Post-Capitalist Society.  New York: Harper Business.

  • Drucker, P. F. (1993).  The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Nonprofit Organization.  San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers.

  • Fernandez, D. & Bernardez, M.  (2018: July). Unleashing Social Capital: A Human Approach to Urban Integration. Performance Improvement Journal. Vol.57, No. 6. Pp. 41-52.

  • Guerra-Lopez, I. (2006).  Evaluating Impact: Evaluation and Continual Improvement for Performance Improvement Practitioners. Amherst, MA. HRD Press.

  • Guerra-Lopez. I..   (2018: July). Ensuring Measurable Straegic Alignmnet to External Clients and Society. Performance Improvement Journal. Vol.57, No. 6. Pp. 33-40.

  • Kaufman, R. (2011) A Manager’s Pocket Guide to Strategic Thinking and Planning. Amherst, MA. HRD Press, Inc.

  • Kaufman, R. (2012: Mar.)  Deriving and Using Vital Signs for Assuring Florida Organizational Viability.  Ideas in Action. Tallahassee, Fl., Florida TaxWatch,

  •  Kaufman, R. (2018: June).  Current Concepts and Tools of Mega Thinking and Planning: An Overview and Summary. Pp. 9-14.  Performance Improvement Journal. Vol. 57, No. 6.

  • Kaufman, R. and Watkins, R. (1996) “Cost-Consequences Analysis.”  Human Resources Development Quarterly, 7(1), 87-100. Pp. 1-8.

  • Kaufman, R, Oakley-Browne, H., Watkins, R., & Leigh, D. (2003).

  •            Practical Strategic Planning: Aligning People, Performance, and Payoffs.

  •            San Francisco, Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

  • Kaufman, R., & Guerra-Lopez, I. (2013).  Needs Assessment for Organizational    Success. Alexandria, VA., American Society for Training and     Development/ATD.

  • Rodriquez, G.  (2018: June). Economic and Social Impacto of the Internationalization Strategy Based on Megaplanning for Southern Sonora Region, Sonora, Mexico. Performance Improvement Journal. Vol.57, No. 6. Pp. 24-32.

  • Wesley, J. (2018).















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