A Portrait of Marin, a county-level human development report produced by Measure of America and commissioned by the Marin Community Foundation (MCF), uses the American Human Development Index to assess well-being and needs in Marin County, California. The report compiles and analyzes data from official U.S. government sources to provide accessible, quantitative information on racial and ethnic demographics, economic conditions, health, and education within the county.
The report facilitates interaction between citizens, the public sector, and the private sector by providing a single source and a common language with which to deliberate community issues. A Portrait of Marin is also being translated into Spanish to enable the county’s growing Latino population to better understand aspects of the report that discuss this community’s needs and to take action to address them.
At a a community forum sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and the Marin Interfaith Council on May 23rd, MCF president and CEO Dr. Tom Peters stated that the Foundation commissioned the report “to promote equity and diversity through the process of engagement”— a way to turn statistical data into tools of empowerment. When we spoke with MCF this June, they discussed how the report has catalyzed both discussion and action in Marin since its publication in January 2012. More specifically, A Portrait of Marin:
- INCITES PUBLIC DEBATE: The report engaged residents by creating a rare and nonpartisan space for them to discuss pertinent issues affecting their everyday lives. After the release of A Portrait of Marin, a lively back-and-forth between impassioned Marin residents emerged in local papers and online, and drew attention to issues of concern such as housing, child care subsidies, immigration, and education.
- INFLUENCES HOUSING POLICY: Experts and advocacy groups within the county are using the report to effect policy change. One such group, Action Coalition for Equity, evoked the report to argue the need for further economic opportunities and housing for low-income families in Marin. The Marin Workforce Housing Trust even remarked that the report offered the most convincing argument for the increase in affordable housing yet. In fact, as reported in the New York Times, a private citizen of note, George Lucas, (while perhaps not directly inspired by the report) will turn his property, Grady Ranch, into affordable housing with MCF’s assistance.
- INFORMS BANK INVESTMENTS: The report brings to light socio-economic gaps within the county, and banks such as Wells Fargo and Union Bank are using the report to fulfill their obligations under Community Reinvestment Act, an act approved by Congress to reduce discriminatory practices in low-income communities.
These examples demonstrate just some of the wide-ranging impacts that a comprehensive human development report can have on local communities. Reports such as A Portrait of Marin are designed to be statistically robust yet clear and accessible, and to help communities identify areas of need and develop policy agendas.