Measuring progress. Inspiring action.

For discussion

December 2012

Winning with Our Indicators

By Paul Mattessich, Minnesota Compass and Wilder Research

Paul Mattessich

Minnesota Compass won a national award – our community and state win a much bigger reward!

The Compass project staff at Wilder Research were proud to accept an “Impact Award” at the Annual Community Indicators Conference in Washington D.C. last month. The award honored the project for its pace-setting quality providing useful information that communities throughout our state can use to maintain and improve their quality of life.

More than 500 people have lent their time and expertise to the project, supported consistently by major foundations in Minnesota.

Minnesota Compass has its roots in an initiative begun more than 20 years ago, just for Saint Paul, when foundation presidents, business leaders and other community leaders asked if we could identify the ingredients important for community success, measure them, and put them in front of decision-makers and the general public – with the hope that we could foster a new approach to understanding our community and taking action. We sought to make community action more efficient and more impactful.

Our mission has not changed in 20+ years, although our tools for achieving it have improved over time. We have built Compass to provide the most accurate, easy-to-use information on key trends; we have included nonpartisan interpretation to help Compass users understand and take advantage of the trend data; we have added resources, web site links, reports, and other information to round out the picture that the trend information provides.

So, the vision held by those foundation, business, and community leaders has taken shape in ways even better than they probably imagined.

At the conference, we learned from our colleagues from around the world and picked up new ideas for enhancing the Compass website.

Lyle Wray, of the Capitol Region Council of Governments in Connecticut, reminded the audience of the importance of looking at a variety of demographic and social trends with multiple indicators, to gain the best understanding of how our communities are changing. Minnesota Compass’s fourteen topic areas are modeled on this approach, with a carefully selected and maintained set of indicators designed to give a rounded picture of issues and trends in our state.

Lisbeth Schorr, of the Harvard University Center for the Study of Social Policy, described how community action and social policy development must rely on a combination of scientific evidence and practical wisdom. We often offer similar advice to Minnesota Compass users, when they want to address issues for small areas about which perfect information might not exist: Use Minnesota Compass to understand the overarching context, and then rely on community-based and local wisdom to round out the picture.

We thank all of the many people involved in Compass for their work. We are proud of our role, knowing that the work of Minnesota Compass can lead, for example, to better education for young people throughout the state, to better employment, safer housing, and more engaged communities. Through Compass, we can maintain our vigilance on issues that could derail progress, such as large disparities in health and education; we can prod our legislators to put facts ahead of stereotypes when they form policy; we can reliably understand both our strengths and our needs.

So, our communities and our state as a whole benefit from Compass! Winning with our indicators – that’s something we can look forward to doing every day, year in, year out. Challenges to maintaining the best possible quality of life for our population will not disappear in the near future. We need to retain our foresight; we need to act wisely, based on the best information. That’s how Compass can enable us to win again and again, transforming the status quo into something better and better.

Featured trend

Percentage of Minnesota adults age 25 or older with a bachelor's degree

Educational attainment among Minnesota’s adults continues to rise

Minnesota ranks among the 10 states with the highest shares of college-educated adults. Today, 37% of adults in Minnesota have a bachelor’s degree or higher, an increase of almost 10 percentage points since 2000.

See our educational attainment key measure for more on this topic.


Data Update


There are 20 counties in Minnesota in which at least one in five young children (age 0-5) lives in poverty

Foreign-born populations continue to grow as a proportion of the overall population, making up 9% of Minnesota’s population, up from 7% in 2010.

Approximately 38% of householders of color pay too much for housing.

The ratio of retirement-age adults (65+) to working-age adults (16-64) increased in 60 Minnesota cities, signaling disproportionate growth in the number of older adults compared to the working-age population.

Between 2016 and 2019, the share of Minnesota students who report being highly engaged in enrichment activities fell from 65% to nearly 60%.