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

Primary refugee arrivals in Minnesota

Minnesota sees smallest number of refugee arrivals in more than a decade

Last year marked the smallest number of primary refugee arrivals in Minnesota over the last 17 years. About 670 refugees resettled in Minnesota in 2018, nearly half originally from Burma. Primary refugees are individuals who arrive directly in Minnesota from a country of asylum or refugee camp, while secondary refugees (not included in calculations) are those who migrate to Minnesota after arriving in a different state of resettlement.


Learn more about Minnesota’s immigrant population.

Data Update

Our state continues to see improvements in on-time high school graduation. Eighty-three percent of high school students graduated within four years in 2018, up from 78 percent in 2012.

Our Mexican-born population remains the largest immigrant community in Minnesota. Hmong, Somali, and Indian immigrants are tied for our second largest immigrant communities.

Hennepin County remains the most populous county in Minnesota, home to more than double the number of residents of any other county in the state.

Every county in the state has seen a 3 to 7 percentage point decline in the share of residents lacking health insurance since 2013, the first year of full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.