Determine How to Measure
It is time to figure out how you are going to evaluate the choices facing your community. Most people are familiar with the concept of metrics under a variety of names: indices of performance, evaluation criteria, measurement criteria, and OKRs. Whatever the name, the idea is the same: to establish an objective way of measuring a desired outcome. In this case, your desired outcome is achieving the goal you developed in the previous step. If your goal is to replace the jobs lost by a closing plant, your corresponding metric might be “number of laid-off plant workers who found another job in the area within one year.”
Note that a goal may have several metrics associated with it. For example, a goal of maintaining pre-closure public services could be measured by school enrollment numbers, budget levels, and population change.
A common mistake is starting with metrics rather than goals. Let’s look at an example from the financial services industry. If a bank decides to measure the success of its call center by looking at call hold times, it is optimizing towards the wrong goal (minimizing the customer’s hold time). The bank should prefer to have a satisfied customer (as measured by a post-call survey, or indirectly by customer retention rates) rather than assuming that short hold times will automatically lead to a happy customer. In other words, they should start with the desired outcome—to have a happy customer—rather than a preconceived notion of what metrics will matter.
A good metric should be measurable, meaningful, and objective.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You want to be able to quantify (put a number to) the thing you’re capturing. If your goal is to have a healthy local economy, a bad metric that is not measurable would be, “high quality of life for all residents.” A better, measurable metric would be, “X percent of households are above the poverty line.”
A metric should capture progress toward your goal, not just capture the amount of work or outreach you have done. This one is the hardest to implement in real life. If you are working on a policy action, for example, the temptation is strong to measure the number of legislators you have contacted, but this tells us little or nothing about progress made. A more meaningful metric would be the number of legislators who have become champions for your cause (e.g., co-sponsors of a bill, statements of support).
An objective metric means that all observers come up with the same value when measuring. In other words, there is no subjective component to the evaluation of the metric. For example, counting the “number of high-wage jobs” may result in different numbers depending on different people’s definitions of what “high wage” means. An objective metric would be, “number of jobs that pay more than $50k a year.
What are some sample metrics?
Some example metrics that may help guide your community’s discussion are listed below. Remember: Your metrics must be specific to your goals. These are just to give you some ideas.
- Gain/loss by category: residential, commercial, industrial – lagging indicator
- By type of tax: sales, income, property, user fees, PILOTS, authorities, other
- Number of residents gained/ lost by age
- Percent change in school enrollment levels
- Number of jobs created
- Number of jobs retained
- Number of new businesses started
Land use related
- Percent change in industrial availability
- Percent change in commercial availability
Social fabric related
- Annual amount of charitable giving at the community level – leading indicator
- Number of volunteer driven organizations gained/lost – leading indicator
A Note About Iteration
When you get to this phase, you may realize there are metrics that are important to your community that do not seem to fit with any of your goals. This may be an indication that you are missing or misstated a goal. Remember: This process is iterative, and there is nothing wrong with going back to the goal development phase and making revisions. For example, you may realize that “number of jobs created” is likely a meaningful, important metric for your community’s transition, but doesn’t fit well with your stated goal. Could it be that you have left out of your goal statement a phrase about job creation or local economic growth? If this happens, the group should go back and revise the goal (and then update the metrics accordingly) until you have captured everything.
A Word of Caution
While iteration is fine—even anticipated—at this stage, it should be strongly avoided beyond this phase. It is human nature to want to choose evaluation criteria after the fact to place a preferred solution in the best possible light. This can lead to a biased evaluation of alternatives. To avoid this, we suggest formalizing your goal and metrics in a shared document for reference, before moving forward.
Transition can be a time of great possibility. In some cases, you have the opportunity to envision a new community and quality of life from the ground up. Think creatively about how to replace revenue and create a solid fiscal footing, good jobs, attractive spaces, a cohesive community, and a place where all generations will want to live for the long term.
It is also important to plan thoughtfully—not just for the coming months or years, but for decades. Long-term planning will help ensure that the vision and goals you collectively create accounts for the needs of all community members (and that everyone in your community understands the anticipated timeline).
Transition is never easy. Some of the toughest questions are also the most common when a mine or plant is closing. Here are some tools for tackling four of the toughest questions.
How do we replace revenue?
Loss of revenue will likely be a considerable obstacle to achieving your community’s shared goals for the future. In many cases, the community will need to adjust to a “new normal” in terms of how revenue is generated or what and how services are delivered—at least in the first few years. This will not be easy, but here are three approaches that can help.
- Be clear and honest from the start. Explain clearly that things will likely change while new sources of revenue come online. This could mean cuts to services, imposition of user fees for services, and consolidations to create economies of scale.
- Consider using participatory budgeting to address budget shortfalls. This process starts with quantifying the impacts of a closure so that a community can see clearly how the financial status of the community (and region) will change, how impacts on both contributors (taxpayers) and users (residents) of services will materialize, and how decisions to live within a new budget will be made.
- Don’t go it alone. Seek financial help from the state or federal government and identify champions to help pursue such support. These discussions may spawn additional engagement or lobbying on the part of community members and may also help lawmakers embrace new priorities for government spending and for leveraging other available funds.
How do we replace lost jobs?
Job loss is often the top-of-mind issue for communities in transition. While the search for suitable re-employment will likely be a struggle in the short term, there are many ways to ensure long-term success for transitioning workers. As always, the earlier a community begins to explore alternative employment for coal miners or power plant workers (well before a mine or plant actually closes), the smoother the transition will be.
- Look at skills, not just positions. Skills from one kind of industry might transition well to something that seems entirely different on the surface. For example, many former coal mine or power plant machine operators have skills that translate easily into manufacturing, alternative energies, or technology jobs. What are the skill sets in your community?
- Pay attention to workforce development and employment policies. A new idea for job creation may get a big boost from existing policies at the state or federal level—or may be stymied by them. Take a look at the policies that surround employment in your area, and be ready to take advantage of those that support your work, and advocate to change those that do not.
- Think beyond your own borders. Some of the most promising economic development strategies are those that connect towns and cities within geographic regions. Think of how the systems for food, water, recreation, conservation, energy, and other shared needs might be addressed on a regional level, and how they might translate into community jobs.
- Prepare workers for the jobs of tomorrow. This applies to both adults transitioning from coal-related jobs and to students preparing to enter the workforce. Look carefully at the needs of affected workers and the needs of future employers, then identify ways to close any gaps. (As mentioned above, consider gaps in terms of skills rather than industries. The gaps may not be as wide as you think.)
- Support entrepreneurs. From small one-person shops to fast-growing start-ups, there are many creative and visionary ideas for businesses in transitioning coal communities. What are the things your community can do to support these new ideas? Look for ways to connect local entrepreneurs to capital, resources, research, and other supports that can help them grow.
What do we do with the closure site?
Sometimes, the property upon which a closed surface mine or power plant sits can become a tremendous asset for a community. While there will no-doubt be many great ideas about how to turn the site into something beneficial, it is critical to take your time, engage the community in discussion, and examine all options carefully.
- Understand different perspectives. Depending on the plans for a mine or plant after closure, the property’s owners can face significant expense in terms of post-closure remediation. Ensuring that both the community and property owners understand each other’s desires and perspectives can lead to a shared solution that benefits all.
- Value the public process. Although tension may exist, engaging all community stakeholders to discuss future plans for the site will ultimately build greater trust and confidence between the community and site owners, making it much more likely that all parties will be able to agree on a suitable new use for the site.
- Consider the questions. Your community and the site owner will need to consider a number of questions, and they’ll all need to be answered. The most common ones include:
- What’s the history of the facility and how might it be honored?
- What uses might help replace lost jobs or revenue?
- How might reuse of this facility work with the community’s broader economic development goals?
- How much authority does the utility have to facilitate redevelopment efforts?
- What are the policy goals of local/regional/state governments that will factor into the redevelopment/reuse plan?
- Who’s going to pay for the redevelopment/reuse? (Note: Many different kinds of funding will be necessary.)
- Consider the eco assets. Some power plants or mines own significant buffer lands that can be used for conservation easements, wetland protection or mitigation, or other purp
What does the next generation need?
When a mine or plant closes, it’s easy to focus on the physical and economic needs. But the stresses created by change will also activate mental health concerns that have multi-generational impact. Although these needs may seem hidden, it is critical to address these needs when planning for any community’s future after coal.
Plant or mine closures can be particularly hard on the children of those who have lost jobs. The potential for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) either in the home or in the broader community can increase significantly. Parents can become depressed or abusive. Substance use may increase. So might rates of domestic violence and divorce. Housing or food may no longer be secure. Families may sink into poverty or even homelessness. All of these factors will have lifelong negative effects on a child’s mental and physical health. The parents themselves may also have a history of ACEs that can be exacerbated by the stress of job loss and can make individual transitions difficult. This creates a twofold challenge of supporting adults whose trauma history may present extra challenges and preventing ACEs in the next generation.
One key to combating ACEs in a community transition is to focus on reducing adversity for individuals, families, and communities by employing a number of “protective factors” during transition.
Budget decisions that favor support for community services like schools, parks, libraries, and other assets can help reduce trauma.
Focusing on trauma and reducing ACEs will help the community keep an eye on the long term. During the transition, the community will be focused on the now. It will be difficult to think beyond the next five to 10 years. But communities in transition must think about future generations, and how the decisions made today will affect the long-term future of education, local culture and social engagement, economic mobility, and health and wellness for those who will live in the community 20, 40, or even 100 years from now.
Use this checklist to make sure you are ready to move on to the solutions.
Have you developed a shared goal?
- All stakeholder groups were involved in developing the goal.
- There is consensus on the goal.
- The goal captures the desired end state, and doesn’t refer to any specific solutions.
Have you developed metrics for your goal?
- For each goal, there is at least one metric you can use to measure your progress.
- Each metric is measurable, meaningful, and objective.
- All stakeholders agree on the metrics.
If you have checked all the boxes, it is time to move on to developing a series of solutions—then assessing them against your goals and metrics.
At this stage, your community team should be focused on brainstorming and generating any and all ideas. This is not the time to evaluate any ideas or cross them off the list. That will come later. An experienced facilitator should lead these brainstorming sessions, capture all ideas, steer any hint of negativity or evaluation back to positive contributions, and encourage all voices to participate.
The list resulting from such brainstorming sessions might look like this:
- “We could create a mountain biking trail that will attract tourism to the region.”
- “We could attract a data center by highlighting the existing infrastructure of the closing plant.
- “We could become known as the ‘cheese capital’ of Ohio.”
- “We could develop a local farming economy and create a food corridor with neighboring counties.”
- “We could partner with Google to introduce the Google Career Certificates program into the local high school.”
- “We could revitalize the historic downtown to attract more tourism.”
Whatever your list looks like, it will include a mix of popular ideas that seem like a “sure thing” as well as far-flung ideas that seem unlikely to work, even outlandish. Keep an open mind and consider all ideas.
The next step is to evaluate these alternative solutions against the metrics you developed in the previous phase. To do this, we recommend going through each alternative solution and estimating the value of each metric defined in the previous phase. This often involves a “feasibility assessment” of the more promising ideas.