As with ecologies in the natural world, ecologies in human society contain and depend upon an array of fundamental endowments. These endowments give expression to universally-recognizable ends that are essential to human thriving. In turn, they become actualized within specific social practices and institutions and have distinctive histories that shape their present and future possibilities.


Indicator popularity refers to the number of indicator organizations within our database that use the metric. The more popular a metric is, the larger its bubble will be on the Indicator Explorer.

Academic Research

Our evaluations of strength of “academic” research take into account both the quality of research around each indicator and the extent to which there is an indication that the indicators sheds light on human thriving, broadly defined – including thriving in economic and educational realms along with environmental sustainability, physical health, quality of interpersonal relationships, community ties, and all the other things that make for well-being.

With this in mind, we defined five levels of strength of academic research for our Indicator Explorer in this manner:

Very Strong
The quality research around the indicator is very strong and lacking any dissenting voices in the body of research. This indicator is highly correlated with other aspects of social life. This classification is reserved for well-established indicators that have a large body of literature that points in a consistent direction.
The quality research around the indicator is strong, and mostly positive. The correlations between the indicator and other sectors of social life are strong. The research is good quality, but there may be some debate among scholars about strength or direction of the correlations. A strong indicator could also have a field of research that is somewhere between “promising” and well-established indicators that are “very strong.”
For promising indicators, the majority of voices think there is strong evidence of correlations between this indicator and other aspects of social life. There may still be some dissent about the strength or existence of the correlations, or the research may be limited in some way. Promising indicators could also be emerging indicators where in small or observational studies, they show strong results but have not been used long enough to amass a large body of research.
There is little or no correlation between the indicator and other aspects of social life, as seen in current literature. Either a substantial body of research failed to uncover a relationship or more work needs to be done to uncover stronger correlations.
The research on the indicator that does exist is inconclusive, contradictory or the quality of the research needs to be improved. How this indicator correlates with other aspects of social life still remains to be seen.

How can we measure and determine if our communities are thriving?

This is the animating question of the Thriving Cities Indicator Explorer. This interactive tool, structured around our Human Ecology Framework, is designed to help community residents, leaders, and practitioners assess, understand, and ultimately improve our neighborhoods and cities. Read More

The Indicator Explorer database is comprised of over 3,000 indicators from more than 100 community indicator projects from across the country. However, this discernment tool highlights the leading indicators, those currently backed by the strongest academic research and most frequently employed in communities.

This is just the first version. We are already hard at work adding new indicators, new features, and new research. If you’re aware of any research or information that should be considered for this project, please contact us with the details.

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For answers to common Indicator Explorer questions, visit our FAQ page.