The foundation of our nation is the Constitution, and it begins by clearly stating where the power lies, in "We the people." And it sets a goal, to "form a more perfect union." The question is: How do we define "more perfect"?
The State of the USA is creating a simple, practical means for the nation to find common ground and together face a shared set of facts. The process involves scientifically credible, transparent recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences and original data from leading statistical sources to determine - for the first time ever - where we've been, where we are and whether we are leaving the country a better place for future generations.
It is only with this baseline that we as Americans can take civic debate and problem solving to a new level.
Measuring Progress, Identifying Gaps
The State of the USA's mission is to provide the highest quality information and make it accessible - for free - to the public in a way that informs and illuminates the most important issues of the day, including health care, the economy, education, the environment, energy, safety and security, housing, families and children, civic and cultural life and infrastructure.
As a public service to the American people and backed by the nation's most trusted institutions, a new State of the USA website will make available:
- Key national indicators, as well as reliable and impartial quality data drawn from the most respected federal, state and international public and private sources.
- Easy-to-use tools will enable anyone with access to the Internet the ability to discover, understand and share the information across the Web through distributed publishing and social networking.
- Opportunities to provide feedback so that site users can continue to help shape the service, which is planned for a fully featured launch later this year. (Current site visitors are encouraged to provide feedback and suggestions now, using the Contact Us window on the right of every page of this site.)
SUSA's goal is to draw on the nonprofit sector as a catalyst to unite policy makers, the public, data providers, educators, business leaders, the media, academia, students and the general public so they can become more informed and engaged citizens: questioning, contributing, learning and determining whether they think the country is on the right track.
State of the USA users will also find gaps in information. Some of those will be filled over time as the site develops, but others will represent fundamental gaps in what is truly known about the state of the nation - gaps that State of the USA is committed to revealing.
Moving Forward, Starting with Health
Beginning with health at a time of intense national focus, SUSA has adopted the 20 most important national health indicators - as recommended by the Institute of Medicine - to assess the overall health and well-being of our society. The topics to follow have been determined by independent polling research on which issues are of the greatest interest to the American people.
The State of the USA constitutes an important public/private partnership that could not have evolved without the support of a broad and diverse coalition of organizations and individuals, including recognized leaders, entrepreneurs and experts in education, science, business, statistics, government, media, and the nonprofit community.
And now our mission has been taken to a new level with the recent legislation on health care reform - decades in the making - that established, for the first time ever, a Key National Indicator System for the United States.
The legislation, Section 5605 of P.L. 111-148 (PDF), with bipartisan support, represents a great leap forward by asking the National Academy of Sciences to put the power of information and the debate on progress back into the hands of the American people. This mechanism will only work if we make it work.
The State of the USA's establishment as a nonprofit entity gives us the independence and flexibility to blend public and private data, to build a broad base of stakeholders and to focus on the challenge of how to make quality statistical data both highly useful and widely used. Since its founding in 2007, the State of the USA has focused on:
- Institutional development: Developing a quality leadership team of executives, staff and consultants; growing a Board of Governors consisting of prominent Americans; and establishing strategic relationships with funders, related institutions, and expert advisers.
- Product development: Building and maintaining a website using state-of-the-practice user experience design, socially interactive publishing approaches as well as utilizing evolving technologies for audiences to interact with and easily visualize statistical data.
- Content development: Continuing the development of a key indicator set; engaging the public and experts in the process; designing appropriate ways to create context for statistical data and assure information quality; establishing an editorial committee and editorial process for framing issues, choosing indicators and data sets; and working closely with statistical data providers.
Let's Get Started
The time is now for this common endeavor to assess the state of our communities, cities and regions, states and provinces, our nation and our earth. Our work must endure and evolve so that our children and every generation thereafter can benefit from the lesson that it took us too long to learn - the world is truly what we make it, and how we measure it.
As The State of the USA evolves over the months and years ahead, we will be continually responding to audience feedback to determine how to make our information more useful and more widely used. Please tell us what you think, what features and information you would like to see and share the site with your friends, family and colleagues.
Christopher Hoenig is president and chief executive officer of The State of the USA