The Lucky Jaguar

There was a village that believed in the idea of The Lucky Jaguar. When a jaguar appeared near the village, a village elder instructed people "So long as it isn't attacking anyone in the village, don't kill it. It's lucky."

The village elder was probably old enough to remember a time in the past when there was a jaguar in the area and the village had a really, really good year that year. They didn't know why or how a jaguar in the area made a positive difference to their welfare, but they could recognize the correlation.

Modern scientists were able to determine that the jaguar was hunting pigs in the area and pigs routinely ate part of the locally grown crops. The pigs feasted on the village crops during the night and the jaguar feasted on the pigs during the night, so the villagers never directly witnessed any of these activities.

Thus, the village elder couldn't draw a clear cause-and-effect line from the presence of the jaguar to the bumper crop associated with it, but the difference was too substantial to dismiss it as wild coincidence. The difference was the difference between barely surviving the year and everyone having abundance. It was about a fifty percent increase in crop yield.

Community development is complex and has many moving parts. You may not always be able to track a straight line cause-and-effect between X person or action and Y outcome, so proxies and other hand-wavy metrics are frequently used to try to measure community development work.

But you need to be careful with those. If you can't determine a clear cause-and-effect relationship, you need to make sure they are metrics that, like the idea of The Lucky Jaguar, are protecting the goose laying the golden eggs and not killing it.

Be leery of proxies that can be used to claim credit where no credit it due. Be especially leery if there is an obvious conflict of interest -- for example, someone trying to justify a pork barrel salary where the money comes out of city coffers and there is no real accountability.

While it can be useful to track aggregate statistics -- new business, business that moved to downtown from elsewhere within the city -- if you can't show cause and effect, you shouldn't be trying to claim credit for it. It just muddies the waters and makes it harder to track what is actually working, not easier.

If the goal is community development, you need to be using proxies that enhance the development process and eschewing proxies that can be used with nefarious intent to bleed the community of limited resources for the benefit of one or a few individuals. Knowing who actually bring certain skills to the table and how to treat them is an important part of that.

Of course, not everyone who shows up will actually be interested in doing community development. Some people will be there for other reasons. You need to make sure those reasons play nicely with your goals and aren't a means to sabotage the work you are doing.

In short, it's fine to use proxies and vague metrics and sometimes that's the best you will have available. But make sure no one is getting away with lying with statistics in a way that lines their pockets while actively undermining the community as a whole.

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