On July 8, 2009, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner launched Better Lives, Better Ohio, a social health index. Ohio is one of a very few states to have such an index and is, I believe, the only state to have a web-based index. Click here to view the Better Lives, Better Ohio webpage.

For Bridges and Circles sites in Ohio, this is big news. The web-based index will help with research, education, media education, and, best of all, grant writing! There are seven categories of data with approximately 300 quality-of-life indicators that were compiled based on recommendations received at public forums conducted throughout Ohio by the secretary of state. Website visitors can get general and detailed information by going to the map and hovering over the county they want to learn about. Data can be filtered and sorted to make reports that can be downloaded as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and bar charts. The Ohio Department of Youth Services has already said that Better Lives, Better Ohio is so good that it will simply refer people to that website rather than its own.

This best practice (one that other states might want to emulate) demonstrates how Bridges has been used to address policy-level issues related to poverty. Think of the fourth column on the Community Sustainability Grid. The index can be used to inform policy and program development, and it can be used to hold our state and community officials accountable for the quality of life.

At the Better Lives, Better Ohio public forums and at the launching ceremony, Secretary of State Brunner, while holding a copy of Bridges Out of Poverty, stated that she was introduced to Bridges through an initiative of the Supreme Court of Ohio. She was then a judge in the Franklin County Drug Court and became the first in the nation to provide Getting Ahead to drug court participants. In 2004 she attended the Bridges Trainer Certification in Wisconsin where she heard about the social health index. It was then that she decided she would run for Secretary of State and that, if she won, she would implement a social health index. The index was one of the four goals she listed while campaigning. Upon her election, she contracted with aha! Process for assistance in implementing Better Lives, Better Ohio.

Secretary Brunner is a Bridges champion, a person we can all learn from. She took a considerable political risk by implementing Better Lives, Better Ohio. There is always resistance to accountability and a reluctance to produce data that aren’t always favorable. But, as she said at the launch of Better Lives, Better Ohio, “You can’t fix what you don’t measure.”