April 2005 // Volume 43 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW1

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Assessing Community Resources and Economic Development Programming Efforts Using a Modified Human Development Index

Current outcomes measures of Extension Service base program effectiveness tend to be initiative specific. These diverse indicators do not provide an encompassing view of a base program's efficacy. This article proposes the use of an overall index that would incorporate existing outcomes measures to evaluate base program progress. Specific emphasis is placed on the development of an index for the community resources and economic development base program.

Joselito K. Estrada
Assistant Professor, Department of Business Administration
The University of Texas at Brownsville
Brownsville, Texas


As one of the base programs of the Cooperative Extension System, the goal of community resources and economic development is to provide research-based educational programs and technical assistance that lead to the long-term well-being of communities (CSREES, 2003). How do we measure an extensive goal such as community well-being?

At present, community well-being is measured within the confines of various programs of excellence such as workforce preparation, business retention and expansion, community planning, and small and/or home-based businesses (Southern Rural Development Center, 2004). Each of these programs of excellence has its own outcomes indicators. Workforce preparation may use indicators such as number of youth in the labor force or number of welfare recipients, while the small and/or home-based business program may use number of new business start-ups/expansions and number of jobs created from business start-ups/expansions. Although these indicators provide useful information regarding program efficacy, such measures do not necessarily provide an encompassing view of well-being.

This article presents a measure that would provide a holistic indicator of community resources and economic development's goal of community well-being. The proposed measure is based upon the United Nations' human development index (HDI).

The Human Development Index

The United Nations Development Programme introduced the HDI, which has served as a composite measure of human development, in 1990 with the publication of the first Human Development Report (UNDP, 2001). At the heart of these human development reports is the promotion of an alternative means of viewing human development or well-being. These reports have called for a shift in the development paradigm from a focus on economic growth towards a more evenhanded interest in equity, sustainability, productivity, and empowerment.

In its original form, the HDI measures a nation's overall achievement based on three basic dimensions. The first dimension, which is longevity, is measured based on life expectancy. The second dimension, which is knowledge, is measured based on a set of variables pertaining to educational attainment. The final dimension, which is decent standard of living, is measured using adjusted income per capita in purchasing power parity U.S. dollars. Indexes are developed for each of these dimensions. The average of these dimension indexes forms the HDI. The resulting HDI provides a value between zero and one. Nations with HDI values closer to one (zero) represent higher (lower) levels of development.

National, state/provincial, and local government decision makers have used results from the estimation of HDIs as policy assessment tools. Comparisons across borders and time have led to the appraisal and adjustment of policy initiatives towards human development.

While the initial applications of the HDI have been to compare achievements in human development among nations, a number of studies have been conducted using the HDI to compare achievements at the city level or county level (Agostini & Richardson, 1997; Felder, 2002; Hanham, Berhanu, & Loveridge, 2002). On the other hand, the HDI has been used to assess human development for population groups (Corrie, 1994).

Developing a Modified Human Development Index for Use in Program Evaluation: Evaluating the Impact of the Empowerment Zone Program

Modified HDI

As a potential measurement tool for community resources and economic development programming at the county-level, a modified version of the HDI can be developed. Rather than utilize the original dimensions established by the United Nations, this modified index will incorporate dimensions or indicators that are program-specific. The general formulation of the index is as follows.

  • County-Level Index = (Xi - min X) / (max X - min X)

    • Xi - County's value for a specific indicator;
    • Min X - the lowest observed value among all counties for the indicator; and,
    • Max X - the highest observed value among all counties for the indicator.

Use as a Program Evaluation Tool

Let us look at an example of how this index could be used as a program evaluation tool. Specifically, this example investigates the effects of the Empowerment Zone program on Cameron County, Texas (Estrada & Allen, 2004).

The Rio Grande Valley of Texas received a rural empowerment zone designation from the Federal Government in December 1994. In its application for designation, the empowerment zone corporation sought to improve the quality of life for valley residents by addressing a number of development concerns (RGVEZC, no date). Most notable of these concerns was the creation of sustainable jobs paying livable wages (economic opportunity); educational opportunities that lead to high skills training (education); and increased capacity in housing development (housing).

In general, evaluating quality of life by using the indicators cited above could take on the form of presented in Table 1. While the data presented in the table provides useful information, it does not present an encompassing view of well-being in the county.

Table 1.
2000 Socioeconomic Indicators for Cameron County, Texas

Education Dimension Indicators

Variable Name


Percent of Persons Aged 25 and older who are High School Graduates


55.2 %

Percent of Persons Aged 25 and Older who are College Graduates


13.4 %

Percent of Total Population that are enrolled in Elementary and High School


23.3 %

Economic Opportunity Dimension Indicators


1999 Median Household Income



Percent of Families Living Below the Poverty Level in 1999


28.2 %

Average Monthly Unemployment Rate


8.7 %

Housing Dimension Indicators


Total Number of Housing Units



Number of Owner-occupied Housing Units



Median Value of Owner-occupied Housing Units



Sources: Texas State Data Center & Texas Workforce Commission (2004).

Using the index listed above, a series of dimension/indicator indexes could be developed to show how the county has progressed vis-à-vis other counties in the state. These indexes are calculated below.

  • Education Index = (XE1 + XE2 + XE3) / 3

    • XE1 Index = (XE1i - min XE1) / (max XE1 - min XE1)
    • XE2 Index = (XE2i - min XE2) / (max XE2 - min XE2)
    • XE3 Index = (XE3i - min XE3) / (max XE3 - min XE3)

  • Economic Opportunity Index =  (YE1 + YE2 + YE3) / 3

    • YE1 Index = (YE1i - min YE1) / (max YE1 - min YE1)
    • YE2 Index = 1 - [(YE2i - min YE2) / (max YE2 - min YE2)]
    • YE3 Index = 1 - [(YE3i - min YE3) / (max YE3 - min YE3)]

  • Housing Index = (ZH1 + ZH2 + ZH3) / 3

    • ZH1 Index = (ZH1i - min ZH1) / (max ZH1 - min ZH1)
    • ZH2 Index = (ZH2i - min ZH2) / (max ZH2 - min ZH2)
    • ZH3 Index = (ZH3i - min ZH3) / (max ZH3 - min ZH3)

  • Overall Well-Being Index =  (Education Index + Employment Opportunity Index + Housing Index) / 3

The min (max) value for each variable represents values for counties in the state with the lowest (highest) value for the variable under consideration. Estimated values for these indexes are presented in Table 2.

Table 2.
Dimension and Overall Well-Being Indexes for Cameron County



County Rank










Overall Well-Being Index



Source: Estrada & Allen (2004).

Note: The state of Texas is comprised of 254 counties. The County Rank column shows how Cameron County ranks in relation to other counties with respect to the dimensions listed above.


In a period where accountability and effectiveness are imperative, outcomes measures of Extension Service education programs are crucial. Given the extensive nature of most Extension Service base programs, especially community resources and economic development, outcomes indicators tend to be program specific rather than encompassing.

This article has introduced the development of a measure, based on the human development index, that would allow for the evaluation of the effectiveness of the community resources and economic development base program in achieving its goal of improving community well-being. Rather than discarding existing outcomes indicators, these are utilized in the development of an overall index that could be used to assess community well-being. Similar indexes could be developed for other Extension Service base programs.


Agostini, S. J., & Richardson, S. J. (1997). A human development index for U.S. cities: Methodological issues and preliminary findings. Real Estate Economics. Volume 25 (1): 13-41.

Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (2003). Community resources and economic development. Available at: http://www.csrees.usda.gov/nea/economics/sri/publicpolicy_sri_cred.html

Corrie, B. P. (1994). A human development index for the black child in the United States. Challenge. January-February: 53-55.

Estrada, J. K., & Allen, A. J. (2004). An assessment of the impact of the rural empowerment zone and enterprise community program on Texas' Rio Grande Valley. Paper presented at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Southern Agricultural Economics Association, Tulsa, OK, February 2004.

Felder, J. (2002). Assessing recent socio-economic factors for the counties of the State of Mississippi. Paper presented at the 29th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Economics and Finance. Pensacola, Florida. February 2002.

Hanham, A. C., Brehanu, S., & Leveridge, S. (2002). A human development index for West Virginia counties. Research Paper 2005. Center for Community, Economic, and Workforce Development. West Virginia University Extension Service.

Rio Grande Valley Empowerment Zone Corporation. (2004). Strategic plan summary building communities: together. Available at: http://www.ezec.gov/ezec/tx/riogrande.html

Southern Rural Development Center (2004). Community resources and economic development: Programs of excellence. Available at: http://srdc.msstate.edu/cred/programs/programs.htm

Texas State Data Center. Education, housing, poverty, and income data (2004). Texas A & M University. Retrieved February 10. 2004 from http://txsdc.tamu.edu

Texas Workforce Commission (2004). Labor market information. State of Texas. Available at: http://www.tracer2.com

United Nations Development Programme. (2001). Human development reports: Measuring development and influencing policy. New York: Oxford University Press.