Using the Thrive Rural Framework: Gauging Progress

The Thrive Rural Framework can help you set goals and track progress over time. You can use this information to repeat the action cycle (Take Stock, Target Action, Gauge Progress) as you make progress on your goals.

The resources below can help you measure impact and reassess your goals to advance rural prosperity for all in your region, role, or system. 


Measure Up: A Call to Action highlights six principles for measuring rural development progress to open and deepen conversations about better ways for funders and investors to design programs that consider lower-capacity communities’ realities, needs, and goals. It’s packed with quotes, recommendations for government, philanthropy, & rural practitioners, and an Annotated List of Resources. For top takeaways, see the Executive Summary


  1. Expand the range of individual and community assets used to indicate critical rural development progress. 
  2. Do not dictate what to measure. Work with rural initiatives to define the progress indicators that make local — and mutual — sense. 
  3. Measure progress relative to the rural effort’s starting point at its current stage of development — not against an ideal “success” standard. 
  4. Measure decreases in place, race, and class divides — and increases in the participation and decision-making that reduce these divides — as inherent elements of increasing rural prosperity.
  5. Identify, value, and measure effective collaboration as progress toward rural prosperity. 
  6. Identify, value, and measure signals of local momentum as progress toward rural prosperity. 



Excerpt from – Measure Up: A Call to Action

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• The stock of year-round, locally owned housing
• Change in school enrollments
• The number/ratio of disconnected youth
• Increases in post-secondary educational attainment
• Labor market participation rates
• Changes from an accurate baseline in the number and growth of locally owned enterprises
• Business longevity and growth rates
• Growth in high wage/high demand sectors
• Changes in race, ethnicity, and gender wage gaps
• Affordable child care slots compared to demand
• Community college alignment with local economy
• Aligned continuum of family services
• Entrepreneurial growth as voluntary or involuntary (Is self-employment only an emergency response?)
• Dollar leakage in or out of the community
• Change in air, water, housing quality
• Economic and social impact of job retention
• Living wage requirements – and living wage job availability – in a region
• Change in household savings rates
• Broadband coverage to homes rather than broadband “coverage” only on Main Street

Excerpts from What (and Who) Counts? Defining Rural Economic Success

Economic development:

WealthWorks focuses on the desired impact of the value chain on each of the eight forms of wealth.

  • The existing stock of skills, understanding, physical health, and mental wellness in a region’s people. 
  • The existing stock of natural resources – for example, water, land, air, plants, and animals – in a region’s places. 
  • The existing stock of knowledge, resourcefulness, creativity, and innovation in a region’s people, institutions, organizations, and sectors. 
  • The existing stock of constructed infrastructure – for example, buildings, sewer systems, broadband, or roads – in a region’s places. 
  • The existing stock of trust, relationships, and networks in a region’s population. The existing stock of goodwill, influence, and power that people, organizations, and regional institutions can exercise in decision-making. 
  • The existing stock of traditions, customs, ways of doing, and world views in a region’s population. 
  • The existing stock of monetary resources locally available for investment in the region.

Political and economic power:

  • Measures of political power include voter registration and turnout rates, particularly in local elections; sophistication of collective political planning and coordination; percentage of candidates for and winners of elected office; and rates of participation on local boards. 
  • Measures of financial power include net wealth, income, property and business ownership, and access to cheap or affordable capital.

Culturally embedded/responsive/centering indigenous populations:

  • Size, location, and character of family network 
  • Size, location, and character of community network
  • Value of immutable community property (e.g., tribal lands) 
  • Presence of shared institutions (e.g., tribal government, HBCUs, community churches) 
  • Level of Indigenous language and/or Spanish language fluency 
  • Cultural and/or Indigenous knowledge (e.g., ecosystem management, rice cultivation, song) 
  • Rate of intergenerational cultural practice transfer 
  • Rate of in-community care for older generations 
  • Rate of in-community care for children of parents not able to provide care 
  • Food production sovereignty or independence 
  • Other non-accredited skills/knowledge (e.g., carpentry, masonry, husbandry)

Networks/social infrastructure:

  • Building a broad-based will for change with a laser focus on equity. Within the network or collaborative, everyone must understand the importance of an intentional focus on equity and have the skills to help the broader community build a will to ensure equitable outcomes from any change process. 
  • Leading from a place of transparency and trust. Networks must be fueled by people who are viewed as good listeners and honest brokers representing all important stakeholder groups. Some members will be the “keepers of the torch” and insist on aligning resources and keeping things going even when the going gets tough. Without them, the effort will not thrive. 
  • Staffing (whether paid or volunteer) that provides the facilitation, data analyses, and logistics capacity needed to keep things going. Networked collaboratives work because there are people who see it as their responsibility to ensure the critical to-do’s get done. 
  • Developing and delivering the benefits of dense and diverse networks. These networks must be capable of being mobilized effectively to support the goals of the collaborative and the people it seeks to support. Diverse and dense networks at the community or organizational level are not enough. These networks must include community residents and the people the effort intends to benefit.
Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group