numbers|narratives is a research project exploring how people think and talk about quantitative indicators. During academic year 2012-3, VT research team members Matt Dull, Beth Offenbacker, and Fatima Sharif are conducting a series of small group discussions about community indicators in Alexandria. Interested in joining the conversation? Check out this Flyer

Are you interested in discussing how to measure important community issues facing Alexandria, VA? If you live or work in Alexandria, we want you to join a discussion that is part of a Virginia Tech research project on how people discuss the issues facing their community. This discussion will help participants to be better informed about the community and the researchers to learn the stories behind community indicators. For more information, please contact Fatima Sharif at

numbers|narratives builds on a multi-year effort by Virginia Tech students and faculty with the Center for Public Administration and Policy, the City of Alexandria, and local nonprofit organizations to develop community indicators measuring quality of life and well-being in the Alexandria community. The Alexandria Community Indicators initiative draws inspiration from a wide range of local and national efforts to measure and address pressing community issues, including the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, the State of the USA, and Virginia Performs. The idea that quantitative community indicators will enlighten public thinking runs deep in the history of civic reform. A hundred years ago, the advocates of social welfare reform at Jane Addams’ Hull House carefully mapped Chicago’s south side neighborhoods in very much the same spirit. Read about the Hull House maps here, here, and here.

Samuel Sewell Greeley, Nationalities Map, “Hull-House Maps and Papers,” Library of Economics and Politics, No. 5, 1895.

Generous Support from the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment


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This is a post about a paper I just put out to Elsevier’s SSRN, because I believe every academic paper should have a blog post explaining why it is useful.

The paper is about the intellectual property (IP) box. The proposal is to provide a lower tax rate to profits associated with a patent or other IP. IP boxes currently exist in a few countries, and a few bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress to set up an IP box.

The bills proposing IP boxes—which they refer to as innovation boxes—could possibly be traced to a measurement problem. Innovation is hard to define, let alone measure, so many academics will use patent rates as a proxy, in a classic case of looking under the lamppost and replacing a complex concept with something that can be counted and looked up in a database. This seems to have become ingrained, and arguments about patent boxes seem to depend upon the assumption that patents==innovation. This column traces where that substitution leads us.

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