Choosing short and sweet indicator names in the State of the South Atlantic was a challenging exercise. Shakespeare tells us in Hamlet that “brevity is the soul of wit”—well, it’s also the soul of clear and understandable plain language writing. Who wants to slog through “percent impervious cover by catchment” when “impervious surface” will communicate the same idea? Or “miles of altered beach” when “beach alteration” is more straightforward? Your staff set an ambitious 3-word limit (which we admittedly stretched using ampersands and hyphens) and gave the indicator names a lot of thought. Some were definitely easier than others. “Size of wetland patches” became “wetland patch size,” which didn’t require much creativity. Turning “number of Historic Register sites without nearby development” into “low-urban historic landscapes” was much tougher, and it still doesn’t quite roll of the tongue.
As your Cooperative’s staff often say in the office, “words are hard”.
Keep in mind that, when the South Atlantic LCC started the indicator selection and revision process, we decided to frame all the indicators in a positive way, so that higher indicator scores were always better. We knew that scoring consistency would make them easier to understand. In the case of the first two indicators I mentioned—impervious surface and beach alteration—the names we chose didn’t really match the scoring, since the names were negative and the scores were positive. Ecologically, high impervious surface is generally considered a bad thing. But a high score on the impervious surface indicator meant the watershed had a low amount of impervious surface, which is good. This was easy to work around in the State of the South Atlantic because we used words like “better” and “worse” instead of “high” and “low”. And an “A” grade is generally understood to be better than a “C”.
However, when your Cooperative adopted the State of the South Atlantic names in the Blueprint for consistency, this introduced some confusion. The Blueprint 2.0 Simple Viewer is scheduled for release next month, with an exciting new feature called “indicator charting”. The indicator charting illustrates this really well. If you click on a sub-watershed and see a high score for impervious surface, is that good or bad? Lesson learned—this is why we initially adopted the rule of all positive indicators! Even though the names might be slightly less clear, staff have renamed these two confusing indicators “permeable surface” and “unaltered beach”. These names are now updated in the Conservation Planning Atlas in the Blueprint 2.0 indicator data gallery, and the next version of the State of the South Atlantic will adopt the new names, as well. I also added an entry to the FAQs on the online companion to the State of the South Atlantic explaining the change.
The bottom line is that the scoring hasn’t changed–higher scores always reflect better ecological condition in the South Atlantic indicators. Renaming these two indicators just ensures the names match the score.