Desperately seeking data…learning more about your community.
Over the past couple of posts, we have talked about getting to know your community through both personal observation and through interactions through social media. We need to be able to separate our personal biases from our observations and be able to clearly see the world as it is.
As human beings, we tend to view things from our own personal frame of reference. While it is important to use judgement and experiences, we need to take the time understand every aspect of our community before we try to market to it. Even if we have lived in a community for a long time, we need to look at through as many perspectives as possible to get the whole picture.
Looking for demographics in all the right places(at least in the United States)
Use U.S. Census data. Go to the U.S. Government census site where you can find a tremendous amount of data on your local community. The Factfinder site can provide basic demographic information for your zip code. The U.S. Census Bureau also provide a host of additional tools for you to use. The Census bureau also provides a link to religions sites.
Real Estate Information. One new source of information comes from Zillow. Zillow compiles real estate information including home prices and other information. Type in the name of your local city or zip code and then hover over the "local info" tab. The different areas can provide different data points for your search (house prices, demographics, etc.)
School District Records. Many states have school district report cards. In Ohio, we can go to the Department of Education site and complete a search the school districts in the area. Here is an example for the school district where we live.
Try a Google search. Google can be a wonderful thing. It can help find all sorts of different data that you can help piece together a view of the community. Start by searching "+community + state demographics" and look through the links.
Pay for data. There are some places to get unique data for your church. The West Ohio Conference subscribes to Percept Group's Link2Lead site to get data tailored for your church. It provides some interesting analysis and demographic factors that may help in your analysis.
What data is available is based on your location. Try to find what you can, pull all your data together and look for themes…
Avoid "analysis paralysis" … test and prove instead.
Now it is time to try to turn that pile of data into something useful. Start with your observations and conversations both on-line and in the real world.
Look for themes. What are the themes you see? How can you support your findings with data? Do you see lots of kids around? Do you think you have a working class neighborhood? Prove it with the data…
Try to think about people's unmet needs. Brainstorm a list of what people are struggling with or challenged with. Is it finances? Raising kids? Unemployment? Isolation? Low graduation rate? Demographic data cannot identify the needs so much as confirm it.
Focus on the big picture. It is easy to get lost in the data or make a bad assumption. Start with a theory, mix in observations and data slowly, and stir until a picture starts to form.
Be careful not to jump to conclusions. Use the data to prove or disprove your hypothesis about your community. If you aren't sure, go back out an make more observations or talk to people about your community on-line.
Turn the data into a story…
One technique that I support in a BIG WAY is the use of personas. Personas represent a "stereotype" of a particular group. You start by gathering a ton of data, observations and interactions and try to imagine a person who represents that group. It could be a single mother with two kids who is trying desperately to keep them focused on school and out of trouble. It could be a middle class traditional family looking for a place to "plug-in" after they move. Create a picture in your head and then use the data to support or disprove it.
Statistics cannot help you deeply understand whom you are trying to serve, but it can help inform your opinion. Give it a try and share how it helped or not.