Desperately seeking data…learning more about your community.

Dog reading about cats  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.

 

Related Posts:

One way to grow your congregation…SKIP CHURCH!

Getting Started in Social Media – Start by Listening.

IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU!…Ways to create a connection using social media.

Understanding your audience…Using personas to connect with your community.

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3 Responses to “Desperately seeking data…learning more about your community.”

  1. June 14, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    Great post on working with data. To add to your point about Census data, I’ve created a site making it a bit easier to sift through all the data: http://www.statjump.com
    I’ve also pre-made thematic maps to correspond to data within the Factfinder site (e.g. http://www.statjump.com/lists/german-people-dp2c159tc.html )
    I’d be curious if you have any thoughts or feedback.
    Thanks!
    Pat

  2. June 21, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    Pat,
    Thanks for the link to your site. I’m sorry that it took a little while to get back to you. I was on vacation in Italy so I had very limited access to anything online.
    I tried out your site and I love the approach. The ability to put an easier front-end on the census data is desperately needed and I like the general approach that you have taken.
    From a church perspective, the usability is still a little tough. I have to use a number of “fly-out” menus and select a bunch of different points. It takes a lot of time to set up, and fly-out menus generally score lowers in usability.
    Also, putting the search function inside a frame required me to scroll down in the optional search parameters, which I could not do if I left the fly-out menu. I used the scroll wheel on my mouse, but most people may not think of it.
    So…looking at my specific church audience, here would be my recommendations.
    1. Bring the “Optional Results Filtering” out of a fly-out menu and make it part of the interface on the left side. I would put it under the “Region” selector so it sticks with the general process of “WHAT” I want to search.
    2. Use a collapsible hierarchy (like Windows Explorer uses on the left side bar) where I can “click the pluses” to dig deeper into the data types. This fits with users “current habits” so it will be easier for them to use. (There may also be easier/nicer design ways to solve it, but I need a cup of coffee first ;-)
    3. Drill down on results (this is a nice to have, but I’d love it). I searched on “Elida” for my region since my wife has a change of appointment to Elida Immanuel UMC in Elida, OH. There were 3 entries (with one being what I wanted). I would love to be able to click on the right entry and then be able to not only look at the “latest” census data, but then be able to see the historical trends (both estimates and actuals).
    4. Error when I select too much data. I tried to execute another search to pull everything about my church’s area and I received an error that the “URL was too large” ERROR 414 Request-URI Too Large.
    For me…with this changes, I would search on my community, click to see all data and then get all of the historical information to look for trends. After that, I’d pull it into Excel for some analysis and charting. THAT’S POWERFUL STUFF. It would be very simple, yet allow me to gather all of the information I need.
    Let me know how I can help.
    Thanks!
    Eric

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    [...] Data:  Connect demographic data to your observations and interactions.  There are many different sources of informationyou can use [...]

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