Editor's note: this guest post is brought to you by Kelly Hill, the founder and principal of Nexus Research Group, a full service research consulting firm committed to connecting local communities to strategic program and policy solutions through applied research and training.
In order for nonprofit organizations to be effective, it is critical that they have a firm understanding of what is happening on-the-ground within the communities, or among the constituencies they serve. What are the pressing issues and challenges? How have specific social problems improved or worsened? Are there certain segments of the community that are affected more than others?
Often times nonprofits, particularly those that provide service delivery, are able to answer such questions anecdotally. Unfortunately, anecdotes are rarely sufficient in getting external partners or stakeholders to understand a broader phenomenon. For this reason, data is critical.
Data comes in all packages, but one of the more powerful means of communicating data is community mapping. Through community mapping non-profits are able to link information to place through the use of geographic information technology. Like any form of technology, mapping can get pretty complicated, but it doesn't have to be. There are numerous free online sites that are powerful, yet easy to navigate. Here are just a few to get you started.
This is probably one of the more comprehensive free mapping applications available. In addition to producing really neat maps, the site allows you to link your advocacy initiative with other similar efforts around the country.
If you're looking for an Atlanta-specific site, you'll likely find the most detailed battery of data indicators here. In addition to maps, the site provides region-wide data in other useful formats.
Much like Community Commons, this site provides data on a range of areas from real estate, to education to neighborhood indicators. While certain maps require a paid subscription, there are a lot of maps that can be produced at no cost.
Health County Calculator
No sector has done more around community mapping than public health. This tool in particular is sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The information is fascinating and the tool is so interactive, it's almost (dare I say it...) FUN!
This phenomenal resource is made available by the New York Times. In addition to being powerful, it's incredibly easy to use and allows you to look at very small areas of geography across an array of topic areas including demographics, income, housing and education.
If you're interested in learning more about Community Mapping, be sure to visit PolicyLink's Community Mapping page. It provides a great introduction.
Kelly Hill, Founder and Principal, Nexus Research Group
You may also be interested in Foundation Maps. Foundation Maps allows you to see who is funding what in your geographic area.
You can access a 24-hour Free Trial of Foundation Maps Professional 2.0 by clicking the “Try It Free” button on the home page. You can also learn more about Foundation Maps by attending Foundation Center’s free webinar on May 6.
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