Connecting with Minnesota Compass data: a key to effective advocacy

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To be an effective advocate, people must first have solid data at their fingertips. Jane Tigan, research associate for Wilder Research, says that Minnesota Compass, a social indicators project, levels the playing field by providing valuable information to anyone with access to a computer and the Internet. Tigan was the main presenter at the most recent New Normal 2012: Get Connected! community meeting, held at the Wilder Foundation on June 27.

Tigan explained that Minnesota Compass measures progress in Minnesota, its seven regions, 87 counties, and larger cities. It gives policymakers, business and community leaders, and concerned residents, “a common foundation to identify, understand, and act on community issues….”  Tigan added, “It’s easier to be effective when you know who’s in the community.” Access to reliable information also helps people ask better questions.

Based on data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Compass has developed profiles of each Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhood. Click on a map and up pop population trends, information about schools, income levels, jobs, housing, and a variety of other demographics. Together, Tigan explained, these pieces of data tell the story of the neighborhood.

For example, if there’s failure in the area of education, that has ripple effects. There is failure in the workforce, which has consequences for the community and its economy.

Age and race demographics also have implications for the workforce of a neighborhood. If the population rates of communities of color are growing, while the percentage of whites is shrinking, then it becomes essential to improve the educational opportunities for young people of color, who will soon fill many of the jobs being left by retiring white baby boomers.

In addition, Tigan pointed out that access to affordable housing is shrinking, which can lead to more moves, something that adversely affects educational performance.

Being able to make comparisons of such trends by region of the state is another feature of the Minnesota Compass website that helps users of data engage more effectively on the issues they care about. For policymakers and engaged citizens it helps to have snapshots of what is happening in different Greater Minnesota regions, central cities and suburbs, or to compare neighborhoods within a city, such as St. Paul’s Highland Park and Frogtown. Comparisons offer information about where more work and resources are needed.

Neighborhoods benefit, too, by knowing whether the board of a neighborhood association, for example, reflects the demographics of the community. If our boards don’t look like the neighborhood profile, then what, Tigan asked, can be done to fill the gaps? Community assessment tools are a resource provided on the Wilder Research website to help communities, “more fully understand problems, engage local stakeholders, and ensure the most effective interventions are developed and implemented.” 

Marcos Lopez-Carlson, Twin Cities Media Alliance’s neighborhood engagement coordinator, marveled over Minnesota Compass as a resource. He talked about how important it is for people who use new media tools to have access to solid, reliable information and facts, and pointed out that facts are what most often stop “trolls” (those who are online mainly to pick fights) in their tracks.

New Normal 2012: Get Connected! is a project of the Twin Cities Media Alliance/TC Daily Planet, supported by a generous grant from the Bush Foundation. Community meetings to connect people around issues related to education, transportation, health care, work, environment, and immigration are being held in locations around the Twin Cities through October. All are free and open to the public.