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William Crane, Special to The Skanner
Published: 02 July 2008

In a world reliant on technology, people are increasingly using data to help explain the world around them.
Because of this new trend, research and mapping skills are necessary for civic and nonprofit groups.
In order to better serve their citizens, many are now choosing to learn this field for themselves.
Two upcoming workshops by New Urban Research, a nonprofit based in Portland, will teach participants the basic knowledge necessary for mapping and researching one's community.  The first workshop is in Olympia on July 15 through 16; a Seattle workshop is July 17 and 18.
The vision of New Urban Research is to "enable service providers to analyze trends in target populations and communities in areas of health, homelessness, poverty, housing, discrimination and all sorts of other advocacy work."
"I love the idea of making the world a better place through information and using data to illustrate a point," said New Urban Research President Gina Clemmer.
Participants will learn mapping software allowing them to create thematic maps, address mapping and the gathering of community data. Specifically, they will learn the ArcGIS software system, which empowers participants to begin mapping their own communities.
"Our typical participant has a basic knowledge of Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office, Excel and basic math," said Heather Williams, a program instructor. "But we teach and train them on how to extract the data." 
New Urban Research conducts nearly 250 workshops every year in all 50 states. With workshops conducted across the country, the local organization helps local community groups conduct their own studies and allowing them to collect their own data. Nearly 70 percent of the attendees are from municipal or civic offices; the rest are mostly employed at nonprofit organizations.
The idea behind the training is that organizations that can accurately map and research their communities will have a better idea of how to serve their constituents.
"We believe in empowering community groups," said Williams. "They know their community better and have better ideas about what sort of information they want to gather for a study."
Nonprofit organizations and municipal offices often rely on professional consultants or outside organizations to conduct research studies and community mapping. However, New Urban Research emphasizes the need for these organizations to learn the skills for themselves.
The results are useful not only for the simple data it generates, but also for funding. In the past, many nonprofits and community groups used anecdotal or personal stories to gain funding and donations. However, funders are now looking for specific data to back up a group's vision.
"Over the past 10 years, there has been a shift in what funders are looking for," said Clemmer. "Instead of funding based on emotional stories, there is a greater focus on quantitative data."
With a large amount of groups looking for the same funding, government grants and large nonprofit funders want be sure they are making the right investment. New Urban Research focuses on making groups self-sufficient, allowing them to compete for both private and government grants. Groups who have the necessary skills sets to collect the necessary data, their funding opportunities increase and they can fund projects that enrich the community.
"The more skills they can develop in house the more money is saved for to use toward their mission," said Clemmer. "They also are able to access data which professional consultants may miss."
Groups such as the Women's Prison Association in New York City attended a New Urban Research workshop and found great success with its education methods. Participants said the workshop was a "very clear and comprehensive presentation on how to create analytically useful and aesthetical maps."
Their clients include large nonprofits such as the American Red Cross, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research, Harvard University, the MacArthur Foundation, as well as smaller grassroots organizations and institutions.
For more information go to http://www.urbanresearch.info.

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