University of Vermont

Resources and Expertise to Support People and Communities

How to collect information about your community...
or anyone's community


Fred Schmidt, Director, Center for Rural Studies
Prepared for UNH-EXTENSION Collaboration Workshop
Hillsborough County - Goffstown Office
329 Mast Road, Unit 3
December 9, 1997

Community Assessment: Data collection techniques

Please note that many of these data collection techniques are not mutually exclusive. Two basic approaches to acquiring community information can be identified: primary data collection and secondary data collection.

A. Primary Data Collection Techniques - data directly from a client or target population.

    1. General survey of the population

    2. Survey of a subpopulation (purposeful or stratified survey)

    3. Survey of key informants (one form of a purposeful survey)

    • includes respondents from client groups, service providers, community leaders, etc. These informants can give you information and/or can point you toward other sources). It is useful to think of people in a community linked together and focus on the nodes of communication as well as who might routinely be there at that node to observe by virtue of their role.
    • Informants by virtue of their formal community role, includes town clerks, elected officials, fire persons, mail persons, historians and librarians, all people at "nodes" of formal or "official" information exchange.
    • Informants by virtue of their community economic role include farmers, bartenders, general store keepers, marina operators, all people at "nodes" of economic information exchange.
    • Informants by virtue of their informal roles in the community include gossips, members of various formal and informal clubs and groups, town characters, secretaries, and so on. All these have a vantage point because of their informal organizational activities.

    4. Observations including situations where the researcher is "known" or "unknown", as well as those where the researcher participates or doesn't participate.

    5. Case study which includes a life history, an agency history, the history of an issue in a community, or a client focus such as a day in the life of......, among many other possible illustrative foci.

    6. Social Network Analysis and Power Actor Techniques including reputational, decisional and title or actual office holder.

    7. Group Processes to generate data including focus groups, nominal group process, delphi technique, brain storming, formation of advisory or task forces, or the community forum concept among many others.

    8. Unusual techniques for involving citizens in generating data or examining community information, largely untried and they include teledemocracy, needs assessment week, a donor plebiscite.

B. Secondary Data Collection Techniques - data from once collected sources.

    1. Some general, national level, "public" sources:

    • US census of Housing and Population, Agriculture, Business data including the County Business Patterns and Standard Industrial Code information.
    • Vital Statistics
    • Service District Statistics including basic client counts, attributes, demographics, social conditions and lots of program information (analogous to public schools and school teachers, who constitute some of the most accountable of public servants).
    • Other Social and Economic Indicators, Consumer Price Index, unemployment figures, inflation indicators, Income Figures, etc.
    • Resource Inventories and other needs assessments
    • Opinion Polls taken by others
    • Budgets

    2. Unusual, but Easily Accessible Community Data Sources

    • State tourist maps and other state road maps
    • Topographic maps and aerial photos
    • The Yellow Pages
    • Newspapers
    • Bulletin Boards
    • Films, post cards, old prints, etc.
    • High school yearbooks, and similar memorabilia.

C. Some Standard, Accessible Secondary Data Sources

    1. County and City Data Book (published every 5 years since 1947). U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C. (1993 is the Most recent.)

    2. Statistical Abstract of the United States (current annually) U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C.

    3. Decennial Census of Population and Housing (1970, 1980, 1990),

    4. Census of Agriculture (approximately every 5 years, 1997 is most recent), U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C.

Vermont specific:

    Vermont Facts and Figures (1972 and 1975) Published by the Vermont Department of Budget and Management, Office of Statistical Coordination, State of Vermont, Montpelier, VT.

    The Vermont Economic Almanac. 1980. Graham M. Bright, Editor, Vermont Business World, Bellows Falls, VT.

    The Center for Rural Studies (Center for Rural Studies), is host of publications including Two Hundred Years and Counting: Vermont Community Census Totals, 1791 to 1980; Vermont Zip Codes; and Land Area and Population Density.

    The National Survey, The Vermont Year Book, Annually since mid-1800s. Chester, Vermont.

    Regional Facts, Inc., The Vermont Almanac, 1 Mill Street, Burlington, Vermont. 1989-90 and 1991.

    Vermont Business Magazine, P.O. Box 6120, Brattleboro, Vermont. Monthly, since the early 1970s. Includes an annual listing of top businesses, media directory, including a Vermont Business Index showing employment, finance, tourism and other indicators in each issue. etc.

Last modified July 10 2013 12:15 PM

Contact UVM © 2014 The University of Vermont - Burlington, VT 05405 - (802) 656-3131