Understanding the Community

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Guiding Principle # 2


NORC programs gather different types of information from many sources at different points in time and use them for many purposes and multiple audiences.

Actions and Considerations

Find out who lives in the community. Many public sources of demographic information can help you capture a picture of the local population, including:

  • U.S.Census Bureau.
  • State and local planning departments.
  • Housing management departments.
  • Market research firms.

Demographic Information Sources guide

Involve senior residents in the learning process. Surveys, key informant interviews, and focus groups are all useful tools for learning directly from seniors. In addition to providing information, seniors can help to gather it by:

  • Inventorying community resources.
  • Conducting interviews and having conversations with peers.
  • Leading informal discussion groups.

Remember, the goal during this information-gathering phase is to paint a broad picture of seniors in the community by learning who they are and what they want, and not to learn about individual needs (although that may be a fringe benefit of this process).

The Resource Inventory tool is worksheet that will help you inventory your community’s resources, both what exists and what you may need.

Example: A public housing complex in downtown Manhattan (New York) served a substantial population of Hispanic seniors, most of whom had little interaction with one another. To assess community needs, a team of volunteers was trained to go door-to-door speaking to residents in their preferred language.

The effort resulted in two unexpected findings—there was a high degree of fear among residents, and there were a number of cases of elder abuse. Those findings gave program planners the basis for choosing some of their earliest priorities.

Create a map that identifies your community assets. A community asset is any resource that can improve the quality of life for residents. The resources in your community can include:

  • Non-profit organizations (including foundations and community development groups).
  • Service providers (schools, libraries, hospitals, clinics, government agencies, and the NORC program itself).
  • Recreational facilities (parks, playgrounds, gyms, and pools).
  • Businesses.
  • Grocery stores and restaurants that make home deliveries.
  • Pedestrian amenities (benches, public restrooms, sidewalks, and street lighting).
  • Public Transportation.

Use the Community Mapping Guide to create a basic map, marking assets within the boundaries of your NORC and the surrounding community. Google Maps or the Geographic Information System (GIS) are tools to help you develop that map.

Add detail to your map through senior participation. Because older adults know their own communities so well, they will have information to add to the basic map. You can develop a fuller picture of community assets by recruiting seniors to walk or drive through the community and note additional resources along the way.
Example: Community mapping was a key element of the assessment process in East Point, just outside Atlanta. Seniors attended a meeting at which they looked at a blown-up map created with the Geographic Information System (GIS) and pinpointed their homes, key institutions, and transportation routes. Having a real community map made it easier for the seniors to talk about how they interacted with the community around them. Read more about the East Point program.

Put the map to use, and continue to revise it. A community asset map can:

  • Add to your own basic knowledge about the assets in the community.
  • Determine the targets of an outreach campaign. For example, you may decide to approach the businesses located closest to the NORC program offices as you begin to spread the word about your work.
  • Inform community members. You can publish and distribute the map itself, or create a directory based on the map. Share the information with anyone willing to help you design your NORC program or offer observations.
  • Identify patterns, gaps, and opportunities. For example, your map may reveal that a bus stop could be readily relocated or the services of a convenient business easily marketed to residents.

Create a short description of the NORC ( NORC Description Worksheet). Drawing on this information, put all the basic facts about the NORC in one place. This document helps you to assess where you are—information that is the foundation for moving forward. Because of the dynamic nature of communities, this description document will need to be updated regularly.

Circulate the community description to anyone who has begun to assume a role as an advisor or partner to your NORC program, as well as to other stakeholders, and invite their input. Once you have a written description that everyone feels comfortable with, you can use it as a foundation for other written documents and an orientation tool to help new NORC program personnel learn about the community in which they will be working.

Keep in Mind

Information gathering is an ongoing process that allows you to build layer upon layer of knowledge about the NORC and the community that surrounds it. No single source of information can tell you everything, so it is important to draw from a variety of sources.

Keep the information-gathering process as simple as possible. Being clear about what you want to learn, and how you will use the results, will protect you from doing more than is necessary or useful. Don’t get started until you are sure that you have the time, resources, and expertise to benefit from this effort. Continue to Guiding Principle #3
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