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COM 120: Public Discourse: Research on Your Community

Local Information Sources

Here's a list of the kinds of organizations and groups that tend to have the kind of local information you're researching. Most communities will have some range of these resources, so do some web searching (and reach out to me) to explore.

  • Town/City Government - most towns will have a main government page where you should be able to find meeting minutes and other relevant info about how the town may/may not be addressing your problem
  • Public Library - your local library will be an excellent source for finding local information. Librarians know the communities they serve, so they will be able to point you to local resources you may not have considered. Give them a call or see if their website has an online contact form.
  • Local News Outlets - does your community have a local newspaper? What about a local television station? Check out their web pages to see if they've been discussing your problem. If you run into a paywall with a local paper, contact your local public library to see if they can help.
  • School District or College - if your problem exists primarily within local schools, browse the website for the school district to see what information they have available. Do the same for any higher education institutions you are investigating - most will have links to meeting minutes, student newspapers, alumni magazines, offices & people who are involved in the problem.
  • Nonprofits - are there local nonprofit groups that might be discussing your problem? Search online to locate relevant ones for your community.
  • Faith communities - to what degree are you local churches, temples and mosques involved in this problem? Are there other faith communities that might be a part of this conversation?

Troubleshooting

The most common issue you might encounter is accessing local data. It might exist but you might not be able to locate it. Not all local information will be posted online. In this case, you will need to contact appropriate people in your community to see if they can help. Your professor can help you identify potential kinds of people to ask, as can I. Browse the Local Information Sources box (above) for more ideas. 

If you are searching a local newspaper, you might hit a paywall. If you live in a bigger city, your local newspaper might be in Proquest US (or Global) Newsstream databases (linked on the "Wider Research" tab). If not, check with your local public library to see if they can help you access the title. If you're looking for the St. Peter Herald or Mankato Free Press, email me (Julie) for help.

You might not be able to find local information, like statistics or demographic information, that matches what you're looking for exactly. Maybe you can find data for your county but not your town, for example. In some cases, you might need to piece together several pieces of information to prove your point. This is a great question to bring to your professor or me.

A great tip - whenever you're talking with a community member, ask them if there are other people you should talk to or if they have other suggestions for information you should consult.

Additional Considerations

Here are some things you will need to think about as you engage in community research.

  • Be professional. Maintain calm and composure in all your communications and interactions. Recognize that the people you talk to may have boundaries between their professional and personal lives and respect that.
  • Asking questions is not a crime, it's your right. If you send an email or make a phone call to an official or private person, use a polite tone and frame your conversation with them in the form of questions. Where can I find information or data about [my topic]? What persons or agencies should I talk to to learn more? (And if they don't want to answer your questions, let the conversation end.)
  • Your words and others' words have consequences. You will need to think hard about who the people you are talking to are and what role they have in the overall power structure. Would a teacher want to be seen publicaly criticizing their district? Could a student, an employee, or a parent face negative consequences (or reprisals) from speaking out? If the person you are talking to is not high in the overall power structure (like a politician, a public official, or a spokesperson), ask if they would like to remain anonymous. (And unless someone agrees to go on the record, treat this as the default.)
  • Respect others' privacy. If someone has agreed to talk to you on condition of anonymity, be careful to avoid including details in your writing that would allow them to be identified. Use pseudonyms where appropriate and let readers know you are doing so.
  • Use a diversity of perspectives and vet your sources. Before consulting a government official, community group, or private individual, do some internet sleuthing to learn more about them. If it's a group, who runs it? What background do they have with this issue? Individuals can provide multiple kinds of evidence, and each kind has strengths and weaknesses: Are they speaking from personal or professional experience? Data? Credentials? What about their social position provides reasons to believe them vs. reasons to be skeptical?

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State & Country Information

In the US, many states have robust websites that will contain - among other things - information and statistics about local communities. It may take a little digging to uncover the information you're looking for, but be persistent and contact me if you need help. I've listed some examples from the State of Minnesota & the US government below; use these or see if you can find relevant pages for different states OR countries, depending on your community:

  • Geographic Profiles with statewide, regional and local data - from Minnesota Compass
  • Community Profiles (Twin Cities metro area only) from the Metropolitan Council
  • State of Minnesota is the web portal to exploring resources provided by the state; most states will have a similar portal. Spend some time searching to find information, statistics, and the agencies and individuals who might be talking about your problem.
  • Minnesota Department of Education contains some data about local districts; see if your state or country has something similar
  • USA.gov is the US government's official web portal. If your local community is not within the US, see if your country has a similar portal (most will), as well as searching your local province or state websites.
  • US Census Bureau provides access to all kinds of data from US communities; look for options to search local data

 

Researching College & Universities

Like Gustavus, most colleges & universities will have a wealth of information available online. You'll need to do some digging, but here are examples of information sources at Gustavus. You will find most (if not all) of the same kinds of organizations and structures at other institutions.

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