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Trivia it's not: Data diggers hope information will help communities

Want to know how third graders are reading in Polk county? How about the incidence of low birth rate in the southwest region of the state, the size of the immigrant population among the state's 5.2 million inhabitants, or even the number of traffic injuries and fatalities in the Twin Cities seven-county region?

You'll find this and much more at Minnesota Compass, a new, centralized source of data presented in a user-friendly, easy-to navigate website. And all for our greater good, we're told.

Why should you care?

A news release from Wilder Research, which leads the effort, describes Minnesota Compass as a non-partisan initiative to help communities across the state "assess and improve their quality of life."

The same stuff has been out there, only you had to go here and there to find it. Now you can just go here.

Minnesota Compass' predecessor is Twin Cities Compass, which was launched in 2008 and was a collection of amassed stats about the seven-country metro area. This, however, is the whole state enchilada.


But Minnesota Compass is more, its supporters say. Here's the explainer, taken from the website and clearly aimed not only at the bigwigs and the pols, but also John and Jane Q. Public and online news operation reporters:

Compass gives everyone in our state — policymakers, business and community leaders, and concerned individuals who live and work here — a common foundation to identify, understand, and act on community issues that affect our communities.

It does this by:

• Providing unbiased, credible information

• Tracking trends and measuring progress on issues that impact our quality of life.

• Identifying disparities by including trend data by race, age, gender and income whenever possible.

• Providing additional resources for addressing issues.

It is Wilder researchers who have aggregated the data from a variety of sources and can help you dig deeper for what you're after, but it was folks across the state who approached Wilder and asked them to develop a statewide information hub, explained Paul Mattessich, executive director of Wilder Research.

Looking for help
The site grew from a seed planted probably 15 years ago, Mattessich said, when community leaders came to Wilder Research asking them to help identify some critical ingredients for communities. The online offers information in these topic areas: aging, civic engagement, early childhood, economy and workforce, education, environment, health, housing, public safety and transportation.

On the site, funded by an impressive list of foundations trumpeted online, you'll also find information about disparities and demographics. For instance: People of color are the fastest growing segment of our population and are more likely to live in poverty.

Supporter Matt Rezac, who is senior program officer-public policy and engagement for the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, which is one of the program funders, gives his take: 

"Herein lies the value of Minnesota Compass: objective analysis for Minnesota communities, available online, free of charge. Compass examines the latest research on a range of community issues, identifies driving trends, and distills the findings into accessible 'Key Measures.' These detailed 'snapshots' can be easily sliced and diced online to view local issues from various perspectives. The extensive 'More Measures' section can then be used to explore the layered details of each issue. Raw data can be downloaded into spreadsheets so users can customize it further to best fit their needs."
 
Like an onion, there are layers of information here, so start peeling and see what turns up. For instance, there is an "Ideas at Work" section that highlights programs that are working.  Also, each month, a different topic is featured. Beginning today it's education.

And don't miss the "In the Library" corner that points the reader to interesting Minnesota studies and surveys, including workforce, climate change and open space.

A tip: You'll need to click on the Compass banner across the top of the page to open up the treasure-trove of stats. Go to the "Regions" tab, above right, to localize data.

And, keep in mind, the Wilder folks say they're still building the site. Still, I'll shop here as well as at other information sites.

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