To be able to work effectively in a community development context, you will need to gather some information about your community. It is extremely helpful to undertake a comprehensive community assessment which will collect both qualitative and quantitative data on a wide range of community features. Unfortunately, often time and budget restraints will necessitate choosing between methods and limiting the assessment to particular areas of interest. Deciding what and how much information to collect may be aided by a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of the community, which may point to particular areas being higher priorities for action.
There are many methods of community assessment used in community development practice. A few of the more common methods are listed below; additional information is contained in the resources section.
Compiling a community demographic profile is an excellent start. It is helpful to update the profile periodically so you will be able to track changes that occur within your community and respond accordingly. A demographic profile includes statistical information about age, gender, language, visible minority status, education, and family income. Community demographic profiles are available for approximately 6,000 communities in Canada, along with comparative figures for Ontario, from Statistics Canada's Community Profiles at www.statcan.ca.
Other community statistics may also be of interest to you, such as crime rates, morbidity and mortality rates, or availability of affordable housing. Some of these are available from Statistics Canada, but local data may be obtained from local agencies; e.g. the local police service will have crime statistics.
However, simply collecting information is not sufficient; it must be analyzed in order for it to be meaningful. For example, you might be interested in the relative proportion of seniors to youth in your community, or the proportion of the population for whom English is a second language. You may want to compare the most recent data available with previous years; perhaps to identify the rate of growth of the population, changes in ethno-cultural patterns or age distribution.
Statistical information isn't the only type of information that is important to collect. Finding out how residents perceive their community is also essential to effective community development practice. Community surveys, community asset mapping, environmental scans, focus groups and key informant interviews are other methods of obtaining community data. The City of Calgary has an excellent publication on community assessments. It contains background information on the need for community assessments, describes various methods and provides easy-to-follow worksheets for planning and implementing a community assessment process.