I just binge-watched the Hulu crime comedy, Only Murders in the Building, which is a series built around Steve Martin, Selena Gomez and Martin Short solving a murder in their building. Detective stories, legal thrillers, murder mysteries – have you ever thought about why people love these so much? I love them for two reasons. First, I love puzzles, and these stories allow me to solve the crime along with the detectives. Second, people are puzzles, and I love getting a glimpse into other people’s lives in other times and places. Somehow following a detective on a journey to find the killer helps us better understand each other and human nature. I think this is also why I love research so much. Market research, which is the key to unlock future programs and services in your community, is much like detective work. You have a list of unanswered questions and clues about the information you need to fill in the gaps. Now, all you have to do is find sources you can trust for that information.
- Government Data: Opportunity Nation’s Opportunity Index offers advanced search capabilities that allow you to find all sorts of demographic data. You can find the latest statistics by geographic boundaries (state, county, ZIP code or census tract) or by population group (age, gender, veteran status and much more). You can be as general or specific as you like. We also love monitoring the great reports put out by economists at the Federal Reserve – they provide great analysis of current issues and opportunities to improve through best practices. Although we follow all of the Federal Reserves across the country, it’s beneficial to get to know your local branch.
- Foundations: Many foundations house great data. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s State Health Facts database is a great source for those providing health services or access to services. Another helpful foundation resource is Candid’s Collaboration Hub, where those who are working on collaborations can access best practices and reach out to others for guidance.
- Think Tanks: The Urban Institute has several interactive tools that simulate the impact of policy or economic changes on those with whom we work. Its Net Income Change Calculator allows you to estimate how much a family’s benefits from safety-net programs will go down if their family income goes up. The Institute also maintains tools related to children of immigrants, senior citizens and more. A new favorite source is the Bipartisan Policy Center. Their recent reports on mental health and rural issues were outstanding. Other think tanks that produce reports or tools of interest include RAND and the Aspen Institute.
- Research Firms: Those of us working to improve outcomes in education and workforce development can refer to reports from companies like MDRC that continually share progress and promising practices on topics such as how programs can help GED students complete college. MDRC also publishes research on youth, families and health.