Strengthening Community Decision Making through Data

Key to strong and informed decision making is community engagement and accurate data. Engaging your community helps to identify issues, opportunities and what people value; data provide insight to demographic trends, environmental issues, and understanding factors that influence the economy. Economic analysis provides another layer of information that contributes to strong data-based decision making.

Central to our community and economic development work is building capacity in communities through training volunteers and leaders. This summer, community steering committees across the state are working to engage their communities and collect data around a variety of topics:

  • Revitalizing main street. The communities of Derry and Moultonborough have been paired to participate in the First Impressions program. The steering committees are being trained to visit and conduct a spatial assessment of the downtown in the pair community, highlighting assets and opportunities for improvement. Steering committee members will consider whether the downtown is welcoming and a place they would consider returning, and will assess characteristics like the types of businesses, presence of community art and seating, quality of sidewalks and crosswalks, lighting, parks, natural features and more.
  • Connecting downtowns and trails for economic vibrancy. The Town of Ossipee has recently formed a steering committee to lead the Downtowns and Trails program to leverage natural assets for economic vibrancy. Community volunteers engage in data collection through multiple methods: trail intercept surveys to help understand current trail users, interviews with businesses and community leaders to assess their interest, and a spatial assessment of the downtown and nearby trail to consider signage, connectivity, and whether critical amenities for trail users exist.
  • Understanding and addressing business needs for retention. For the past several months, the communities of North Hampton, Northfield, and Exeter have been working to implement the Business Engagement and Retention program. Volunteers have engaged businesses in interviews, roundtable discussions and surveys to understand their business needs and opportunities. Interviewers connect and have conversations with business owners to learn about what they enjoy about doing business in the community, plans for the future, and how the community can better support businesses. These opportunities can then be addressed to help strengthen the economy through business retention.
  • Envisioning a vibrant future. In Berlin, a community steering committee is implementing an outreach and engagement plan to gather input from community members to create a vision for the future of the town. Engagement efforts include a crowdsourced Story Map where people can add a photo of their favorite place in Berlin, as well as a community forum this fall that will gather data from community members through small group discussions.

For each of these programs, following data collection and analysis, community forums are held to gather additional input from community members, share findings from the data collection, and engage community members to select actionable projects. Some examples of recent outcomes include: a piano project, sidewalk chalk art in front of businesses, festive lighting on main street, developing a marketing and communication committee, improved wayfinding signage, and holding business roundtables.

Economic analysis can complement these efforts. Economic analysis encompasses a number of tools which help a community, industry or organization better understand their economy. Economic analyses can identify the current contribution of an industry to the economy or the impacts of potential changes to the economy (loss or recruitment of a new business, policy change, etc.). Natural capital accounting helps communities identify the stock and values of their natural capital. Other types of economic analysis help communities understand the type of visitors coming to their town and how and where they are spending, as well as identify opportunities for communities to focus on for retail and business development.

Together with community engagement and other sources of data, these types of analyses provide an additional source of data to better assist communities in making decisions to foster vibrant communities and strengthened economies.