The Oregon Rural Communities Explorer (RCE) is a website that provides public access to reliable social, demographic, economic, and environmental information about Oregon’s rural counties and places for rural leaders, engaged residents, philanthropies, and program managers. It is a tool that is user friendly and can be a huge advantage especially for community planners. The developers of the website are willing to work with individuals and groups, they offer training on location and they genuinely want to help you create something impressive.
The Oregon Communities Reporter Tool has recently been updated with data for 2005-2009 from the American Community Survey and 30 other sources. Lena Etuk, a social demographer with Extension Family and Community Health is one of the key developers of the site. She says that in addition to the wealth of new data, there are now plans to update the data annually.
Vince Adams is faculty in Extension Family Community Health and the coordinator of the website. He comments on the recent changes, “Indeed, the Oregon Communities Reporter has changed markedly. The interface has a new clean look, is more intuitive, allows the user to select years of data to be displayed, and has new chart output capacity for graphic display of data. Perhaps even more exciting than the front end improvements of the website is the first installment of the American Communities Survey (ACS) data. Up to this point everyone (citizens, organizations, and government agencies) has been stuck with getting demographic data every 10 years from the decennial census. No more! The ACS will provide us with annual updates. Users have things to look forward to as well. We will be expanding our offering of variables to include various sectors of the economy including natural resources like forestry, fisheries, and agriculture. I’ve also promised a printable “cheat sheet” guide to the OCR for users to download”.
The Oregon Communities Reporter links the 723 places and 36 counties in Oregon to data gathered at the place, census tract, and county levels by various agencies and institutions. This is a great tool to use to get a sense of the makeup of the communities in Oregon, with statistics compiled by faculty from Oregon State University’s Rural Studies Program.
A survey of the websites users determined that the information is commonly used to write grant proposal applications, inform community projects, build a presentation about a community or rural issue or to personally understand a community or an issue better. Users commented that the site is “user friendly” and a “fabulous place for one stop shopping for data”. After utilizing the resource one user said, “I am able to better inform others regarding the overall condition of our community. I am able to better represent my point of view regarding various issues at hand.”
Cec Koontz is the Regional Program Coordinator of Rural Development Initiatives and the City Councilor of Monmouth. She uses RCE as a resource especially for presentations. Cec says, “RCE is such a great resource. In fact, I recently used data on Monmouth-Independence to pepper a talk I gave to a group of urban leaders visiting our community. It elicited some wonderful reactions, especially when I tied it to anecdotes to show how we have adapted to some of the ‘challenges’ our statistics might present. My favorite, actually, was when I quoted the fact 25% of Monmouth residents have less than a 10 minute commute to work!”.
Rich Little and Nancy Randolph are two accompanying users of the RCE. Rich Little, the Director of the Community Learning Center at the Sweet Home School District, administers a grant funded program. He uses the RCE to provide the essential quantitative data that funders demand to understand the community context of applicants. Without the RCE he would have to search for data from a variety of government sites. Nancy Randolph is a participant in the Ford Institute Leadership Program. She was part of a team of FILP participants that used the RCE to make a critical decision regarding which Boys and Girls Club facilities to allocate there funds and resources to for renovation. Using the RCE they were able to target two locations in communities where youth had little or no after school programs.