its information regularly and adds both quantitative and qualitative data to this base.
Frequently communities must collect their own data because they cannot locate or afford data from others. Most often the factors important to a community concerning a particular issue have not been considered at all by private or government organizations, and data about them do not exist. Citizen attitudes about an issue are one example of such data.
The community is faced with two obstacles as it considers collecting data about these issues. The first is cost. If the issue is important only to that local community, no one else will be willing to share the expense, which could be considerable.
The second issue is quality. Data will have to be of sufficient quality to be credible to other participants in the discussion. If the quality is too low, it will be dismissed. There is the chance that even high-quality data will be dismissed because the issue is deemed irrelevant, so the community might be wasting its money no matter how well it has done its work.
Data have no value unless they can be accessed and used. Tools are needed to aid communities in accessing and analyzing data, especially those with limited technical and financial resources. Larger cities and towns are likely to have the resources to be self-sufficient, and smaller cities and larger community-based organizations have taken advantage of falling prices for hardware and software to become self-sufficient as well. However, neighborhood and other community groups typically depend on pooled efforts and the goodwill of others (Leitner et al., 2000; Sawicki and Peterman, forthcoming). Breakthroughs in providing access to data and tools are coming rapidly, but most of this access has been at basic levels that do not approach the sophisticated levels of analysis available to professional planners.
Increasingly, data access is provided over the Internet. For example, Census data are available over the Internet (see http://www.census.gov), and plans call for making data from Census 2000 available over the web, via American Factfinder (see Appendix A). Increasingly, federal, state, and local governments are finding that providing their data free on the Internet saves them the cost of servicing customized requests, while allowing more people access to their data.
A growing number of sites are providing community data and maps via the web. The Geography Network attempts to be a clearinghouse for a