You’ve finally got the confidence to knock on the door at your local council and ask for a $2000 grant to build a new skate park. The Mayor frowns as she considers your proposal and starts to ask questions:
- How will it benefit the community?
- How many people would use it?
- How much will it cost?
- How will it fit in with what’s near the site?
As you hold out the petition signed by people at school, you notice your hand has a bit of a shake. Keep cool, calm and collected. Remind yourself that you’ve done your research and you know your stuff. So you have your answers ready:
- “A skate park would give young people a place to hang out. At the moment, people sit on the tables and chairs outside the supermarket."
- “500 people have signed the petition, which shows there’s high demand for a skate park."
- “In the whole of Victoria, this Shire spends the least on youth services and recreation according to data from 2007."
- “I’ve spoken to the owners of the shops near the site and they said they would be all for a skate park."
Two weeks later, after a council meeting, you’re presented with a cheque for your skate park. The Mayor was so impressed with your research that she convinced the rest of the Council to give you the grant.
Without the research, you probably would have walked away with your tail between your legs. Don’t underestimate that over-used phrase: ‘power is knowledge’. Research is the most important part of your event or campaign. When you know the statistics, have the evidence and can put forward a strong argument, people will give you more time and respect.
Techniques for research
You can do a lot of research using the internet. But don’t just rely on what’s online. Also consider:
- Visiting the library – they may seem old-fashioned, but they’re full of information and a librarian may be able to give you some inside tips.
- Talking to people – gather the views of people in your area to add strength to an argument.
- Asking the experts – talk to someone who knows a bit about your issue to get a head-start and some guidance.
- Going to a meeting – find out if there are community groups or organisations that are related to your cause.
- Contacting government departments about reports and statistics – either online or in hard copy, these reports can give you important facts and figures.
- Watching films and documentaries – you may even be able to borrow these from a library or community organisation.
- Collecting opinions.
In your community, ask people what they think of the issue:
- Do they think it’s relevant, important and beneficial to the community?
- What do they think needs to be done?
- Who can they recommend to help you or give some advice?
Talking to people and building contacts is the best way to judge if you’re onto something that’s a hot issue and important to the community.
Using the internet
Don’t blindly trust what you read, especially when it’s online. Always question the motive of the author and their obligation to tell the truth.
Government sites are a safe place to start for facts and background. If you’re using traditional news websites, journalists have an obligation to report accurately, fairly and honestly. But that doesn’t mean mistakes or ‘spin’ doesn’t happen.
Social networking sites like YouTube and flickr provide great examples that you could use in a presentation to show how relevant your issue to a variety of people.
Using search engines
Google is overwhelmingly the most popular search engine, but it’s not the only one. Dogpile is a less well known search engine which runs your search through Google, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo and Live Search all at once.
Getting government information
If there’s any legislation related to the issue, the quickest way to find it is the Australian Legal Information Institution (Austlii) website. This is a database of all the acts and legislation through Parliament.
To find specific data, search the census data on Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) website. For example, you can find out how many young people live in your area.
Search the websites of local councils or specific government departments for:
- Media releases (they could also be in the private websites of councillors).
- Contact details and staff roles.
- Meeting minutes and agendas.
- Policies or long-term strategies that are used to guide decision-making.
- Budgets or financial reports.
- Publications, for example environmental reports.
Passport to Democracy - Where do I look?
Seven easy steps for starting to research an issue, project or event.
Passport to Democracy - Getting in touch
A guide to finding the people with the information you need.