Many of our clients at the Improve Group target their work on particular subpopulations.  As evaluators we are always looking for new ideas on how we can help our clients better understand their target populations and increase the impact of their work. For many organizations, large public databases have become an increasingly abundant and accessible resource to assist in the process of evaluation.  A recent article in the American Journal of Evaluation (AJE) explores how large-scale databases can be used in evaluation. The authors discuss how evaluators can work with communities to understand, “what analysis (of public data) can and cannot tell them about participant needs and the efficacy of particular programs and policies.”  Additionally, they mention how it is often the hope that, “clinicians and practitioners, not just researchers and evaluators, will use databases to implement evidence-based practices”.  As an example of how these databases can be used, below is a highlight of the recent work of a partnership between the Somali Justice Advocacy Center (SJAC) and Cedar-Humphrey Action for Neighborhood Collaborative Engagement (CHANCE) and how they have developed a tool to better understand the communities they engage with.  People may know that Minnesota is home to one of the largest population of Somalis in the world, outside of Somalia. Organizations throughout the state work directly with the Somali community on services, advocacy and research.  Recently, a new project called the Somali Data Center (SDC) was created to provide these organizations with easily accessible public data about the Somali population, hosted in one central location.[1] The public data for the SDC data was collected from the American Community Survey and the Minnesota Department of Education.  The SDC was developed for two primary purposes[2]:
  • To assist advocates in identifying and articulating the status of the Somali community in Minnesota for the purpose of soliciting funding and developing and evaluating programs and initiatives serving Somalis in Minnesota.
  • To assist members of the Somali community seeking to gain knowledge about the demographics and socioeconomic status of the Somali population residing in Minnesota.
The SDC provides data on socioeconomic indicators of the Somali population over time.  These indicators include: population (by age groups), student enrollment, family income, poverty status, and unemployment status.  Each of these indicators helps to paint a picture of the broad trends in the Somali community in the state.  To further explore the SDC, learn more about the process of creating it, or specific information about the public data used, visit the website at


Penuel, W. R., & Means, B. (2011). Using Large-Scale Databases in Evaluation: Advances, Opportunities, and Challenges. American Journal of Evaluation, 32(1), 118-133.
[1] The SDC was launched by the SJAC and Cedar Humphrey Action for Neighborhood Collaborative Engagement (CHANCE) in May of 2011.  For more information about the development process of the SDC click here. [2] From SDC homepage:

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