January 31, 2001 | By: Aimee D. Heald

It is a challenging task for local governments to collect and efficiently use information. To be more accountable and accurately measure performance, they need quick and easy access to a wide variety of data.

Local government officials must be able to answer questions about the community's unemployment rate, get the most recent estimates of county populations, see how local air quality measures up to national standards, find available grants to fund projects, etc. The Internet has all this information and more available; it's just a matter of knowing how to find it.

A new book published by TVA Rural Studies provides advice about using the Internet for economic development. In the style of The Farmer's Guide to the Internet, TVA Rural Studies published The Local Government Guide to the Internet aiming at a new audience.

"The origins of the idea for the book came from discussions I had with local government leaders in the Tennessee Valley several years ago when we first released The Farmer's Guide," said David Freshwater, University of Kentucky agricultural economist and program manager for TVA Rural Studies. "They wondered if a similar book existed that would meet their needs; it turned out one didn't, which provided an opportunity for TVA Rural Studies to develop the concept."

TVA Rural Studies asked recognized experts, who specialize in identifying data sources and using that data to help support economic development grants and projects, to write the book. Co-author Priscilla Salant is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Idaho and co-author Christy Dearien is a former research associate at Washington State University.

"The Guide could be the first stop in the information-gathering process for community decision-makers," Freshwater said. "It is organized by specific subject areas in six major sections. Each chapter provides examples of how to interpret online information and apply it to everyday questions."

The first section provides the basics to take full-advantage of online information. Section two tells readers how to use the Internet to answer local population questions. The third section covers local housing, infrastructure, environment and land use information. Readers will find answers to local economy questions in section four. Section five details information about how local government is organized and financed, and how to use the Internet to communicate with citizens. Lastly, section six explains the best ways to use online information, including how to produce high-quality maps and how to write more effective grant proposals.

The Local Government Guide to the Internet: Online Resources for Communities (ISBN 0-9649746-4-9) is available from the TVA Rural Studies Program at the University of Kentucky. The single-copy cost is $27.00 plus $3.95 shipping and handling within the United States. Call toll-free (888) 885-9800 to order. Also, more information about the book can be found on the Internet at www.rural.org/lgg.


David Freshwater 859-257-7328