Compass Report sets direction for community investment

    March 2021

    In order to find solutions, one must first understand problems. At Great Rivers United Way, we have a process for understanding problems that allows us to fund solutions. It’s called the Compass Now Report.

    The Compass Now Report is a joint effort of Great Rivers United Way, area healthcare organizations, and county health departments. The report is meant to provide an updated assessment of community needs that can be used to inform community action strategies by stakeholders across the region. It focuses on six counties within Great Rivers United Way’s service region: Buffalo, La Crosse, Monroe, Trempealeau, and Vernon counties in Wisconsin, and Houston County in Minnesota.

    The soon-to-be-released Compass Now 2021 Report is the latest in a series of needs assessments published since 1995. Great Rivers United Way has focused its funding system to more closely reflect identified community needs in response to these reports. In addition, a wide array of community organizations have used Compass findings to shape their own priorities and support grant requests.

    A large component of assessing the needs of the community is asking the folks who live and work here about their perception of various aspects of life in the region. Compass gathers community insight through surveying community members on topics like education, childcare, transportation, jobs, basic needs, recreation, environment, and societal problems. Over the summer and fall of 2020, Compass sent surveys to 6,000 random households in the region. Then the survey was distributed through local nonprofit and business partners to anyone in the community willing to respond concentrating on populations that were under-represented in the random household results.

    Besides the survey, Compass also collects secondary data to help round out the view of community health and wellness. These data cover topics of length and quality of life; health behaviors; health care; social and economic factors; and environment and safety factors. The secondary data and the community insight together provide a broad overview of life in the region – what is going well and what needs improvement.

    The next step of Compass was to discuss the community insights and secondary data with community stakeholders. Stakeholder meetings were held in each county to talk over the data collected, and identify and prioritize the most pressing needs of the county. Folks attending the meetings represented a wide range of sectors in the community: business, education, faith, healthcare, government, law enforcement, nonprofit, and social services.

    Across the region, some preliminary issues rose to the top. They are big, persistent problems that have no easy solutions: mental health needs, alcohol and substance abuse, safe and affordable housing, poverty and livable wage jobs. At Great Rivers United Way, we know that big problems call for multi-faceted solutions – helping folks now and preventing problems in the future. The Compass Now results will help inform our Board of Directors and staff as we strategize and make funding decisions.

    Acknowledging problems makes it easier to see our region’s strengths. We know from the survey data that community members feel positively about their community as a place to live and feel that community safety is good.

    The final Compass Now 2021 Report will be available later this spring. We plan to address some of the top issues in a more in-depth way in future articles. Stay tuned.

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