What We've Found
Before we can decide what to do, we need to know what is there. That is the purpose of an inventory. An inventory should focus just on those places and things that make a community special and meaningful or that impact an area. All too often we have seen inventories become unwieldy, too exhaustive, too detailed. The ultimate test of the value of an inventory is how the information is used.
Just the Facts
Inventories document natural, historical, cultural, archeological, recreational and scenic resources; public services; population and socioeconomic characteristics; facilities and transportation patterns or other information. An inventory is a combination of existing information, such as planning and zoning documents and study and research reports prepared by government agencies, universities and corporations. It also includes new information that is collected through interviews, field trips and surveys.
At the completion of the inventory, there should be a series of photographs and descriptions of important resources, maps that illustrate the location of those sites and statistical data on issues such as use, growth or socioeconomic trends. Conclusions need to be supported and documented. Good inventories bring credibility to a project or effort. Points to consider:
- There should be a valid purpose or rationale for every item inventoried.
- There needs to be a clear plan to address what happens to the issues or resources that are identified, how will they be managed, how will their stories be told.
How To Do It
1. Identify the area and record findings
Mark on a map the area that will be included in the study. You may use maps from the U.S. Geological Service (USGS), aerial photography, or project mapping. While USGS maps come in several scales, select the largest one possible so sites can be labeled and clearly read, but do not make the map so large that it becomes unmanageable.
Then start collecting information. Are sites or structures listed on an historical register? Is there documented habitat for any federal or state endangered or rare species? What is the water quality in a stream? What is the use of a park? These types of questions exemplify what needs to be asked.
As material is collected, consider inputting all information into a computer database. This can be an efficient means for storing, accessing, ordering and replicating information gathered.
2. Get folks involved
Recruit volunteers, such as your Citizens Advisory Group, to work on the inventory both gathering information and reviewing it. Universities can often provide information and even students to help. One good assignment is to have volunteers take photographs while on walks or bike or car trips. Provide people with maps so they can mark the locations of their photographs for future reference. These pictures may also be used later in audiovisual presentations to educate and engage more people.
3. Get the work out
Once the work is done, it cannot remain on a shelf forgotten. The inventory must be used to help people get to where they want to be in the years ahead. Creatively used, an inventory can be a powerful public involvement tool. Here are few ideas:
- Create posters with an illustrative map of the area or a large photograph that captures the place and a synopsis of the information in narrative.
- Produce a high-quality booklet with excellent photography, good illustrations and narrative explanations written for a non-technical audience.
- Develop audiovisual presentations targeted to different age groups and interests. Groups are often looking for speakers and will welcome a presentation at a meeting, whether slides or video.
- Publish findings and photographs on a website.
- Organize an event such as a tour in the area that was inventoried. Point out significant findings and summarize highlights. The people who need to support a project may not be familiar with the location; take them to it.
It may be necessary to complete a detailed document especially for large and complicated projects or to satisfy legal requirements. If financial resources allow, there should also be an eye-catching, easy-to-read summary to share with the community.