The Birth of the RAND California Web Site: From Policy Wonks to Public Access

Article excerpt

In February, the RAND Corporation launched a commercial Web site which provides information on California business, economics, and public policy issues. The site, RAND California [http://www.ca.rand.org] is a subscription-based service, although several areas of the site are available at no charge. The evolution and development of the site provide insight into how RAND, the nation's leading think tank and a non-profit organization, decided to jump into the online content business.

Founded as Project RAND during World War II, the RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that works to improve policy and decision making through research and analysis. Since the 1960s, it has extended its research beyond national security into areas of domestic policy as well. Areas of studies now include education and training, health care, criminal and civil justice, labor and population, science and technology, community development, international relations, and regional studies. RAND has over 500 research professionals on staff with backgrounds in economics, mathematics and statistics, medicine, law, business, physical sciences, engineering, social sciences, arts and letters, and computer science. Support comes from a wide range of sources, including foundations, private firms, individuals, etc., with the U.S. government the largest contributor. RAND serves the public interest by widely disseminating its research findings.

California Clearinghouse

RAND California features a collection of statistics, an online library of research publications, bulletins on both state and federal policy developments, and a monthly report on California's economy.

California statistical coverage ranges from crime rates to employment to housing prices and forms the heart of the site. Subject areas and data categories include:

* Business and Economics: employment, wages, inflation, foreign trade (including port statistics) construction and real estate (including housing prices and office vacancy rates), retail and taxable sales, bankruptcies, foreclosures, stock indexes, Gross State Product (GSP), and personal income.

* Population and Demographics: U.S., California, county, and city population estimates, including population by gender, race, and age for most areas, population projections, immigration, and vital statistics (i.e., birth rates, death rates, leading causes of death).

* Education: test scores, student demographics, average class size, school district expenditures, enrollment, and enrollment projections.

* Community: "quality of life" measures, including crime rates, traffic congestion, air quality, population density, open space, weather, and tax rates.

* Health and Socioeconomic: public assistance programs, such as TANF (welfare), Medi-Cal, SSI, food stamps, Medicare, poverty rates, infant mortality, substance abuse, medical providers per capita, AIDs cases.

* Government Finance: federal, state, city, and special district expenditures, including spending by major program, revenue by major source, OASDI (i.e., social security), tax rates, R&D spending, debt service, and government employment.

* Census and Current Population Survey: 1990 Census information, including educational attainment, median household income, commute times, poverty levels, and other categories.

Users retrieve this information with pull-down menus indicating the category, geographic region, and time period. In addition, users can view the information as an online table or graphic, and they can download the data to disk in a spreadsheet format.

In most cases, statistics cover from 1990 to the present for the U.S., the state of California, and California counties and cities. However, many statistics offer data at the ZIP code level. For example, in Population and Demographics, users can search for the number of births, birthweight, mother's median age, mother's ethnicity, and method of payment for delivery in any California ZIP code. …