In 1999, United Way of America tested Compass 2.0, a new methodology for community assessment, in 10 pilot regions across the nation. Now the product is coming to New Haven.

United Way of Greater New Haven is undertaking perhaps the most broadly based community needs and assets study ever, said Hart Caparulo, president and chief professional officer of United Way of Greater New Haven. The project, Community Compass, will seek to provide a comprehensive inventory of different community needs across Greater New Haven, as well as resources that are available to remedy them.

The New Haven organization is working with 26 other partners on Community Compass, which began to materialize last spring, said Lesley MacDonald, vice president of community impact for the United Way of Greater New Haven. MacDonald, who is managing the project, said that in the present stage the organizations are heavily involved in data collection.

The data collection committee is divided into four groups: household surveys, community stakeholders, assets identification, and community indicators. MacDonald said she hopes to see initial results by May 2003, after which public forums and meetings can be conducted. Community Compass will also share its findings over the internet, she said.

Penny Canny, co-chairwoman of the data collection committee, said putting this information online will allow anyone to look at it. As for what her committee has found so far, Canny said it is still too early to say.

Caparulo said the difference between Community Compass in Greater New Haven and the original model from United Way of America lies in the local program’s special effort to seek out resources in addition to needs.

“We are probably putting much more effort into the asset side than some of the other pilot cities have done,” she said.

Tom Sansone, managing partner at the law firm Carmody and Torrance and chairman of Community Compass, also pointed to the assets component of the project.

“That, I think, is the aspect of Compass that makes it the most distinctive,” he said.

In addition to health and human service agencies, Sansone said Community Compass will also seek resources — human and financial — from less traditional organizations, companies and individuals. One example is New Haven’s arts community. Betty Monz, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, co-chairs the assets committee for Community Compass.

Monz said she felt the arts community is an asset that “might not have been thought of by this project had we not stepped up to the plate.”

The last, and probably most extensive, community needs study was undertaken in Greater New Haven in the early 1990s and also was spearheaded by the United Way, Caparulo said.

Sansone said the hardest part about getting the new Community Compass project going will be “overcoming the (quite understandable) skepticism about what distinguishes this project from other projects that have been launched in the past, that have a lot of the same attributes.”

He said previous projects may have been viewed as “less than successful by those involved with them.” Sansone said the answer to skeptics of Community Compass is two-fold: the project rests on a collaborative effort from diverse supporters and it also reflects a positive effort — that is, looking for assets as well as needs.

Though the tremendous scope of Community Compass can seem daunting, Sansone said he looks to stories of other American communities where the project has met with success.

“It’s very exciting that you can make a real impact on the quality of life in the region,” he said.