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Juan Paulo Ramírez on Google Refine – The tool of the year for evaluators!

Hello, my name is Juan Paulo Ramírez, independent consultant, sole owner of “GIS and Human Dimensions, L.L.C.” How many times have you used spreadsheets or sophisticated statistical software (i.e., SAS, SPSS) to estimate frequencies of a population and you asked yourself: is it really necessary to do this using very expensive and sophisticated software? Or, spending hours and hours cleaning up the data to make it consistent within and between records and variables? Would there be a better and more efficient way to complete these trivial and time consuming tasks? There is, and Google Refine is the answer!

Lessons learned: Google Refine is a free desktop application (not a web-service) that you install on your computer (you can download it here). Google Refine allows users to seamlessly and efficiently calculate frequencies and multi-tabulate data from large datasets (i.e., hundreds of thousands of records), along with cleaning up your data. What I found is that you learn more by trial and error with Google Refine, and discover how easy it is to get the information needed in a few steps. Google Refine has saved me days of hard work! Google Refine works with numeric, time and text data and allows you to directly work with Excel files.

The following are a few examples of how I have used Google Refine: 1) Getting demographic frequencies (i.e., gender, age) and cross tabulating it with economic variables (i.e., income) and location (i.e., county). 2) Cleaning up data that it is inconsistent, since people have sometimes answered questions without any written restrictions (i.e., lengthy responses, spelling error, blank spaces). 3) When you select a date variable, Google Refine creates a bar chart with two ends that you can adjust, dragging them with your mouse to define specific time periods. 4) If you make a mistake, Google Refine allows you to undo everything you have done!

Rad resource: There are three videos available that show the potential applications of Google Refine. You can watch them here. I watched the first video once and it was enough to convince me that this was a must have application. I started using it right away, and it became one of the most essential tools that now I use in my work.

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