Greetings fellow AEA365 blog readers. My name is Duncan Meyers and I am a graduate student at the University of South Carolina in the Clinical/Community Psychology program. I have a strong interest in evaluation and have been an evaluator for community-based mental health services, an after-school obesity prevention program, and a project aimed at increasing walking through environmental strategies in underserved communities. Within the last three years the projects I have been involved with have utilized geographic information systems (GIS) to enhance our evaluations. A GIS is a system which consists of computer software and data; specifically, geospatial data (i.e., entities or events that can be described in a geographic fashion). These systems can be used to view and manage information about geographic places which are important to your evaluation (e.g., states, counties, communities, schools, etc.) and analyze spatial relationships.
Given the ways in which GIS has benefitted the projects that I have been involved with, I would like to share a helpful tip and point you toward a free resource that I use very frequently.
Hot Tip: First and foremost – like any software assisted analytic tool – GIS involves a learning curve and it is unlikely that evaluators will be able to sit down and use it right away without any training. However, utilizing professional contacts you may have is a great way to work around the learning curve. As long as a clear research question is identified, these contacts may be able to help you visually display your data and analyze relationships among your data and test hypotheses. If you don’t already have such contacts, many county, state, and national agencies/organizations have GIS offices that may be willing to collaborate with you. Also, if there is a University near you the Geography department can be a great help.
Rad Source: One of the most helpful – and basic – functions I have used with GIS is geocoding. Geocoding finds the latitude and longitude coordinates of an address. These coordinates are essentially x and y coordinates that you can put on a map. Here’s a free geocoder that I use a lot: http://www.batchgeo.com/
Batchgeo.com allows you to use an Excel spreadsheet to convert addresses into map coordinates, and then create maps that you can view. Download the template, add some addresses, and hit the “map now” button. Here’s a YouTube tutorial to help get you started: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQAUZqKR2cw
Geocoding is a basic yet integral step in setting up a GIS analysis. Linking the maps you create to your evaluation will take additional steps, and if you are interested in getting some ideas be sure to tune into the AEA Coffee Break Webinar on June 3rd! http://comm.eval.org/EVAL/coffee_break_webinars/Home/Default.aspx