DVR TIG Week: Location Location: Data Storytelling with Maps by Andrea Miller

I’m Andrea Miller, a hiker and kayaker often disguised as an Evaluation and Analytics consultant. I work in partnership with community-based organizations, municipalities, and state and federal agencies who are concerned with mental health, public health, and housing/homelessness. 

I think a lot about the meaning and significance of place, and the solid ground it can provide, the easy flowing channel it can reveal – and how this relates to the work.I frequently use data visualization for community outreach and education and have found that data communications and visualizations that are place-based often foster the most engagement.

Successfully telling stories with data requires that the data be embedded in both a context and a frame.  The frame regards the type of data story being told – what Andy Kriebel has referred to as the Visual Vocabulary that animates the data story.  The context anchors the data in time and space, providing insight into the who, what, where and when of the data.  These two aspects of data storytelling anticipate the question, Why does this data matter? and answer: Why does this data matter to me?

Incorporating interactive maps in a data story simultaneously provides context and frame. So I relish that modern data viz platforms permit you to do this without having to master GIS tools, featuring functionality that allows you to work with geographic spatial files, and blend it with other data you may have on hand, with only a few clicks.  Meanwhile federal, state and even local agencies are increasingly providing access to the spatial files you need to do this.  It’s enough to make a DIY heart sing!

Hot Tips:

  • It’s increasingly common to find GIS data posted to data portals/web pages that you may already use.  Look for files of these types: csv, json, geojson, shp, gdb, and *zip. For example, school district geographic data is available here through the NCES data website, while HUD homeless programs geographical data is available as zipped GIS shapefiles.
  • An efficient way of linking downloaded geographical data to your evaluation data is via zip codes.  HUD provides an invaluable crosswalk of Zip Codes and Census Tract data to link up your eval data with location data, in Excel or within Tableau.

Rad Resources:

  • Tableau Public is free and provides shapefile functionality: You can upload shapefiles in multiple formats and Tableau will figure things out from there from there.

Datawrapper provides similar functionality and, while it doesn’t provide the analytic capacity that Tableau does, it does provide excellent mapping functionality, including the opportunity to manually map in locations of interest within interactive maps

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Data Visualization and Reporting (DVR) Week with our colleagues in the DVR Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from DVR TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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