My name is Virginia Dick and I am currently public service evaluation faculty at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. Most of my work focuses on assisting state and local government agencies, and other university divisions, with evaluation of programs, policies and systems.
As part of my role I often find myself working with a wide range of individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives, purposes, and information assessment styles. It has been important to find ways to help different groups examine and understand relevant evaluation data using a wide range of mechanisms.
Most recently, I have begun working with our state child welfare agency to use GIS (Geographic Information Systems) methods to examine child welfare client characteristics and outcomes spatially through mapping. Often key stakeholders (community members, agency leadership, and social work students) have expressed new and interesting perspectives and interpretations of the data when it is portrayed via mapping rather than in traditional charts and tables.
Rad Resource: ESRI (http://www.esri.com/) often provides free training and educational opportunities to work with their mapping software and may be available through some universities.
There are many open source software options out there, some of which I am currently working with at the University of Georgia Information Technology Outreach Service to explore with my current project. A list of open source options is available at: http://gislounge.com/open-source-gis-applications/
Hot Tip: When working with a group reviewing the data and relationships between variables, start with a few layers and options on the map and slowly build and add additional components as the individuals start to become more comfortable talking about the relationships between the different variables.
Hot Tip: By looking at census tracts as units it allows groups to discuss the relationship between variables without having to dig down to the individual street address level which can become much more complicated when compiling the maps. Often analysis at the census tract level can be most beneficial to communities and government agencies rather than the individual street address level.
Hot Tip: Let the stakeholders generate the ideas and discussion among themselves to get the richest information about the perceived relationship between variables. This is particularly useful when looking at small units such as counties or smaller (with the mapping done at the census tract or block level).
Want to learn more about Virginia’s work using GIS? Come to the poster exhibition on Wednesday evening in San Antonio this November for AEA’s Annual Conference.