The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Mapping Assets and Inequality: Free Geographic Information Science (GIS) Software to Map Client Needs

Friday, January 18, 2013: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Nautilus 5 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
Cluster: Poverty and Social Policy
Richard Smith, PhD, Wayne State University
Since the days of the London poverty surveys and Settlements, social workers have been using maps as a key analytic tool in a community assessment. Applications for mapping include finding optimal locations for services, outreach or policy change. In recent times, the social indicators movement has led to networks of professionals and researchers in different communities to collaborate and exchange ideas on managing information about place. The National Neighborhood Indicators partnership, for example, has collaborated on a free and open source web tool for the display of data called Weave.

While some social workers may also be trained geographers, often we have only the time to learn the most basic concepts about geographic information science (GIS). Furthermore, proprietary GIS software may be cost prohibitive for a social service organization. The purpose of this workshop is to expose researchers to intuitive web based and desktop solutions for analysis that may be used for a community assessment, classroom use, or research.

The first part of the workshop workshop will show how to take a list of addresses, format them and have them geocoded using Geocommons, a web service for storing and displaying geographic information. Geocoding is a process that assigns the address a latitude and longitude that can be used by GIS software. This skill is necessary because social work researchers often work with point data, such as clients in communities or organizations in metro areas.

The second part of the workshop appeals to social work researchers working with polygon data, which often takes the form of aggregate characteristics of a census tract or zip code (e.g. Freisthler et al., 2004). This workshop will also show how to join a table of information for zip codes, census tracts, cities, counties or states so that they may those data may be displayed graphically or analyzed using spatial statistics.

The third part of the workshop, is for social work researchers who need a more powerful desktop client to display and analyze geographic data. The workshop will go over the basics of Quantum GIS, a free and open source desktop GIS client. Participants will learn how to take data downloaded from the internet, load that into QGIS and perform basic analysis. Examples of analysis include display of descriptive statistics such as quantiles, drawing a buffer around a point, and calculating distances.

Finally, the workshop will share a new measure of spatial inequality that decomposes the Gini index into its local and global components (Rey & Smith, 2012). This allows researchers to analyze and display inequality and spatial auto-correlation simultaneously. This measure may be used to track the progress of place based initiatives.

The workshop will be primarily a demonstration. The instructors will give attendees a chance to install QGIS and workshop data on their laptops so people may follow along. The workshop does not assume prior knowledge of GIS. The workshop will be interactive and provide an opportunity for colleagues to share research and take requests on how to solve geographic problems with their data.

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