The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Analyze Communities With GIS

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 10:00 AM-11:45 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 103B Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
Cluster: Organizations, Management, and Communities
Angelica Baltazar, MSW, Esri, Thomas Felke, MSW, Florida Gulf Coast University and Brenda Wolfe, MS, Esri
Around the world, over half a million social workers are helping vulnerable and distressed people every day. Their work is in greater demand due to the global economic crisis and other drivers including an aging population and shifting demographics.  This brings new attention to concerns regarding access to services, efficiency, and program integrity. This workshop will demonstrate how geographic information systems (GIS) can be an important tool, providing valuable insights to their work.

Academics have made the case that social work needs GIS. Hillier (2007) discusses how GIS strengthens the social survey tradition, provides a theoretical framework for understanding human behavior, reveals patterns, evaluates programs, and can empower communities to share information.

GIS is a key component in modernizing the information technology of many human and social service programs. By leveraging the data management, analysis, and visualization capabilities of GIS, social workers are empowered to understand community needs, measure environmental forces (including access to services), and deliver services more efficiently.

Historically, GIS has been embraced by the schools of public health.  This has left the future administrators and policy makers of social work slightly disadvantaged.  Only a handful of social work departments nationwide offer GIS courses to their students.  An even smaller number offer a course that is specific to social work.  Social work students armed with technology bring a higher level of understanding as GIS helps to illustrate unmet needs and overlapping services.   It also reinforces critical analytical skills as it incorporates additional variables into decision making. 

This workshop will provide participants an introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and its uses within the social work domain.  Participants will have the opportunity to learn basic analytical functions for use in researching communities via public and privately available data.  Examples of current and potential uses will be provided and all participants will have the opportunity to develop maps with multiple layers, analyze data, and present findings. Play and exploration is an important pedagogical strategy, enabling students to master skills, generate a need for more skills and increase their intellectual investment (Sinton & Lund 2007).  User friendly online tools  are now more intuitive and can help select, visualize, and analyze data, the easy-to-navigate interface means that even those with limited geographic information system (GIS) experience can immediately map information and create reports as they realize the benefits of looking at their data in a whole new way.  Additionally, this workshop will delve into segmentation which provides detailed information about the demographic composition and lifestyles of neighborhood residents. Social workers can better understand area residents by life stage in order to supply them with suitable services and communicate with them using the most effective channels.  GIS paints a picture of the unique characteristics that make up a community. 

The goal of this workshop is for social work not only to understand the power of place in their current curriculum, but to build the capacity of social workers to be leaders in education, research, and policy development.

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