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Takeaways from Azavea’s Summer of Map fellows, analyzing geospatial data for city orgs

August 24, 2015 Category: FeaturedUncategorized

 

For the past four years, Azavea has been partnering student GIS analysts with nonprofits who have geospatial data analysis needs in its Summer of Maps fellowship program.

This year three fellows each worked with two nonprofits:

The program wrapped up this week, and we asked the fellows to share a few takeaways from their experience*:

Why did you decide to do the Summer of Maps Fellowship program?

From our Partners

Laura Laderman: I decided to do the Summer of Maps Fellowship because it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to learn a lot of new tools and techniques for doing GIS and data analysis work in a supportive environment.

But what most drew me to the program was the opportunity to support the work of really great organizations in need of some data analysis. Data and data visualizations can be really useful in organizational decision making, for convincing funders to support a program, and for just taking a broader look at the work that an organization is doing, but so often it is collected and sits in spreadsheets unanalyzed.

Nathaniel Henry: I’ve always been interested in using maps to tell stories and create social change, and Azavea’s Summer of Maps program seemed like a great opportunity to accomplish both of those things at once. I also wanted to work in an environment where I could take on a lot of responsibility and experiment with different technologies and methods.

Azavea is perfect for that: the company is still at a size where people take on flexible roles, so there’s an opportunity to learn from many people at once.

I was surprised by some of the local knowledge that went into their interpretation of the data. GIS helps me to uncover patterns and trends that aren’t immediately apparent in the data, but my results often confirmed suspicions or touched on ideas that my clients had mulled over for years.

– Nathaniel Henry

What are some of the key experiences you’ve gotten out of the program and working with the nonprofits?

Laderman: In terms of working with the nonprofits, it has been really great to be able to go through an iterative process with them, from learning about their work and the questions they are trying to answer, to producing some maps and analysis and talking about what they see in them and what would make them even more useful.

In terms of the program more generally, I have learned how to use and had more practice/experience with lots of new tools for producing all sorts of products from web maps to interactive data visualizations to print maps, and have learned a variety of new statistical techniques.

Henry: As part of the Summer of Maps, I had to independently manage two client projects throughout their entire life cycle, from drafting a scope all the way to the final presentation and deliverable. Building relationships with each of those clients and creating maps to serve their organizations was a great exercise in discipline: I had the freedom to explore new inquiries and analysis techniques related to each of the projects, but I also had to stay on track for the final presentations and deliverables.

What was the most interesting part of the fellowship?

Laderman: In terms of broad skills that have been the most interesting, the two things that I have enjoyed working on / learning about / improving my skills in the most are map design and building interactive data visualizations.

It has also been really interesting to learn about the work of all of the different organizations – both the two that I’ve been working with and know more about, but also the 4 that the other fellows have been working with and I’ve gotten to meet and hear about occasionally throughout the summer. There are so many programs in every corner of the world doing really interesting and important work and it’s been cool to become more familiar with a couple.

Henry: When I presented my findings to each of my clients, I was surprised by some of the local knowledge that went into their interpretation of the data. GIS helps me to uncover patterns and trends that aren’t immediately apparent in the data, but my results often confirmed suspicions or touched on ideas that my clients had mulled over for years.

Drawing conclusions from the data, and then seeing those conclusions spark new conversations within the nonprofits I served, was the most satisfying part of my summer.

 

*Some of the answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Image via Azavea

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