Mapping Aids Person-Environment Insight
GIS Technology Assists Research on Social Problems
Mapping helps test theories about environment's role in human
By Paul R. Pace, News Staff
|Illustration: John Michael
Just how much are people affected by their environment and vice
versa? Thanks to technology, for some researchers the answer is
becoming clearer. The use of mapping computers to uncover traits
of social problems is gaining ground in higher education, and
social work is already garnering the rewards of this fast-growing
While the geographic information system (GIS) has been in use
for years in the fields of community planning and development,
the magic of the system is being put to the test in social research
at several universities.
Amy Hillier, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania,
holds an MSW as well as a doctorate in social welfare. She is
among the staff who use GIS technology to help researchers and
others devise theories of social behavior.
"GIS represents a new technology that allows social workers
to reinvigorate this traditional emphasis on understanding people
in their environment," she said.
GIS maps land use, but it also factors in other data culled from
a variety of sources to test theories about human activities and
whether environment has a role in them.
Some examples of data include a city's home sales, police reports
and student records. The institutions that use government and
school data have confidentiality agreements governing use of the
Unlike U.S. census data, GIS can delve further into detail, and
programs can be designed to measure people's behaviors in the
context of their surroundings.
Some recent studies using GIS ask such questions as, "Does
where kids live affect their odds of becoming victims of obesity?"
and, "Do gun shootings more likely happen in neighborhoods
where there are more bars and alcohol stores?"
Social work's role in the use of mapping to study social issues
started more than a century ago.
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From May 2006 NASW News. © 2006 National
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