I got to collaborate with COREGIS again this year, on a couple of maps for a Texas education advocacy group. The first was an internal tool for their staff use only, but the second was public facing and is now available:
I am often a bit skeptical—perhaps more than you might expect from a GIS consultant—of the value of displaying information on a map rather than a chart or a table. Sometimes we just go for maps because they look good, without thinking about whether geography is a useful dimension for the questions we want to answer. These two were interesting cases because geography is relevant, but not for the most obvious reasons, and this influenced their design:
- The internal tool is for lobbyists to show to state politicians, so the design is very focussed on zooming to individual districts and showing how they compare to others. In the big picture that’s not exactly the ideal way for politicians to make choices, but we all know that they do it, so it’s realistic for an advocacy group to appeal to this bias.
- The public map is a way of showing just how big a public funding advantage charter schools have over public schools. The message would have been lost in a chart or table, because the same unlevel playing field benefits rural school districts (which don’t generally have charter schools nearby) over urban ones. Putting the map together helps us to compare like with like. I don’t know anywhere near enough about Texas education politics to know if either bias is deliberate, but assigning blame is outside the scope of a map anyway. It’s enough that it shows the effect of a policy.