DIY Evaluation

A Few Things To Note About The Trifecta: Big, Open, Government Data

By the time you finish reading this post 11 people would have been born in the U.S. and there would have been a net gain of 6 people in the U.S. population.  Super interesting, right? Thank you trifecta! What’s even more intriguing is this ongoing count of the number of people being added to the population:

US and World Population Clock -check it out, you’re guaranteed to stay focused on it for about 10-20 seconds at a minimum just to see what the “net gain” looks like.

us and world pop clock

Today I’ll be reviewing an oldie, but a goodie…Census Data which happens to fall into the category of big open government data according to Open Data Now‘s blog post Big Data vs Open Data Mapping It Out. The Open Data Now post actually shows how the 3 forms of data overlap by using this nice diagram:

big_open_govt data

Now before you run off and click on another screen give me a few more seconds.  I’d like share a few lessons learned from reviewing online Census data that can apply to similar data retrieval from the world wide web.

#1-Use quick facts to get you started

US Census State and County Quick Facts

*Every site won’t have the “quick facts” section, but there should be a way to get a high level view of the landscape of the data. This is a great way to get a snapshot of the demographics in your state and county. It won’t provide anything mind blowing, however, learning about population demographics by region can help in the following ways:

  • Understanding the context and cultures of certain regions
  • Targeting services
  • Having another reference point for grant proposals
  • Identifying areas for future/additional research and evaluation

*Click on “Browse datasets for ________” to get more info on your state/county

US Census State and County Quic Facts

#2-Check out the Margin of Error

*After viewing “Social Characteristics” in the state of Georgia’s datasets I noticed the margin of error for the state was pretty large in some areas (ex. +/-18,424). These are all things that you want to keep in mind before taking the data for face value and generating any reports or conclusions.

US Census Social Characteristics and Margin of Error

#3-Big data, like little data still needs to be explained

Big Data on aea365

*aea365 poster Nichole Stewart notes that Big Data needs to be visualized and the relevant portions should be explained.

*Another aea365 poster, Jim Van Haneghan,  provides a review of Philip Tetlock’s Fox and Hedgehog personalities, which in short suggests that evaluators are more like the fox because they base conclusions on gathering data from various sources, while a hedgehog does not attempt to go beyond the very focused task at hand to gather data to draw conclusions.

Van Hanegan’s Lesson 5 (I encourage you to check out the link above to read all of them): Finally, Silver reminds us that the advent of “big data” does not change the need to attach meaning to data. The availability of more data does not relieve us of the need for rigorous interpretation.

*The need for Big Data to be explained is also noted in Stephen Few’s paper:  Big Data Big Ruse

#4 Browse around and you may find some goodies:

U.S. Census County Business and Demographics Map

*This interactive map will show you electronic stores, bars, day care centers, and more located within a geographic area.  This could be helpful contextual data when looking at businesses and the economy surrounding program regions.

Do you use any data in the trifecta in your evaluation work? If so, please share in the comments area below.

Oh yea, welcome to the U.S. our 11 newly born citizens!


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