Understanding client communities spatially for developing effective interventions: Application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology for human services delivery.

Paper presented at #husITa14 in July 2014, Melbourne, Australia.


husITa14 Session

Gokul Mandayam (University of Southern California, USA)


With a professional identity grounded in the ‘Person-in-Environment’ framework, social workers are better equipped to understand the need to incorporate geographical aspects pertaining to where clients live or work as part of their practice, given that these factors have a significant influence on client well-being. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology aids professional social work practice by visually displaying contextual data through analytical maps and highlighting the interactions between human service program clients and their environments (Azzam & Robinson, 2013). This technology is useful for administrators and planners in order to make informed decisions regarding programs including deciding the geographic location of human service agencies, examining program outcomes and impact as well as streamlining program implementation. With a capability of engaging in visual map-based spatial analysis of social issues affecting individuals and families in various communities and neighborhoods, GIS is a relevant tool for social work practice, especially for identifying human service needs and advocating for resources. With GIS, social workers could employ cutting-edge techniques to ensure better practices at the micro, mezzo and macro levels.

This presentation aims to provide a practical insight regarding the utility of GIS technology for real world human service applications. Specific examples include a) an asset mapping exercise for a non-profit that provides health, employment and education services to families, children and seniors living in low-income housing communities in California; b) a needs assessment project for examining the availability of substance abuse treatment facilities with services in Spanish in Los Angeles County (Guerrero, Pan, Curtis & Lizano, 2011); and c) an evaluation exercise for a low-income housing project in Los Angeles to understand community risks and assets for planning human service interventions. In all the examples, ArcGIS software was used to understand existing assets and identify gaps/needs within the client communities for program planning purposes.



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