Geospatial Analysis and Predicting the Future

Written by Kerry Cosby on July 9, 2019

What does it mean not to be behind the geospatial curve? In the previous article we say that the State Department was left behind in the conversation about how to handle the war in Afghanistan. They were behind the geospatial curve.

So, Most importantly, the phrase means an organization does not simply look at its work in the aggregate, but uses maps and statistics to examine its work on the local and global levels.

Importance of a Geospatial Outlook for Competition

A few years ago, an organization I worked for was looking to expand our global activities. To overcome any resistance from staff or volunteers, we determined to present the growth of our organization and our main competitor on a series of heat maps. Each map illustrated the locations of their and our events during a particular year. We stood quietly and let the presentation run, showing the growth of the two organizations over the course of 15 years.

The faces of the people in the meeting changed quickly when they saw the competitor’s rapid expansion across the globe next to our own—even more so when we connected that meeting expansion with membership growth in countries where the events took place.

Up to that point, the people in the room had viewed everything in the aggregate. We were growing and successful—and we were still quite a bit larger than our competitor. That was what they had known. But looking at the data geospatially revealed an increasingly powerful competitor with a sizeable global footprint who, if we were not to make changes, might overtake us.

The Power of Bubbles

I have already mentioned in the Don’t Fear the G-word what heatmaps can do for an organization. A statement in a report that “10 percent of our membership is in Colorado” is useful, but not as useful as showing in shades of blue, red or orange how Colorado compares to any of the other 49 states. Perhaps Texas has 30 percent. Or perhaps each of the others only has 1.83 percent. A heat map will tell us that relation at first glance.

Bubble maps, on the other hand, dig a more deeply into the data, demonstrating where clusters exist. Such knowledge can be extremely useful when planning events—particularly if you know that attendees only go to events within a certain radius of their homes.

We can use size and color to tease out even more information from the dataset. For instance, the map above gives us a quick view of the age of members in the area, and when we hover over a particular data point, it can show us more information about that person—like that one lonely person who lives in northern Wisconsin near lake Michigan. We know she is young and has been a member for three years, but has attended four events in the past year.

Hey, Buddy. Keep It Moving!

Members are not tied to one location—especially these days. They may move after graduation for their first job or for graduate school. Members may change jobs or be transferred from one city to another in mid-career.

Adding animation to our maps gives us an easy way to see this movement.

By zooming into the data (as in the map above), it is clear that the movement is coming from younger members, possibly relocating to cities where the industry is growing. The data can be cross-referenced with information about new or existing members’ employment, or with external industry data to tease out some of the influences for the members’ movement.

Animated mapping is useful for more than just the membership department, though. It show attendee travel for conferences, workshops or courses. And as we’ve seen, animated mapping gives us a method of predicting member and customer behavior geospatially to determine where to conduct activities.

Predicting Geospatial Changes

Once we start using maps to get a sense of the trends in our geospatial data, we can take that next step: using such trends to predict what will happen with our members.

Let’s say that we know where our members and customers are concentrated. We can see how that is broken out by years as members. And we add in where members are moving to (or often travel to). All of this (combined with the knowledge of what type of members go to conferences and how far members and customers travel to conferences) enables us to do some fancy analysis and predict our attendance at an event and how much revenue it will bring in—even if we are planning years ahead.

This is why “geospatial” should not be a dirty word in your organization, but rather should be uttered at every meeting.

“Hey, Dave. Can you show that data to me geospatially?”

If you are interested in geospatial analysis, join us for the Association Data Analytics Brown Bag on October 1, 2019 for a presentation and discussion on the subject with your peers from around the world. Each of our brown bags qualifies as 1 CAE credit.