1. Ask and explore
Solving a spatial problem begins with a well-framed question based on your understanding of the problem. Getting the question right is key to deriving meaningful results. Questions that can be answered using spatial analysis include the following:
- How many are in an area?
- Which sites meet my criteria?
- What are the characteristics of an area?
- How is it distributed?
- What is near what?
- What is on top of what?
- How is it related?
Once you have framed your question, explore and visualize your data to refine and scope the question. There is an abundance of spatial data available to the public. Web-based GIS makes it easy to find the data you need, from Esri Living Atlas layers, to data made public by users, to your own shapefiles and feature layers. You can share data from ArcMap or ArcGIS Pro to My Content, add supported files from your computer or from the web, and search within your organization or the larger ArcGIS Online community. Exploring your data will shed light on aspects of the question you may not have considered, prompting you to further refine your question.
When you are satisfied with your question and have gathered the geographic data you want to use, add the data to your map and make any changes needed to better visualize it and prepare it for analysis.
2. Model and compute
Computers don't perform analysis; people do. ArcGIS offers a suite of analysis tools that can be used to manipulate, quantify, and manage your data to help you answer your spatial question. The Perform Analysis pane includes pop-ups that help you plan and choose the right tools for your analysis.
3. Examine and interpret
Once you have processed your data using the analysis tools, visualize the analysis results by examining the map. You can change your map's defaults to better visualize your data, including changing the style and transparency of your data, filtering out unnecessary data, and changing the basemap. Look for patterns in the map and speculate about what they might mean from a spatial or temporal perspective. Ask yourself whether the results provide an adequate answer to the question you asked. If not, you may need to adjust your approach. Is your question too broad or too narrow? Do you require more or different data? Should you use more or different analysis tools? Should you use different parameters?
Determine whether assumptions about the data, analysis methods, and mapping methods would alter the results. Also consider what artifacts of the data, analysis, and mapping processes deserve special attention.
4. Make decisions
After interpreting the results of the analysis, document your interpretation and decide how to respond. In some cases, you can take action based on your interpretation of the analysis results. You might implement a solution, correct a situation, create an opportunity, or mitigate circumstances. In other cases, no action is required because your goal was to build knowledge and gain a deeper understanding. Often new questions arise that need to be addressed. These can lead to further analysis.
5. Share results
Once you have answered your question and are satisfied with the analysis, identify the audience that will benefit from your findings and determine who you want to influence. You may want to share your results with other members of your organization or the public. You can communicate your results using maps or apps. Creating an app such as a story map, is an effective way to share your findings with others.
Try these scenario-based exercises to learn more about performing analysis:
- Quick exercise: Solve a spatial problem—Use analysis tools to determine which campgrounds are within the range of an invasive weed.
- Connect streams for salmon migration—Propose a location for fishway construction and quantify the accessible habitat.
- Analyzing violent crime—Determine whether there is a relationship between violent crime and liquor establishments.