Non-spatial data (also known as attribute or tabular data) is information independent of the spatial component of GIS data. Bringing this data into the GIS environment is a powerful and essential tool for expanding geospatial research.
If unfamiliar with joining spatial and non-spatial data within GIS, or how to bring excel or other tables into the software, this tutorial (here) is a good starting point. "Joins" can be used to attach tables to existing shapefiles based on a common field, giving them new geography. For example, an excel dataset of income could be joined to a shapefile of census blocks, which combines the two and provides the excel data with spatial context.
The U.S. Census Bureau, with surveys such as the Decennial Census and the American Community Survey, is an essential source for non-spatial datasets. Unfortunately, the Census Bureau data explorer can be hard to navigate and lacks a straightforward way to visualize data before download.
The University of Arizona provides several tools for searching, visualizing, and aggregating large datasets on a map platform. Both PolicyMap and Social Explorer are available using a NetID login.
- PolicyMap is best used to map contemporary policy and demographic issues and includes data from the last 20 to 30 years. PolicyMap works well at a local level but can also be used at a national scale.
- Social Explorer is best used to search for historical census data, with datasets dating back to the first census. Social Explorer works well at a national level but can also be used at a local scale.
To determine which is best suited for specific research, compare the data dictionary of the two services;