An evaluation framework for comparing geocoding systems
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© 2013 Goldberg et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
BACKGROUND: Geocoding, the process of converting textual information describing a location into one or more digital geographic representations, is a routine task performed at large organizations and government agencies across the globe. In a health context, this task is often a fundamental first step performed prior to all operations that take place in a spatially-based health study. As such, the quality of the geocoding system used within these agencies is of paramount concern to the agency (the producer) and researchers or policy-makers who wish to use these data (consumers). However, geocoding systems are continually evolving with new products coming on the market continuously. Agencies must develop and use criteria across a number axes when faced with decisions about building, buying, or maintaining any particular geocoding systems. To date, published criteria have focused on one or more aspects of geocode quality without taking a holistic view of a geocoding system’s role within a large organization. The primary purpose of this study is to develop and test an evaluation framework to assist a large organization in determining which geocoding systems will meet its operational needs.METHODS: A geocoding platform evaluation framework is derived through an examination of prior literature on geocoding accuracy. The framework developed extends commonly used geocoding metrics to take into account the specific concerns of large organizations for which geocoding is a fundamental operational capability tightly-knit into its core mission of processing health data records. A case study is performed to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of five geocoding platforms currently available in the Australian geospatial marketplace.RESULTS: The evaluation framework developed in this research is proven successful in differentiating between key capabilities of geocoding systems that are important in the context of a large organization with significant investments in geocoding resources. Results from the proposed methodology highlight important differences across all axes of geocoding system comparisons including spatial data output accuracy, reference data coverage, system flexibility, the potential for tight integration, and the need for specialized staff and/or development time and funding. Such results can empower decisions-makers within large organizations as they make decisions and investments in geocoding systems.
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