Friday, May 20, 2011

Question: Where Should the In-Person Assessments Have Occurred?

This is definitely something exploratory, and it's certainly not intended to be predictive. I am just musing here, partially to determine whether the in-person assessment locations were sound or not.

So the question is this: Based on what we know of the 2011 semifinalist pool, where would the most effective in-person assessment locations have been? Let's broaden that a bit to get at what we really might want to know. Which cities with a Federal presence would have made good cities in which to conduct PMF in-person assessments, based on what we know about where the semifinalists (those invited to the in-person assessments) presumably originated? I hope that's a clear question, but we can break this down into components so the criteria are better defined, and the follow-up questions are enumerated.

  • Federal presence: This can mean one of a few things. First, and fundamentally, is there any Federal agency with an office in the city? For many cities, the answer is a qualified yes. Qualified, because even if a city has some Federal presence, this does not mean that the city is at all suited to hosting in-person assessments, either because it is located too far away from the bulk of semifinalists, or because it is simply too small to provide convenient transportation options. It turns out there is another way we can measure Federal presence in a city: The Federal Executive Boards (FEB). FEBs form a nationwide network of Federal branches providing communication and collaboration solutions to agencies outside the DC area. Given their wide geographic distribution, it seems clear that FEB cities might serve as a good starting point to analyze future in-person assessments. In the graphics below, I show a summary view of how many semifinalists were listed as closest to each of these cities.
  • Semifinalists: I chose semifinalists from this year 1) because there were semifinalists for 2011, and 2) because semifinalists were the ones invited to take in-person assessments. It doesn't make much sense to me to choose nominees or finalists for this particular comparison, although choosing nominees would at least provide some information for future planning. What we know about semifinalists is the school they listed in their materials, and not much more. This is a limitation of the data set, of course, but it's all we have to work with. What we have to assume from it is that the schools in question were correctly identified for purposes of geolocation; that every semifinalists were correctly listed with their schools; and that the locations of the schools reflect the geographic origins of the semifinalists. That's a tall order, but again, what choice do we have? Some of these schools conduct extensive online programs that mean students could be widely dispersed beyond the brick-and-mortar campus. What we have, then, is close enough approximation of the truth for this analysis.
Now our question becomes this: Of the FEB cities, which are closely located around the most 2011 semifinalists? That is a question we can answer. I took the cities in which there are FEB offices and calculated the distance from that city to each of the 278 schools represented in the semifinalist data. Then I figured out, for each school, which was the closest FEB city. And finally, I aggregated the FEBs and summed up the semifinalists that were listed as closest to each FEB. That data is shown below:

One thing you'll notice, of course, is that Washington, DC, is listed here, even though it's not an FEB location. I trust you'll understand why this is the case. Regardless, what we see is that, outside Washington, DC, the top 5 FEB locations are Boston (161), Atlanta (118), New York City (110), Chicago (92), and San Francisco (76). If we were looking for validation of the 2011 in-person assessment location choices, this might suffice. What the top 5 FEB list doesn't really account for, though, is that there are significant numbers in other locations. The trick here would be to determine locations that are central to a region in some way. DC makes sense for most of the East Coast, especially given the ease of transportation between, for instance, Boston and DC. It is entirely fitting, then, to keep DC as an assessment location. Atlanta also makes sense for large portions of the South. The Midwest is well served by Chicago, and the West Coast is well served by San Francisco (although Los Angeles looks to be a good second choice). That just leaves areas like the North Plains and the Southwest less well served. But we can frame a different question that might help here. Let's eliminate all but one NE city (DC), one Southern city (Atlanta), one Midwest city (Chicago) and one Western city (San Francisco), leaving the others on the list to see what we can come up with. That leaves us with the following:

Based on this, I think we can recommend that either a city in Texas or Oklahoma City could serve as the only other location needed. I am choosing OKC because of its fairly central location compared to Denver and Albuquerque. If we do that, then the numbers look like this:

Even so, the payoff for adding OKC is much lower than other locations, and it may not ultimately be worth the effort to add the assessment location.

Next, let's see if we can determine whether there's a distance factor involved here. That is, if we take these five locations, is there an average distance we're looking for that might be ideal? The first table shows us a widely variable average distance between the school and the assessment center.

The largest average is for DC, but this can be partially explained by the large distribution of semifinalists (Boston to a point about halfway between Atlanta and DC) and the inclusion of overseas schools in this list, all of which are in excess of 2000 miles away. There aren't many, but they are enough to affect the result. Filtering those out will give us perhaps something more meaningful.

So there you have it. These are pretty good distances from what I can tell, but I am interested to know what you all think. As one final point of comparison, here are the average distances to the original in-person assessment locations. By omitting OKC, we raise the averages for Chicago, San Francisco, and Atlanta, but DC is unaffected.

So after examining the locations that might have made sense for the in-person assessment, what we found is that the original locations seemed to be about right. We could fragment the assessment centers a bit more by adding one in OKC, but doing much more than that seems to have a lower benefit. What do you all think? Were these distances doable for you? I know many of you would have preferred not to travel as far as you did, but consider the alternatives (such as all in-person assessments being held in DC). What locations do you think should be considered?

2011 PMF Appointments: Another Open Thread

The reason for this post is simple: I have Google set to turn on comment moderation on posts older than 30 days. If I don't post something today or tomorrow, those of you still conversing will have to wait for your comments to be published by me. Not only does this hamper your conversations, it is a bit burdensome to me as well, which is why I changed the site from moderating everything to what it is now (that was a while ago). Had I not done that, I would have had to approve all of the 2000+ comments you all have written over the past 3 months. As it is, I READ every comment, but I don't feel the need to moderate them all.

Anyway, please continue sharing your experiences as you go. I am planning some other exploratory and data analysis posts, but that process has gone a bit slower than I had desired. (This is *totally* not a call for some part-time help, no way, no how...OK, it is, if anyone wants to)

I'm not posting this one on GovLoop, because the threads over there are far from full. Ghost town is more like it.

Oh, and if there is a specific kind of post you would like me to write, let me know. I do take requests.