CHM Workshop at the National Tribal Forum in Spokane, WA

This week the Community Health Maps team is heading to Spokane, Washington to teach a workshop at the National Tribal Forum for Excellence in Community Health Practice! We are honored to participate and engage a new community of mappers.2016-08-29_161231

It is a four hour workshop and by the end attendees will have:

  • Built their own data collection form in Fulcrum
  • Gone outside and collected some points
  • Made an online map of what they collected in Carto
  • Learned how to work with QGIS!

We’ll report back on how it goes when we return. Stay tuned!

CartoDB Rebranded as Carto

Community Health Maps has long recommended the use of CartoDB for those interested in low cost online mapping and data visualization. In fact, CHM caught the beginning of this wave because CartoDB wasn’t even launched until 2012!

CartoDB

Original CartoDB logo

Early last month (July 2016) CartoDB was rebranded as Carto, which includes a new logo. However, once you get beyond the new logo your current account page including your data and maps remains unchanged.  You can still build maps the way you always have in what is now known as Carto Editor.

Carto

New Carto logo

The main difference is that Carto now offers up a new interface named Carto Builder. The good news for Community Health Mappers is that their goal with Carto Builder is to introduce an updated interface. One that still does not require complex geospatial skills and programming. With Carto Builder they aim to make Location Intelligence (LI) more accessible to more people.  This means it will give you point and click access to deeper analysis of your data. Builder will have all the functionality currently found in Editor along with the new tools.

Eventually Carto Editor will be phased out and Carto Builder will be the interface everyone uses. You can request early access to Carto Builder here: http://go.carto.com/request-beta-access. New users of Carto will be given access the the Carto Builder in phases, over the next several months. All existing maps and data will be seamlessly migrated to the new interface. The following page answers Frequently Asked Questions about the migration from Editor to Builder: https://carto.com/docs/carto-builder/faqs/

Once the migration is complete I will post about the new functionality. Stay tuned!

 

So What is Open Source Exactly?

This term ‘Open Source’ pops up in discussions about Community Health Maps and the blog and I realize many may not really know what it means. That’s OK, I’m going to explain it here. From both licensing and software development perspectives, there are two broad categories of computer software: proprietary and open source. The figure below shows some examples of both types.

FOSS_vsProprietary

Examples of Open Source & Proprietary Software

Proprietary Software 

Proprietary software is created and sold by a corporation. They create software and sell it to make a profit. When purchasing it you may also be paying for the privilege to get help and support using the software. Or you may have to pay extra for that privilege. Two examples of proprietary software are Microsoft Office and Esri’s ArcGIS. There is also a license that accompanies a proprietary software package. When you purchase software, you are actually just buying a license that gives you the rights to operate the software. You never actually own the software itself. That software license will restrict use in some way:

  1. the number of computers you are allowed to install the software onto,
  2. the time period that the software will operate, and
  3. the number of features you are licensed to use.

Open Source Software

Open source software (OSS), on the other hand, is created by a community of software developers (programmers). It is created to solve a common problem and is made available freely for everyone’s use. Open Office, Android and QGIS are examples. Open source software also comes with a license. That license tends to grant rights to users. For example:

  1. The freedom to run the software for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the software works.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  4. The freedom to improve the program.

Access to the source code may not be important to most, but the freedom to use the software as you see fit very well may be.

open-source

Why Give it Away for Free?

To many it is counter-intuitive for something of value to be given away for free.  However, open source software development isn’t entirely altruistic. Most of these programmers work for companies providing services with the software. Those involved in an open source project simply feel that this is a better way to create software. There are several reasons for this:

  1. there are a lot of “eyes” on the code and bugs can be spotted and fixed quickly,
  2. having access to the source code let’s you understand how the software is working, it’s not a ‘black box,’
  3. you are not locked into a particular vendors system, licensing scheme or software release schedule,
  4. you have the freedom to create any missing functionality that you need
  5. you benefit from the contributions of others and vice versa.

Making Money with OSS

Obviously you can provide services using OSS. However, there are other ways to make money with open source. Companies like Facebook, IBM, Sun, and Google are all heavily involved in open source. Let’s take the example of Google. They may be the world’s largest open source company. One of the keys to their business are vast server farms, which include several million servers. Google never would have been able to get their company off the ground if it weren’t for the Linux operating system. The cost of putting a proprietary operating system like Windows on all those servers would have been prohibitive. Now their open source Android operating system is the most popular on the market with a 66.5% market share. In another example, even Esri’s ArcGIS includes some open source software components ‘under the hood.’ This is because some open source software licenses allow that software to be bundled with proprietary software and sold for profit.

Any given open source software is considered a ‘project’ and they aren’t all user friendly and useful. You still have to determine if the software will meet your needs. An important aspect is getting help and support. Things to look for include a good online manual, ‘how-to’ books, and an active listserv.

QGIS

Let’s take QGIS as an example. It has fantastic support. It has a great online manual, training material, case studies, sample maps, commercial support, email listservs, plus a number of ‘how-to’ books written by people who use QGIS. The QGIS project does not have a corporation behind it. It has about 30 independent but dedicated core developers. They work in a democratic fashion, voting on new features to be implemented. As an end user you can provide input with feature requests! With QGIS, if there is a feature you need that doesn’t exist, you can hire (sponsor) a programmer to create it. It then may become part of the core program or it may be written as a standalone plugin. That feature then becomes part of the software and everyone benefits. As a user of the software, you can easily contact someone involved in developing the software and ask questions and request features. With proprietary software you never have such direct access to the development team. You can also donate to the QGIS project. Your donation will pay for developers to fix bugs and implement new features. Beyond programming there are many ways people can contribute to a project like QGIS. You can report bugs when you encounter them, write and translate documentation, contribute a case study, and write books.

Summary

Open source is both a development methodology and a software license. In the end it is really impossible to say that a proprietary software like ArcGIS is better than the open source equivalent like QGIS or vice versa. You must decide if either works for you, and freedom and monetary cost may be part of that decision.

End Note:

There are a lot of acronyms in GIS and specifically open source GIS. Here are some you may encounter:

FOSS = Free and Open Source. Historically there were two similar software movements, Free Software and Open Source software. They are so similar that they now are lumped together, and people simply use this acronym when talking about them.

FOSS4G – Free and Open Source for Geospatial. This is free and open source software specifically for mapping. OsGeo (below) holds annual open source GIS conferences called FOSS4G. The next is coming up later this month in Bonn, Germany.

OsGeoOpen Source Geospatial Foundation – this is a non-profit organization whose mission is to foster global adoption of open geospatial technology by being an inclusive software foundation devoted to an open philosophy and participatory community driven development. To be considered an OsGeo project a software must meet certain requirements. QGIS is a project under the OsGeo umbrella.

How Does Esri Software Fit into the CHM Workflow?

Community Health Maps (CHM) necessarily focuses on low cost and open source tools. This is because our goal is to find mapping tools that can be used by any community group, no matter the budget or resources. However, that doesn’t preclude people from using Esri software or other proprietary mapping tools too.

2016-07-28_112719

One benefit of using Fulcrum for data collection, and QGIS for analysis and cartography, is that they both support a wide range of common GIS formats. This means that the data you’ve created via these two platforms can be easily brought into Esri’s ArcGIS software. Similarly if you have data you have created with Esri tools they can be brought into QGIS or Carto. This feature is known as ‘interoperability’ and QGIS is highly interoperable. For example, QGIS can work with shapefiles, Esri personal and file geodatabases, KML and over 100 other formats!

From the outset we knew there were many scenarios for mapping software being used in public health and community organizations.  For instance, there are larger organizations who are already using tools such as Esri’s ArcMap, ArcGIS Pro or ArcGIS Online. With this scenario there are still several reasons the CHM mapping tools could be useful.

  • It might be that the organization doesn’t have enough Esri licenses for everyone in the office who’s interested in doing mapping work. In this case Fulcrum, QGIS or Carto could be used to fill the need.
  • An organization may find that their Esri license doesn’t give them access to certain tools they need. They could use comparable tools in QGIS to fill the need, without having to pay extra license fees just for one or two extra tools.
  • There may be smaller affiliated satellite groups that don’t share the same access to the software. In this case, these groups could use CHM suggested tools. Because of good interoperability they would then be able to provide data back to the central hub, where they could be incorporated seamlessly with the rest of the organizations data.
  • There may be certain tasks that are easier and faster to do in one piece of software and others that are easier in another. For example, I use both ArcGIS and QGIS daily to do different things. Many beginners also find QGIS to be more intuitive. GIS is simply a tool and by incorporating QGIS you are giving yourself a bigger toolbox.

If you are in an organization using another software package don’t worry. The tools we are promoting as part of this project can be integrated quite seamlessly with your current tools. It doesn’t have to be Coke or Pepsi, or Ford or Chevy. You can have both!

Mapping Curb Ramp Accessibility around a Silver Spring, MD Assisted Living Facility

Submitted by Jenny Rewolinski, University of Maryland, B.S. Community Health 2016

I just completed a spring internship with the National Library of Medicine (NLM). My goal was to demonstrate what a typical user of the Community Health Maps (CHM) blog might experience, while using the low cost resources it reviews to develop a mapping project with a public health focus. I read through the case studies on the CHM blog and used its labs to develop my project plan and to guide my related decisions.

Because of my experience with elderly relatives and my background in public health, I centered my project on how the senior population of a nearby Assisted Living Facility might safely navigate local sidewalks. According to the 2014 American Community Survey, 23% of people over 65 have some sort ambulatory disability. With this in mind, I decided to map local curb ramps –sloped transitions between sidewalks and streets which function as accessibility enhancements to help those with mobility issues to cross streets safely.

JennyDataCollection

Figure 1. Curb Ramp Data Collection using the iForm app

I used CHM Lab 1: Field Data Collection to learn how to design my own data collection form using iForm. My Curb Ramp form captured curb ramp location, conditions, and other observations such as seniors using the curb ramps, steep or damaged curb ramps, and a lack of sidewalks in the area. As discussed in a prior blog post, How Accurate is the GPS on my Smart Phone?, phone geolocation is usually accurate up to 8 meters. This was not precise enough for my curb ramp data, so I corrected for this on my form.  Over the course of 8 hours spanning 2 days, and with 2 other interns I collected 103 existing curb ramps and locations where curb ramps might aid accessibility.

iFormCurbRampForm

Figure 2. iForm Curb Ramp Data Collection Form

Next, I brought my iForm curb ramp data from my phone into the QGIS software by using instructions from CHM Lab 2: Bringing Field Data into QGIS.  I also used CHM Labs 3: Combining Field Data with Other Organizational Data and CHM Lab 4: Basic Spatial Analysis  to add data layers and to perform spatial analysis to finalize my map.

Map

Figure 3. Curb Ramp Accessibility of Senior Population of Silver Spring Assisted Living Center Map

This is my project map! I completed construction of my map using CHM Lab 5: Cartography with QGIS. In addition to my curb ramp data points, I added data layers for sidewalks, roads, places of interest (such as grocery stores, restaurants, bus stops,  theaters), and my Assisted Living Facility. My goal was to raise awareness of how accessibility can impact seniors’ sense of autonomy and empowerment, and their ability to exercise and to lead a healthier lifestyle. This map also provides recommendations for where more curb ramps should be placed based on observations during data collection. I plan to discuss this map and curb ramp recommendations with the city of Silver Spring and to create “safest route” guides for popular local destinations.

SafestRoute

Figure 4. A Safest Route Guide example showing safe and dangerous routes based on location of curb ramps and sidewalks

GIS has a huge potential to help us analyze health issues. When I began my project at NLM, I thought I would simply be mapping the location of curb ramps near a local Assisted Living Facility; however I discovered the significant need for more curb ramps as well as sidewalks around my project area.

I believe the conclusions I was able to reach by using the low cost CHM resources CHM are accurate and workable. I came to NLM with little to no GIS knowledge yet I learned from the CHM GIS labs, collected curb ramp data points and created a map that may bring awareness to a public health issue. In doing so I believe my experience is typical of many CHM users.

If I can do it, you can too!

Discover QGIS – A new QGIS workbook!

Two years ago, myself and several colleagues authored the GeoAcademy which is the first ever GIS curriculum based on a national standard – the U.S. Department of Labor’s Geospatial Competency Model (GTCM). The GTCM consists of the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to be a working GIS professional.  Our team was honored with the 2015 GeoForAll Educator of the Year award for this effort. The GeoAcademy consists of 5 complete college courses.

  • Introduction to Geospatial Technology Using QGIS
  • Spatial Analysis Using QGIS
  • Data Acquisition and Management Using QGIS
  • Cartography Using QGIS and InkScape
  • Remote Sensing Using QGIS and GRASS

This winter I converted the curriculum to fit into a convenient workbook format with Locate Press. The workbook is called Discover QGIS.

As you may be aware, QGIS is evolving rapidly. A new version is released every 4 months!  Due to this rapid development pace each spring a long-term release (LTR) is created. The LTR version is supported for a calendar year and is better for production environments. Originally written for QGIS 2.4, the GeoAcademy material in this workbook has been updated for use with QGIS 2.14 LTR. It therefore represents the most up-to-date version of the GeoAcademy curriculum. In addition to working with QGIS, it also includes exercises doing analysis tasks with the powerful GRASS GIS software, both alone and via the GRASS QGIS plugin. The cartography section includes exercises with InkScape. Here you’ll learn how to begin a map in QGIS and use InkScape to finish a publication quality map.

At the moment the digital version of the workbook is available as a Preview Edition for only $24.99. Purchasing this preview entitles you to the full version when it is released. There are just a few formatting issues to resolve.

This book will be a great resource for Community Health Mappers wanting to build their skills. The 470 page workbook comes with exercise data, challenge exercises and solution files!

Discover QGIS

Discover QGIS

Community Health Maps Workshop

Regular followers of the Community Health Maps (CHM) blog will know that the National Library of Medicine and its partners Center for Public Service Communications (CPSC) and Bird’s Eye View GIS have worked for several years in support of NLM’s mission to improve health information literacy, with a particular focus working with underserved communities. While access to quality health information is frequently a focus of attention, the ability to visualize data and information — to better understand and portray their significance to the community — has received less attention. This is in part because the availability of affordable GIS platforms and data collection and visualization applications is relatively recent. Historically, the cost to procure platforms and applications, to train users and to sustain operations has been prohibitive for communities and community-based organizations whose health budgets are already strained. This recognition has prompted CPSC, with NLM support, to develop the Community Health Mapping initiative.

Our premise has been that community-based and minority health organizations are in a better position to serve their populations when they are able to collect and maintain their own data, rather than — or at least in addition too — having to rely solely on national/state agencies or majority-institution partners to provide data to them.

The approach we have pursued involves using relatively low cost tablets and smartphone platforms, combined with the selection of low/no-cost applications that run on these platforms, allowing novice users and users with little budget resource to map their communities. Introducing such workflows to community-based and minority public health professionals empowers users to collect, analyze, visualize and share their own spatial data. Importantly, these tools can also be used to share data collected using other programs, such as Esri’s ArcGIS and national- and state- derived databases such as CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Public Use Data files from National Center for Health Statistics, etc.

As documented on the CHM blog, to date the CHM initiative has supported pilot initiatives with:

We have also created a Community Health Mapping blog that you are exploring now, maintained by Bird’s Eye View, NLM’s and CPSC’s GIS partner in this project. Further, we have recently completed the development of a set of six online “labs”:

  1. Field Data Collection (iOS & Android),
  2. Bringing Field Data into QGIS,
  3. Combining Field Data with other Organizational Data,
  4. Basic Spatial Analysis,
  5. Cartography with QGIS
  6. Data Visualization with CartoDB.

These, too, are available through the CHM blog.

With these experiences, the CHM Team approached the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) for its support of a national workshop so that we could share our approach more broadly than we have to this point. This has been our goal all along, pending testing of our workflow. We believe, and we have demonstrated that this low/no-cost workflow can enable community organizations and community-oriented health professionals to map local health status/conditions that have not been possible before and with quality, sharable results.

On June 7th, 2016, and with funding from RWJF, the CHM workshop will bring together:

  • federal/state/local government representatives
  • related associations
  • members of academia
  • community health professionals
  • community activists
  • information specialists
  • information technologists from across the country

to share and discuss new ideas and methodologies for empowering community organizations serving vulnerable or underserved populations with low cost, intuitive mapping technology.

The workshop agenda is below. Stay tuned to this blog for more about the workshop:


 

Community Health Maps Workshop
Lister Hill Auditorium
National Library of Medicine
Bethesda, Maryland
June 7-8, 2016

Co-sponsored by:
National Library of Medicine
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Health-Equity.org
Center for Public Service Communications

June 7, 2016: Day 1

8:30 – 9:00         Registration

9:00 – 9:30         Welcome and opening remarks

  • Betsy Humphreys, Acting Director, National Library of Medicine
  • John Scott, President Center for Public Service Communications/Health-Equity.Org
  • Michael Painter, Sr. Program Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

9:30 – 10:15     Importance of Community Access to GIS Mapping and other HIT Applications
B. Vindell Washington, MD, MHCM, FACEP
Principal Deputy National Coordinator
Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology
Department of Health and Human Services

10:15 – 11:15     Community health mapping in a world awash with geographic data and tools
Dr. John P Wilson
Professor and Director
Spatial Sciences Institute
USC Dana and David Dornsife
College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
University of Southern California

11:15 – 11:30    Break

11:30 – 12:15     The landscape of mapping software, applications and databases
Kurt Menke, GISP
President
Bird’s Eye View
Albuquerque, New Mexico

12:15 – 1:30     Lunch

1:30– 2:00     Introduction to the Community Health Maps (CHM) Initiative
John Scott and Kurt Menke

2:00 – 3:15     CHM User Presentations

  • Deborah Williamson, Associate Dean for Practice, Medical Univ. of South Carolina
  • Bryan Heckman, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, MUSC
  • Derek Toth, Communities in Schools
  • Jennifer Rewolinski, Intern, National Library of Medicine

Panel discussion: Community Health Mappers field audience questions

  • Recommendations for mapping approaches to attendees work.
  • Recommendations for field data collection protocols etc.

3:15 – 3:45     Coffee/Tea Break

3:45 – 4:30     GIS in the Community: applications for environmental health
John Balbus, M.D., M.P.H.
Senior Advisor for Public Health
Director, National Institute for Environmental Health Science-WHO                                            Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health Sciences
National Institutes of Health

4:30 — 6:00     Reception

June 8, 2016: Day 2

 8:30 – 10:30     Workshop: Mapping with your smartphone

  • Attendees are guiding through the process of building a field data collection form with Fulcrum.
  • Each participant spends 30 minutes outside collecting data
  • Map data collected online with CartoDB

NOTE: All applications for this training should be loaded by participants to
                                      their smartphones and/or tablets before coming to the workshop. Please refer                                         to instructions sent to you in advance via email

10:30 – 11:00     Break

11:00 – 12:00      Workshop: An Introduction to Mapping with QGIS

  •  Attendees work with local data to learn the QGIS interface.

12:00             Adjournment