About This Blog

Welcome!  The goal of this blog is to provide information about low cost mapping tools that can be used by community organizations.  Perhaps you’ve seen the potential uses of mapping in public health, but are overwhelmed by the technology and/or simply too busy to pursue it.  We hope this blog will facilitate the use of GIS mapping for those that fall into this category.  We also hope to support those already engaged in mapping and enhance their community mapping initiatives, even if they may be using other tools.  The blog will be a mixture of mapping apps/software reviews, best practices, and the experiences of those who have successfully implemented a mapping workflow as part of their work. This is a collaborative effort between the National Library of Medicine, Center for Public Service Communications and Bird’s Eye View. Everything provided on this site is in the public domain and free of charge.  All training materials developed in 2013 are available here (


The goal of the project was to assess currently available tools for collecting and visualizing public health trends via maps and spatial data.  Focus was given to tools that allow a simple workflow from field data collection to storage, and display of mapped data.  The target audience was community organizations engaged in information collection about the health of their communities for which mapping tools would be helpful.  It was with the understanding that these groups often operate without the resources to have an Esri ArcGIS license, and a full time GIS specialist on staff. Rather than focusing on the use of expensive GPS receivers, we envision the use of smart phones and tablets for these reasons:—

  • —  Most community-based organizations already have them!
  • —  Many know how to use them
  • —  They’re intuitive
  • —  They’re portable
  • —  They come with an on board GPS receiver (iPhone 5 uses GPS + GLONASS)
  • —  Have on board cameras
  • —  Can connect to wireless networks
  • —  Access to the internet
  • —  Email is available
  • —  “There’s an app for that!”
SmartPhones and Tablets vs. GPS Receivers

SmartPhones and Tablets vs. GPS Receivers

The 2012 software review included: a) apps for Apple iPad/iPhones and Android devices, b) websites serving out useful public domain health related data, c) open source desktop tools for analyzing data and integrating field data with existing organizational data, and d) cloud solutions allowing user data to be uploaded and mapped. BEV wrote a final report with a final recommendation for a complete workflow from field data collection through web presentation.

Pilot Projects

During the spring and summer of 2013 the tools selected from the assessment were introduced successfully in three test locales: 1) Urban Indian Health Institute, Seattle, Washington, 2) Papa Ola Lokahi / The Native Hawaiian and the Indigenous Health Office of Public Health Studies, University of Hawai’i Manoa, both in Honolulu, Hawai’i, and 3) The Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i, also located in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Each site developed project ideas during the winter of 2012/13. BEV developed custom training materials for each site, since each was assigned a different mobile data collection app. This allowed us to receive feedback on the three leading mobile data collection apps recommended in our 2012 review. Training sessions followed at each site in April 2013. The training focused on introducing participants to the entire workflow recommended for their project, from field data collection through data sharing and visualization. Follow up support was the provided throughout the summer and fall of 2013. All three organizations had good experiences with their projects. One study looked at noise pollution. As such an iPhone app was used to collect decibel readings at sites along with photos, and GPS coordinates. Another project working towards a resource guide of native health care facilities. The third evaluated the use of tablets in collecting native medicinal plant data. Each will be highlighted in this blog in the coming months. Stay tuned! The blog will be updated regularly so check back. Feel free to contact me with questions and feel free to comment on posts. I hope to generate some good conversation along the way.

3 thoughts on “Introduction

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