Community Health Maps

Community Health Mapping: A New Year Review

To start the New Year I thought I’d begin with a review of Community Health Mapping (CHM). There are a lot of new project partners, and I thought it would be a good time to give a project overview. CHM is a collaborative effort between the National Library of MedicineCenter for Public Service Communications and Bird’s Eye View. The National Library of Medicine is funding the initiative.

The overall goal is to empower community organizations serving vulnerable or underserved populations with low cost, intuitive mapping technology. Therefore we’ve been working with programs organizations who:

We have identified a suite of tools that allow you to collect custom field data, analyze that data, combine it with other spatial datasets, and generate both static maps and/or dynamic maps on the internet. This allows organizations to collect and work with their own data, and if appropriate, share it with others. CHM involves three components that meet all basic mapping needs:

Community Health Mapping Workflow

A given project may not require all three, however, collectively these components address the basic needs of all mapping projects.

Field Data Collection:

Rather than focusing on the use of expensive GPS receivers, we recommend the use of smart phones and tablets for these reasons:

SmartPhones and Tablets vs. Traditional GPS Receivers

Of course an important consideration is horizontal accuracy. You can read our blog post on that topic to see if mobile smart devices meet your project needs.

When collecting data you need to be able to develop your own custom data collection form. The top three mobile apps we have found are:

Desktop Analysis and Cartography:

After community field data collection, the next step typically involves bringing the data into a desktop GIS. This is the middle step in the workflow. Here the data can be viewed against basemaps such as Google or OpenStreetMap, and combined with other organizational data. This is also where analyses (proximity, density etc.) can be conducted. Presentation quality maps can also be generated in this step.

The software we found to be the best fit is QGIS. This is an open source desktop GIS software. It has many strengths:

Baltimore Diabetes Data in QGIS Desktop

Web Presentation

Often you may want to present an interactive map of your results. Interactive means the map reader can zoom in/out, pan the map and turn layers off and on. For this we recommend CartoDB.

You can sign up for a free account, which gives you 50Mb of storage space. Data can be collected with a smart phone or tablet and brought directly into CartoDB.  It is a very intuitive platform. You can literally drag and drop a spreadsheet onto the CartoDB page and have the data upload to your account.  It will accept the most common geospatial file formats including: spreadsheets and comma delimited text files with addresses or coordinates, KML/KMZ, GPX, and shapefiles.

CartoDB also has great documentation including:

Baltimore Diabetes Data in CartoDB

In Conclusion

This blog has a lot of resources including reviews of mapping technology and case studies. You might begin by clicking on some of the links in this entry. We are also working on a 6 lab CHM curriculum that interested parties will be able to use to hone their skills. Stay tuned for that!

We are always looking for new partners and continuously work to support current project partners. If you are interested, or have questions please don’t hesitate to contact John Scott (jscott at or Kurt Menke (kurt at Most importantly get out and do some mapping in 2016!