Category Archives: Data Collection

UMD Students Learn How to Map Health Issues

By Angela Kim & Colette Hochstein

On October 4, 2018, National Library of Medicine® (NLM) Research Assistant Julian Argoti and University of Maryland (UMD), School of Public Health intern Angela Kim spoke to the “Professional Preparation in Community Health” class at the University of Maryland, School of Public Health, College Park. The 75-minute class was attended by approximately 45 undergraduate students in the UMD Behavioral and Community Health (BCH) program. The presenters introduced NLM’s Community Health Maps (CHM) blog and facilitated a hands-on activity.

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UMD Fall 2018 “Professional Preparation in Community Health” Class

The presentation covered a basic introduction to the tools and workflow in CHM. The students were asked to use Fulcrum, a low-cost tool, to build a custom data collection form for the first step of the CHM workflow – data collection. They discovered first-hand how intuitive the tool is. After creating their own custom data collection form on the topic of their choice, the students left the classroom to collect data points around the School of Public Health building.

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Students testing functionality of water fountain.

On their return, the students explored maps of their data points on Fulcrum. Many noted that the process of collecting data points was easy and fun. UMD Professor James Butler mentioned that although drinking a good amount of water is emphasized at the School of Public Health, he had not previously noticed that there is no water fountain near the faculty lounge. His comment underscored that issues are often not observed until actively examined, as during the mapping process.

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Students collecting data points on water fountain locations

The class ended with Professor Butler concluding the class by reiterating how CHM can serve as a useful tool for visualizing many of the different health issues discussed in class.

The students were alerted to the free new online Community Health Maps online tutorial, a self-paced course from the NLM designed to help users gain the skills needed to use Community Health Maps.

QField – A QGIS Related App for Data Collection

QField is an application for collecting field data via an Android device. It was started 4-5 years ago by the Swiss company OPENGIS.ch LLC which also employs several core QGIS developers. QField has reached the point where it rivals most data collection apps. The only reason we have not been using it for Community Health Mapping workshops is that it is not available for iOS. This is simply because the open source license used by QField does not allow it to be wrapped into a proprietary software license like the one Apple employs for it’s store.  If however, you are a Community Health Mapper who uses Android it is a fantastic choice.

NOTE: It is possible to set up an app which is compatible with iOS but does not participate in the App Store. This solves the licensing issue. Setting up an app this way necessitates becoming part of the iOS Enterprise Program which costs money.  QField developers would like to make this happen, and it will likely involve iOS users donating to QField.

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QField Logo

Although QField is rooted in QGIS code it is not a miniature version of QGIS. Rather it is a streamlined data collection app. As they say, “the buttons are few and they are large,” so you can work with it out in the field. QField lets you create a map in QGIS and upload that map to your mobile device. From there you can collect data.

The workflow for QField looks like this. You begin by making a QGIS project on  your computer. Importantly this project will contain the point, line or polygon layer(s) you want to populate in the field. (NOTE that Fulcrum only allows the collection of points!) This means you think of your survey form and data to be collected in the office, and create fields in your GIS layer(s) for each question you want to answer. With a little bit of QGIS editing familiarity this isn’t any more difficult or time consuming than creating a form in Fulcrum.  You then upload the folder containing the QGIS project and data to your mobile device. The GeoPackage data format, which is the default for QGIS 3.x, works great with QField. There is even a QGIS Plugin named QFieldSync that facilitates migrating your project to your device. Once the data has been copied to your mobile device you can open your QGIS map file using QField.

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Screenshots showing (left to right) selecting Mode, setting the Mode to Digitize and choosing the active layer. Images from http://johnhickok.com/

QField uses the same rendering engine as QGIS so the map will look identical to how it did in the office.  Once the map is open you can select from one of two modes: Browse or Digitize. When collecting data you would choose Digitize. Then select the layer you want to work with.

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Screenshots (left to right) showing the map in QField, clicking the edit button, populating the attributes and the resulting point. Images from http://johnhickok.com/

For public health officials with security concerns QField is a great fit because there is no third party cloud platform involved. The data is not being streamed across the internet. All the data is stored locally on your mobile device. You can simply use the My Files app on your device to navigate to your GeoPackage file and email it to yourself. If it is too large you can connect your device to you computer to download it or use a data sharing app such as DropBox or Google Drive.

Since this is an open source project you can request new features and report any bugs you encounter by contacting the developers! Since QField doesn’t cost anything to download and use, you can also consider donating to the project to help it continue. Even small donations are helpful to projects like this. Doing this makes QField better for everyone. I encourage you to try it out.

Editing Points in Fulcrum

I am often asked if and how points can be edited in Fulcrum. Yes, you can edit points in Fulcrum! This short post will show you how. Fulcrum is not only a way to collect community data, it’s also a platform for showing that data on a map and a database you can edit. For this example, I will use the App I designed for the recent ASTHO workshop in Hawaii. We collected points around the conference facility at the Ala Moana Hotel. If a point isn’t located correctly I can go in and edit the location in Fulcrum.

To demonstrate this I have opened my ASTHO app. To see the data I will click on the records icon to open the data in map view. From here I simply click on a point I want to edit. The data form for that point opens. To put the data into Edit mode I click the pencil icon2018-08-16_120747. To change the location I click the Edit Location button. Then I click on the map at the location where the point should be moved. To save my edits I click the green Accept edits button 2018-08-16_120800.

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I can also edit the attributes of a point. It is a similar process. First I click on the point I need to edit. Then I click the pencil icon. I scroll down to find the attribute I need to edit and make the change. Once done click the green check mark button to accept the changes.

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I can also add new points from this interface in Fulcrum. To do this I simply click the green Add point button 2018-08-16_121106 and populate the attributes. If I have elements where were set to required in my App, I will have to populate them here, just as I did with my mobile device in the field.

So if you have collected some data and realize it needs some correction you can do that directly in Fulcrum prior to downloading it. Also note that the data can also be edited in QGIS and Carto. I’ll cover those procedures in future posts.

Happy mapping!

A Pair of Community Health Maps Workshops at the ASTHO Climate and Health Summit

During the last week of May the Community Health Maps team (Janice Kelly, John Scott and Kurt Menke) traveled to Honolulu to participate in the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) Insular Area Climate and Health Summit. There were representatives from:

  • American Samoa
  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • Guam
  • Palau
  • Puerto Rico
  • Marshall Islands
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Hawaii Department of Health
  • Pacific Island Health Officers Association (PIHOA)
  • ASTHO
  • CDC
  • NOAA
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Insular Climate & Health Summit Group Photo

The first afternoon was focused on the impacts of climate change, preparedness and building resilience. There were great presentations on climate change (Capt. Barry Choy – NOAA), an overview of the tools and programs available from the CDC (Paul Schramm), and issues with vector-borne diseases and mosquitoes (Janet McAllister).  The ASTHO grantees then gave some some sobering presentations on current issues people are dealing with in the Mariana Islands, Micronesia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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The opening session

The second day focused more on tools and resources. There were more detailed talks given by the CDC on Technical Assistance for Vector Control and Tools and Resources for Climate and Water Safety. That afternoon we taught a 3.5 hour Community Health Maps Train-the-Trainers workshop to a group of health officials from each territory.  We went through the entire CHM workflow: A) how to design a data collection form, B) how to collect data, C) how to make a map in Carto and D) how to bring the data into QGIS.

The last morning we taught a second Community Health Maps workshop open to everyone. We had about 30 attendees and again went through the entire CHM workflow.

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John Scott addresses the attendees on the final morning

Most of the trainees had little to no GIS training yet instantly knew how mapping could apply to their work and lives. They want to map everything related to hurricane relief, salt water resistant taro farms, infrastructure related to mosquito outbreaks etc. A benefit of having the community do this is that they can be in charge of their own data and it helps build community relationships.

Over the three days I heard a lot of side discussions about the usefulness of the free/low cost/open source CHM approach. The cost of proprietary solutions is often a significant barrier to entry into the world of community data collection and mapping. We were gratified to hear some very positive feedback on the workshops and CHM overall during the closing session. There seems to be a lot of potential in CHM helping both U.S. Territories and ASTHO deal with the immediate and long-term health issues related to climate.

Exploring Accessibility and Sustainability at the University of Maryland School of Public Health

By: Jessica Throwe, Sofia Marmolejos, and Colette Hochstein

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) periodically hosts classes to introduce aspiring
public health professionals to the benefits of using low-cost GIS mapping tools in
community health research. Recently, NLM interns Jessica Throwe and Sofia
Marmolejos, along with NLM Research Assistant Julian Argoti, presented Community
Health Maps (CHM) to University of Maryland School of Public Health undergraduate
and graduate students.

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The first presentation was held during a seventy-five minute “Principles of Community
Health” class of twenty-five undergraduates. A second was provided to a close-knit
class of ten graduate students studying community health and health literacy.
After an introduction to Community Health Maps and to the history and ideology of
GIS/mapping in health research, students used Fulcrum, a mobile data-collection
utility, to create customized forms for collecting data on their mobile phones. They
were then given thirty minutes to explore the classroom building and collect data on the
health topic of their choice. The data collected included the geographic location,
functionality, and visual appearance of the points of interest.

The larger undergraduate class chose a wide variety of subjects, ranging from nearby
bus stops and curb ramps to building water fountains and bathroom stall colors. The
smaller graduate class focused on the school building’s resources, including hand
sanitizer dispensers, bike racks, compost bins, wheel chair accessibility, and food
offerings. After the data collection and review process, problems with the building’s
resources became more apparent, which sparked ideas regarding potential
improvements.

One group noticed that although the school has a new sustainability initiative, of the
twenty locations in the building with trash and recycling bins, only three included a
compost bin. Another group found that the hand sanitizer dispensers functioned
everywhere except right outside the gym, a site where this product is in high demand. A
third group discovered the school has a limited number of locations to purchase snacks,
and that each of these contains just one vending machine which does not offer healthy
food options.

This introduction and exposure to Community Health Maps allowed University of
Maryland undergraduate students to explore the concept of mapping and to make
connections with community health research. UMD graduate students actively applied
the CHM processes to discovering geospatial inconsistencies in their built environment
and to brainstorming areas for potential improvements within the building.
NLM looks forward to learning how students of varied educational levels will apply
Community Health Maps to future educational and professional experiences.

Fulcrum Community

Last year Fulcrum rolled out a new service named Community. They describe it as a, “no cost, short term crowdsourced data collection solution for qualified humanitarian projects.” 

It works like Fulcrum, but you need to apply for a license. The application form is short and is right on the Community home page. In the application you need to describe your purpose and how long you will be collecting data. You also need to provide a project description. If approved you can invite any number of data collectors via email to share  your App (data collection form).  It is generally aimed at humanitarian agencies, non-profits, or government agencies. They restrict commercial use of this service.

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We used this last fall during King Tide data collection in Miami and it was a big success. In fact there are four main categories highlighted on the Fulcrum Community page: Hurricane, Tornado, Flood and Fire. If you click on Flood, the King Tide project is the first in the list. Clicking on it brings up a map with the data collected.

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One caveat is that the data collected falls into the public domain and can be downloaded freely by anyone. This is possible because the data are anonymized, meaning any private information is scrubbed. The data remain available for viewing and download after the event ends.

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It won’t be appropriate unless there is some sort of disaster relief or environmental issue that demands it, but it is another tool to keep in your Community Health Maps toolkit!

Students teach students during University of Maryland CHM presentation

On September 28, 2017, Community Health Maps (CHM) was presented to the  Community Health class at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park. The session was provided by Julian Argoti, research assistant at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), and three University of Maryland Public Health interns completing their capstone project at the NLM. The primary goal was to expose the students to the resource and to help them explore how it might be used in their research.

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National Library of Medicine CHM interns (left – right): Gessica Fleurival, Deborah Bitire and Sofia Epshtein

The presentation took place within a 95-minute class period with 53 students.  The presenters introduced the CHM blog and briefly touched on using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)/spatial analysis to address a public health concerns, as English physician John Snow did in 1854 by mapping the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, London, and  as a former NLM intern did by mapping local curb ramps to help those with mobility issues cross streets safely.

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Julian Argoti, NLM research assistant, and NLM interns Gessica Fleurival, Deborah Bitire and Sofia Epshtein, discuss CHM with their peers during a University of Maryland class

The students then completed a hands-on data collection exercise. They were introduced to Fulcrum, a low cost tool that allows users to build custom data collection forms for use on iOS or Android devices. Next, they left the classroom to collect data in real time, from the locations of trashcans and water fountains inside buildings to the positions of benches and signs outside them.

The session ended with the students exploring a series of exercises designed to help them through the entire CHM workflow, from field data collection to online data presentation.  A post-class survey indicated that most participants felt they could use CHM in upcoming assignments.