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CHM Lab Exercises Updated!

One of the most valuable resources for Community Health Mappers remains the series of lab exercises created two years ago. Our workshops, while effective, are short and only scratch the surface of what you can do with mapping tools. They are basically a quick start guide to Community Health Mapping. The labs however, can be used as a resource to help you build your skills once you’ve taken the first steps towards mapping your community.

The technology changes rapidly. QGIS produces a new stable version every 4 months. Annually QGIS also produces a long-term release. Carto and Fulcrum also update their tools on a regular basis. This mean the lab exercises need to be updated to keep pace.

The good news is that this spring the labs were all updated and expanded. There is some foundational knowledge needed to really take the next step after a workshop. The current revised set of labs includes Lab 0: A Community Health Map Introduction and Reference. This lab has background on the Community Health Maps project and the workflow. It also contains a Glossary of GIS terms, and several appendices covering: A) available software, B) data sources and C) everything you need to know to better understand coordinate systems and projection.

The remaining labs are as follows:

Lab 1 covers field data collection and has been updated to work with Fulcrum. This has allowed us to unify the exercise into one document for both iOS and Android users.

Lab 2 shows you how to bring your field data into QGIS. This includes a tour of the QGIS interface, and how to map coordinate data stored in a spreadsheet.

Lab 3 is named Combining Field Data with other Organizational Data. It shows you how to work with coordinate systems in QGIS. It also covers how to join tabular data to the attribute table of a GIS layer. This is a step that often has to be done to merge socioeconomic data from the U.S. Census to census geography such as tracts or block groups. It concludes with a lesson on address geocoding. This is the process you use to produce points from addresses.

Lab 4 shows you how to do some basic spatial analysis. You learn how to clip data to your study area, measure proximity, query your data to select features and calculate areas/ density.

In Lab 5 you learn how to use some of the great data visualization techniques found in only in QGIS. The lab then walks you through how to compose a map. Along the way you learn some data styling tricks and how to use the Print Composer.

The series concludes with Lab 6 Data Visualization with Carto. Carto underwent a major update and rebranding since the first edition of these labs were created. You can use this exercise to see how to work with the new Carto Builder interface and tools to create an online map of your results. It covers uploading your data, styling and sharing your map with others.

The four labs that deal with QGIS have been updated to include some exciting new features that have been added to QGIS in the last year. Links to the lab data are included. So head to the Resources page and build your Community Health Mapping skills!

Community Health Maps Presenting at FOSS4G

This years international conference on Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) is in Boston from August 14-19th.

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Community Health Maps (CHM) will be presenting a talk covering the CHM program along with some case studies. Come and join us! It is a fantastic venue for people of all skill levels. There are usually around 1,000 in attendance. There are keynote speakers, paper sessions, and workshops. Many are suited for beginners while some are targeted at “power” users. Not only can catch up with the latest CHM news, you can also learn a lot about Fulcrum, QGIS, Carto and other useful mapping tools, and what people are doing with them.  In fact there is a co-located event hosted by Fulcrum called Fulcrum Live. This is an all day event (Tuesday August 15th) and is free for conference attendees. It will be a great learning opportunity.

We hope to see you there. If you have any news on your mapping projects, please share it with Kurt or John. Perhaps we can include some slides highlighting your work at the conference!

 

 

An Interview with John Scott

Interviewer: Kurt Menke, GISP

What is your background?

My professional experience has been in two areas: disaster risk reduction and reducing health disparities. In 1990 I formed the Center for Public Service Communications. Since

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John Scott – President – Center for Public Service Communications (CPSC)

then I have provided guidance and expertise to individuals, communities and public sector organizations. I help them apply telecommunications and information technologies to reduce health disparities, improve health services to underserved
and disenfranchised individuals and communities and to improve the collection and sharing of scientific, technical and community knowledge. The end goal is to reduce human vulnerability to natural hazards. I’ve been a consultant and advisor to the National Library of Medicine for more than 20 years.

Through the years, I’ve realized that my skills seem best suited to working with change agents. These are individuals and organizations whose missions focus on enhancing capacities and improving access to technologies that enable positive change at the community level. I guess the tag line says it best, the mission of CPSC is: “Empowering competent enthusiastic people to do good things.” That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

You’re the original architect of CHM, what was your inspiration?

 Well, Kurt, I would say that we, together, have been architects of CHM, with a long-term commitment and guidance from the National Library of Medicine. As you will remember, it was back in 2003 that we met. I had organized a meeting of the National Congress of American Indians President’s Task Force on Health Information and Technology in Honolulu, Hawai’i, hosted by the Native Hawaiian health organization Papa Ola Lokahi.

At that meeting, you gave a presentation on work you were doing with the National Indian Council on Aging. At that moment, it was obvious to me that mapping would be a great tool for underserved community-oriented environmental health advocacy groups and public health agencies. It could help them engage with community residents and empower them to collect, maintain and visualize their own data, rather than relying solely on national or state agencies, or majority-institution partners to provide data to them. It took us a while to settle on our current course but the ride was interesting and the result was, I think, worth waiting for.

Why do you think CHM has been so successful?

While access to quality health information is frequently a focus of attention in efforts to reduce health disparities in underserved communities, the ability to visualize spatial data and information has received less attention. This is in part because the historic scarcity of affordable and intuitive data collection and mapping applications. Additionally, the cost to train users, and sustain operations, has been prohibitive for communities and community-oriented organizations whose health budgets are already strained. I think we’ve found a model, with the Community Health Maps workflow, that addresses these historical challenges.

Without equal access to GIS tools, communities might have access to completed maps, but they cannot actively participate in, much less create and be responsible for their own initiatives. I think CHM has been successful because the approach we have envisioned enables that access, and CHM users thus far have appreciated the freedom they have, to explore ideas and to create hypotheses that they have not had access to until now.

What sets CHM apart from other public health mapping initiatives?

I think what sets CHM apart from other public health mapping initiatives is that our approach involves using relatively low cost tablets and smartphones – technology that has become ubiquitous and with which users are comfortable — combined with a selection of low/no-cost applications for data collection and visualization. With these tools, data can then be analyzed and presented without purchasing expensive software licenses. These tools allow expert and novice users, with little budget resource, to implement mapping workflows. Introducing such workflows to community-oriented public health professionals empowers users to collect, analyze, display and share their own spatial data. Importantly, many of these tools can also be used to share data collected using other programs, such as ESRI’s ArcGIS and national/state- derived databases such as CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and Public Use Data files from National Center for Health Statistics.

Where would you like to see the project go from here?

What we have developed is essentially available at no or very little monetary cost. I don’t want to underestimate or undervalue the labor and intellectual time that is required to learn how to use the tools. But we believe that organizations and individuals who work to improve the quality of life in underserved communities will see the benefit of using the CHM resource as a worthwhile commitment of time.

The National Library of Medicine has been a great partner and continues to plan an integral part in planning the course for CHM. Through NLM’s outreach efforts we have several successful pilot projects that readers of this blog will be familiar with. Through these continued efforts of sharing the tools through NLMs network of libraries I hope the use of CHM will grow. My hope is also that more academic health schools will introduce the CHM into their teaching and research programs as have the University of Washington and the Medical University of South Carolina, two of our partners. I’d also call to the attention of your readers the labs that you have developed and are available on this blog. My hope is that they will encourage prospective CHM users to try the workflow at their own pace.

CHM Conducts Three Workshops in Maryland

Last week Kurt Menke traveled to Maryland. Two workshops were held at the Prince Georges County Department of Social Services for people working on homeless issues. All attendees were novices to mapping technology. However, in the first hour they all built a data collection form in Fulcrum and went outside to collect some data around the building.

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Prince Georges County Community Health Mappers

The attendees represented a variety of organizations including many working with YouthREACH Maryland. REACH is an acronym standing for Reach out, Engage, Assist, & Count to end Homelessness. It is an effort to obtain accurate, detailed information on the number, characteristics, and needs of unaccompanied homeless youth in Maryland. Other organizations represented at these workshops included:

  • Maryland’s Commitment to Veterans
  • Maryland Department of Planning
  • Prince Georges Community College
  • St Ann’s Center for Children, Youth, and Familes
  • Maryland Multicultural Youth Center
  • So Others Can Keep Striving (S.O.C.K.S)
  • Sasha Bruce Youthwork
  • Lifestyles of Maryland.

In the final two hours of the workshops attendees learned how to map the data they collected in both Carto and QGIS. We also had time for a brief discussion about how CHM could be used in their projects. There were a lot of ideas shared about how the technology could help community engagement.

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The afternoon workshop attendees feeling accomplished after completing their Carto maps!

After the two PG County workshops, CHM traveled across the Chesapeake Bay bridge to Salisbury University on the eastern shore.

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The following morning we held a workshop geared towards social work students at Salisbury University. Attendees went through the CHM workflow and were introduced to Fulcrum, Carto and QGIS. Below is a map of data collected around the student center in Carto.

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Salisbury University Data Collection in Carto

The workshop concluded with a short introduction to working with data in QGIS.

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Salisbury University Data Collection in QGIS

The next scheduled workshop for the Community Health Maps team will be at the Teaching Prevention 2017 Conference in Savannah, Georgia. That conference takes place from April 5-7th. If you are interested in learning this technology this workshop will be a great opportunity!

New Year Will Bring Updated Labs Including Lab Zero!

It has been 2 years since the Community Health Maps (CHM) lab exercises were first produced. Software changes quickly, and over the last two years the tools involved in the CHM workflow have undergone many changes. For example, this fall the pricing scheme for iForm changed. Though it is still a good product, this price increase puts it out of the category of low cost software. The companion site formhub.org no longer exists, making ODK Collect more difficult to work with. Fortunately Fulcrum is a fantastic alternative to those two data collection apps. QGIS has released 5 new versions and is now at version 2.18! CartoDb has been rebranded as Carto and has a new interface.

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The QGIS 2.18 Splash Banner

All these changes means it is time for all the lab exercises to be updated. Lab 1 will now be a single lab for both iOS and Android users with Fulcrum. Labs 2-5 will be updated to QGIS 2.18. Lab 6 will be updated to Carto’s new interface. The set of companion videos will also be redone and updated.

Many have worked through these labs and some provided feedback. This information is being used to improve the labs as they are updated. One new item will be Lab Zero. While the CHM workflow is intuitive, it has been suggested that more background information could be useful. Lab Zero will be a companion reference document to the CHM labs. It will contain: A) information on the background of the CHM project, B) software installation instructions , C) a glossary of terms, D) more thorough descriptions of some technical topics like coordinate reference systems, E) a description of how to interact with the QGIS community to get additional help, and F) a list of data resources. This work is in progress and will be ready this spring. Stay tuned!

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An image from the last task in Lab 4 showing the density of diabetics in Baltimore City along with dialysis clinics

 

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!

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.

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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!