Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!

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

Announcement: Extreme Heat & Health Webinar

There will be a webinar next week entitled: Extreme Heat and Health: Creating Environmental Intelligence Through Science, Predictions, and Engagement. The specific date and time are: April 28th, 2016 from 4 – 5:30pm EDT. This will likely be an interesting webinar for many Community Health Mappers! Click this link to learn more.

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Satellite imagery of urban Atlanta shows the differences in daytime heating, as caused by the urban heat island effect. Surface temperatures range from 50 (blue) to 120+ degrees (white) Fahrenheit. Credit: NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio