Tag Archives: Fulcrum

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.

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!

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.

CHM Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

There are some questions I am asked regularly when teaching CHM workshops. This blog post addresses those common questions, many of which deal with data security.

Can more than one person collect data at the same time with Fulcrum?

Yes it is possible add users to your Fulcrum Organization for team based data collection. You set this up from your Fulcrum Settings page. When adding users you can give them a Role as a Standard User, Manager or Owner. You can also grant member access to your individual data collection apps. At that point those users have the access you granted them via their Role in your organization.

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Is there an organizational account for Fulcrum?

Not really. An organization can have a single account, but that account needs to be associated with a single email address. So the user name and password would then need to be shared with anyone in the organization. This isn’t the way Fulcrum is set up to work and they prefer users not do this. A better way is to create an account and add users to your organization.

The exception to this is Fulcrum Community This is a version of Fulcrum for use in humanitarian relief and disaster situations. You need to apply for a Community license. If granted you can invite any number of data collectors via their email address and they don’t have to have accounts. The Community license is free and lasts one year. We used this in Miami last fall and the project is features on the Community flood page  (Post-Irma Environment Reporting)!

When does Fulcrum record the point?

The point is taken when you click “Save”. You may have backed up to take a photo. However, when you are ready to save the record, you should have your device as close to the object you want to map as possible.

Why do I end up with two datasets from Fulcrum?

Photos you take with your mobile device are geotagged. When you download your data from your Fulcrum account you may end up with two datasets. One is based on your data collection app. The other is based on the coordinates embedded in the photos you took. For example, if you backed up to take a photo of a bench and then saved your point standing over the bench, you will be able to see both where the photo was taken and where the bench is located.

How accurate are the points collected with my mobile device?

There are a number of things that can affect data accuracy such as the quality of the GPS receiver, current satellite configuration, limited sky view, proximity to large buildings, tree cover etc. There is a two part blog post about this you can read here.

One thing to keep in mind is that when you are using Fulcrum to collect field data, the point is taken when you click “Save”. You may have backed up to take a photo. However, when you are ready to save the record you should have your device as close to the object you are mapping as possible. It is also possible to edit and correct point locations after the fact via Fulcrum, Carto or QGIS.

Is my data secure on QGIS?

QGIS is simply a piece of desktop software, not a platform for data storage. With QGIS you can map and analyze your spatial data. Data security has more to do with the security of your computer network and your system for backing data up. QGIS has no more bearing on data security than any other piece of desktop software such as ArcGIS or Microsoft Excel.

Does Fulcrum have HIPAA compliant security?

No. Fulcrum does employ 256-bit SSL connections to keep data safe as it travels to and from your cloud account. As they say, this is the same level of security provided by online banking and e-commerce sites. However, The HIPAA Security Rule requires implementation of three types of safeguards: 1) administrative, 2) physical and 3) technical. So Fulcrum is not HIPAA compliant. However, if they hear from enough users that this is a crucial feature they will likely work on it!

What is open source?

It is both a software license and a way to create software. There are two main types of software licenses: proprietary and open source. Proprietary licenses tend to restrict your usage of the software in some way:

  • number of computers you can install the software on
  • the number of features available
  • the time period you can use the software (e.g., a year)

On the other hand open sources licenses tend to grant users rights and freedoms around using the software. For example with QGIS, the license grants you the freedom to install the software on any number of computers and access to all the features forever. The software also has no monetary cost, it’s free.

Open source is also a software development strategy. The developers work in an open and collaborative way. Many developers feel this is a more efficient way to create software. In an open source project all the source code is available. This last point may not be a hugely important consideration for many. However, access to the source code means that if you have the capability, you can study how the software works and improve it. Because of this feature open source software is not a “black box.” Additionally, even if you cannot program a new feature yourself, you can hire someone who can. Since you are not paying any licensing fees this is often a very viable option.


If you have any other questions about Community Health Maps email them to Kurt Menke and he will try to answer them and add them to this post!

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!

A Busy Summer with a QGIS Conference in Denmark and FOSS4G in Boston

This summer Kurt Menke first attended the 3rd Annual QGIS User Conference, Hackfest and Developer meeting in Denmark. From there he traveled to Boston to attend the Free and Open Source for Geospatial (FOSS4G) International Conference. 

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Trip Map Created in QGIS using Live Layer Effects

The QGIS conference was small and intimate and a lot of new information was shared by the developers about the future of QGIS.

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QGIS Conference

There was so much presented that this will be a separate future blog post. While there Kurt conducted a full day workshop on Data Visualization and Cartography in QGIS.

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Kurt Menke teaching about Data Visualization & Cartography in QGIS

He shared many of the new sophisticated and powerful data styling tools now found in QGIS including: 2.5D, 3D, Live Layer Effects, Inverted Polygon Shapeburst Fills, Blending Modes, and some plugins such as Time Manager. Perhaps this could be a workshop shared with CHM partners at a future date? Some examples are shown below:

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Use of Blending Modes to highlight road density

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Lower Manhattan displayed in 3D via the QGIS2ThreeJS plugin

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Cyclones Annually from 1950 – 2015 in QGIS with the Time Manager plugin

In Boston Kurt presented the Community Health Maps project. The talk was well attended and there was a lot of interest. Fulcrum was a sponsor of the conference, and Kurt was able to meet with several of the Fulcrum representatives. While there he learned about Fulcrum Community. This is a new initiative designed to help humanitarian agencies, non-profits, NGOs, or Government entities. To begin you need to request a Fulcrum Community account. One important caveat is that data collected via a Fulcrum Community account is anonymized, free, and open to all by default. It is essentially an initiative that will help in larger crowd sourcing efforts. More details will be forthcoming as Kurt explores this and how it may apply to Community Health Mappers.

This month (September), Community Health Maps will be travelling to the University of Connecticut (Community Medicine and Health Care) and to Miami to teach workshops. The workshop at the University of Connecticut will be to a large diverse audience. The Miami workshops will be focused on showing community members how to map damage and issues related to King Tides.

Stay tuned for blog posts on: 1) the future of QGIS, 2) Fulcrum Community, 3) experiences in Connecticut and 4) Miami.

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!