November 13, 2017

Ever More Mapping Tools

Jamie Harding

Jamie Harding

GIS Specialist

Center for a Livable Future

Esri conference 2017

Maps are powerful tools for displaying and sharing data. Increasingly, they are also being used to collect information.

I had the opportunity to attend the Esri User Conference in San Diego in July. With approximately 18,000 GIS professionals from over 130 countries attending, the conference was enormous. There were moderated paper sessions, technical workshops, demo theaters, a hands-on learning center, a gigantic map gallery and an even larger showcase and expo center. I returned to Baltimore reenergized about the mapping we do at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and excited to bring back new ideas for enhancing our work.

One of the highlights for me was learning about different options for community engagement. For years, CLF has had an interest in getting public input on specific topics. It seems we now have a selection of mapping tools to choose from.




GeoForm is the perfect tool for a quick crowdsourcing project. Participants fill out a simple form online and note the location associated with the information being collected. That information is then added to a database. GeoForm could be used for a number of different food-related projects, from crowdsourcing the price of staple food items across a city to getting public input on relief efforts during an emergency.



Survey123 for ArcGIS

Survey123 is similar to GeoForm in that it uses a form to collect information and point locations. Suvrey123, however, offers a higher level of sophistication when developing forms, including presenting forms in different languages.

Collector for ArcGIS

Collector is an application that can be added to a smartphone or tablet and used to collect data in the field. Collector is a mapcentric application, which means that it uses maps instead of forms to collect data.


CLF has already used Collector for two separate projects. CLF created a Collector application for its research on foraging in Baltimore. Study participants placed points on a map where they had foraged for food, listed the types of food they had harvested, and reported known risks associated with the site. CLF created another Collector application for the Global Obesity Prevention Center project B’more Healthy Communities for Kids (BHCK). This application displayed locations for food outlets in Baltimore City, including supermarkets, convenience stores, corner stores and carryout restaurants. Researchers for BHCK were able to field verify whether the outlets were open or closed, edit the name and location of the outlet, and take a photo and attach it to a point on the map. They then used the application to work with study participants to identify the outlets where they did their shopping.


Story map

Story Maps and Crowdsourcing

Over the past few years Esri has made an effort to help people tell stories with their maps. They have even developed a suite of applications called “story maps” to make it easier for people to bring together maps, images and text to share their work in an engaging way. There are now a variety of story map templates. CLF recently launched its What does Maryland Food Policy Mean? story map using a combination of story map templates to share examples of food policy from across Maryland.

One of Esri’s newest templates is called the crowdsource story map. This type of story map allows the public to add their own content, attaching images and text to a point on a map. For an example of how this template can be used, visit the Green on Gray story map, which allows people to share information on urban agriculture in their community.

ArcGIS Hub

ArcGIS Hub

This year Esri unveiled a new product designed to help governments engage with citizens. Watching their presentation on ArcGIS Hub my first thought was that it could be a great platform for people in Baltimore City to engage with the food environment work CLF and the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative (BFPI) have collaborated on over the past six years. BFPI already engages with communities in Baltimore through the Food Policy Action Coalition and the Resident Food Equity Advisors initiative and maintains a website featuring our food environment maps and reports and their food desert retail strategy, but ArcGIS Hub could potentially provide a new home for communities in Baltimore to interact with our maps, reports and strategies in an entirely new way.

ArcGIS Online

All of these mapping tools require having an ArcGIS Online account. ArcGIS Online is Esri’s web-based mapping platform that allows people to explore data, create and share maps and mapping applications and collaborate across organizations.


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