First sustainability atlas of its kind for Houston uses data visualization to map 24 social, economic and environmental indicators

Rice University Houston Sustainability Quality of Life Atlases

The Rice University’s Shell Center for Sustainability, Houston has developed a unique website to help Houstonians learn more about sustainability and community resources. Three years’ worth of data analysis was used to produce 24 social, economic and environmental indicators of sustainability at the Super Neighborhood, Council District and city levels. The website allows users to interact with data and make comparisons within Super Neighborhoods and within Council Districts. We spoke to Lester King, Sustainability Fellow at the Shell Center, author of the reports and creator of the website about software mapping.

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Roanoke Council of Community Services and a new online platform that brings life to community indicators through data presentation


The Roanoke Council of Community Services was set up in 1960 to aid the planning of community services in Roanoke Valley. Its vision is to establish a community where organizations are able to work collaboratively to increase social wealth, provide greater access to resources, reduce redundancy and focus on human potential as the drivers for economic development and individual well-being. The Council has three areas of activity. First it acts as the central hub for identifying community needs and developing solutions to address these needs. Second it serves as a central clearinghouse, or gateway, connecting individuals in the community to programmes that are best suited to address their needs and third the Council serves as a launching pad for developing new programmes to meet community needs.

We spoke to Dan Meranda, Vice President of Planning & Consultation at the Council about data visualization and how it is being used to provide community organizations with timely insight about the local community. Dan explains that the Council put a lot of effort into establishing which indicators could be used to develop a picture of trends over time.

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How Procalculo Prosis in Colombia is using data visualisation to help the Bogota Chambers of Commerce improve the business environment in the country’s capital city


Procalculo Prosis is one of Columbia’s leading geographic information solutions (GIS) providers. It was founded in 1968 and its main goal has been to help its clients make strategic decisions based on accurate insight. Its expertise in the use of data visualisation software ensures it can meet its clients’ geographic information needs.

One of Procalculo Prosis’ clients is the Bogota Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce was set up to improve quality of life and the business climate. It helps companies to start up and ensure that the employment opportunities created are sustainable by supporting business growth.

At the same time the Chamber promotes social responsibility and encourages better working relationships between local authorities, employers and citizens.

Getting started

The Chamber wanted to use GIS and data presentation to help it understand and respond to a number of issues. These included: urban land usage, monitoring the construction in infrastructure and high informal business and labour rates.

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Watch the latest InstantAtlas Essentials Video #20
‘How to create a button that links to a file or website’ by Andrea Kirk in InstantAtlas Support.

IA Tools Enhance JCCI’s Data Analysis Capacities

Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI) began using Instant Atlas to display its Quality of Life Progress Report community indicators in September of 2009. For the first 18 months, we used the Single Map Template to show approximately 125 indicators, many of them stretching back over 25 years, in a way that was revolutionary for our community.  People throughout our community, from policy-makers to grant writers to community advocates, appreciated the ease and clarity with which they could get the data they needed.  On our part, we appreciated the freedom from the constraints of the printed report, allowing us to update information as soon as it was released (often beating the local newspaper to the publication of new data.)

Beginning last month, we decided to see how our community would react to seeing some of the other tools Instant Atlas has to offer. When we used the Double Map Template and began playing with the scatterplot tools, we started to see interesting (and sometimes unexpected) correlations that we could verify over time. In fact, the use of this template helped provide a definitive answer if one of our indicators truly was still a significant and useful measure today. (It was, much more than anticipated.)

If the scatterplot tool, allowing comparisons between two indicators, revealed such interesting information, we wondered what the Bubble Plot Template might show? Once we began examining relationships among four indicators at the same time, we began to see targeted opportunities for additional research and policy direction. For example, when examining high school graduation rates, we found school districts that were overperforming in relation to the social and economic conditions within the district, and other districts that were underperforming – including districts with a reputation for excellence.  Suddenly, we were able to bring together useful information in a compelling visual display with the ability to reshape community conversations around priorities and policies – and the data is available for anyone in our community to check for themselves.

You can see how we’re using Instant Atlas at

Pinellas County ‘How a small team is helping stakeholders get a better understanding of the community and the impact of interventions through data visualization’

Pinellas County, on Florida’s West Coast, is a 280-square mile peninsula bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. The Health and Human Services Coordinating Council for Pinellas County works with funders and providers across the community to develop a human service system for citizens that provides seamless, high-quality care based on the best use of available resources.


The Council has developed a website ( that provides timely access to statistics and dynamic data visualization. The website is sponsored by Pinellas County and the Juvenile Welfare Board: The Children’s Service Council of Pinellas County.

Joe Baldwin is the Senior Researcher/Planner for the Council. We spoke to him to find out how the website is helping to meet the Council’s objectives and how it all started. Joe explains that the initial step was to bring stakeholders from health and human services agencies together to develop specifications. A guiding principle developed early on was that the system had to meet the needs of three groups: residents, elected officials and community leaders.


Getting started

Residents wanted a better understanding of the quality of life in Pinellas County and to discover whether agencies’ efforts were having an impact. Elected officials wanted information about their constituencies and to be able to make data-driven decisions. Community leaders wanted to be able to monitor indicators that were important to their individual organizations.

Joe was already familiar with InstantAtlas but found out about the server version at a Community Indicators Consortium conference in Washington. He realised that this version was more suitable for the Council’s needs. “We are by comparison to other community indicator initiatives a small team,” says Joe.

Making the project work

“There were some challenges when it came to getting the system up and running but the support staff at GeoWise were very supportive. Once the initial leg work and the indicators were set up the team realised the extent of the efficiency gain.”

“The Health and Human Services Coordinating Council for Pinellas County was created by an interlocal agreement between funders, and it supports the efforts of many health and human service agencies working together to effect positive change in the community. This means a data presentation tool like this has to be highly collaborative. We have a data committee that is working to develop shared responsibility for the quality of the data and avoiding duplication of effort,” says Joe.

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InstantAtlas Interview with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS)

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) promotes and protects the health of Arizona’s children and adults. Its mission is to set the standard for personal and community health through direct care, science, public policy, and leadership.

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) promotes and protects the health of Arizona’s children and adults. Its mission is to set the standard for personal and community health through direct care, science, public policy, and leadership.

The Department operates programs in behavioral health, disease prevention and control, health promotion, community public health, environmental health, maternal and child health, emergency preparedness and regulation of childcare and assisted living centers, nursing homes, hospitals, other health care providers and emergency services.

When it comes to collecting and disseminating information, population density plays a large part in how the Department is able to highlight significant trends in the program areas and fulfil its role in terms of community profiling. For instance, 60 per cent of the population lives in one county which means that other counties are sparsely populated – presenting a significant challenge for any organisation that wants to show detailed analysis at anything below county level.

This issue was of concern when it came to monitoring cancer rates. Until recently, the state-collected cancer data was not complete enough to look at rates on a relatively small geographic scale, limiting analysis to the county level only.

We spoke to Wesley Korteum, GIS Coordinator at Arizona Department of Health Services to find out more about how the Department now presents its data. He says that the graphical depiction of information about communities is an important element of their work and they have managed to overcome the challenge by creating their own Community Health Analysis Area (CHAA). There are 126 CHAAs in Arizona. Each is a geographic unit developed to present data (initially rates of cancer) at a geographic scale smaller than the county level.

A CHAA is built from US 2000 Census Block Groups. These Block Groups are relatively small geographic regions of the state. A typical CHAA contains approximately 21,500 residents. But, because of the scattered pattern of development in Arizona they range widely in population, from 5,000 to 190,000 persons.

Getting started

“We have a team that has lived here most of their lives and recognised appropriate ways to aggregate Block Groups to create CHAAs that align with political and social boundaries. Each CHAA is made of different Block Groups and we try to keep areas as demographically similar as possible,” says Wesley.

The first project was to present the cancer data. The team felt that by having this data presented in a visually meaningful way it would put an end to the ad hoc requests for custom analysis they were getting. They began the search for a dynamic data presentation tool with outputs that could be shared with non-GIS professionals such as researchers and the public. Having decided to use InstantAtlas cancer data was geo-coded and the dynamic reports created. Wesley believes that presenting the data in this way has made it more meaningful and it has changed the nature of the team’s work.

Learn how to present public health data on interactive maps with InstantAtlas

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Other Public Health Stories that may interest you.

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
‘Using data presentation tools to highlight results of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey’

The Institute for Health Policy, School of Public Health, University of Texas
‘Making data available to the community through easy-to-use data presentation tools’

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Community Resources Council, Topeka – Kansas

The Community Resources Council, Topeka is a non-profit community agency founded in 1925. It plays an active part in the growth of Topeka/Shawnee County. From publishing the Community Resources Directory, to working with coalitions to better the quality of life, to publishing & updating the Shawnee County Progress Report, CRC strives to bring government, social services, and businesses together. CRC’s mission is to connect the resources in the community through research, information, advocacy, and collaboration.

Information is therefore at the core of CRC’s activities and in 2009 according to CRC’s executive director Nancy Johnson, there was a growing need to keep up with developments in data presentation. Having seen how Jacksonville Community Council was using data presentation to make its community indicators available in an easy-to-digest format, she decided to try the same approach.

Getting started

Nancy made contact with InstantAtlas and her initial concerns about cost were laid to rest. She became convinced that it was the right data presentation tool for CRC. The board agreed and decided to buy InstantAtlas. Making the entire 2009 CRC Progress Report available online as an interactive report was the first project.

The purpose of The Progress Report is to provide useful information to gauge quality of life in Shawnee County. It provides information to businesses, governments and other organizations to assess the condition of the community. This information is intended to be used by anyone wanting to plan for the future.

The challenge for Nancy was that, as a relatively small organisation with just four members of staff, a great deal of work would be involved. It took longer than anticipated to set up the templates but now they have been created, loading additional data has become very straightforward. Nancy says that feedback from the team at the CRC has certainly been positive.

Read the full story here >>

Other stories that may interest you

Jacksonville Community Council Inc.

“InstantAtlas maps help our community users see where resources need to be targeted to help reduce inequalities”.
Interview with Ben Warner, Deputy Director – JCCI

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or Listen to Ben Warner’s Webinar with InstantAtlas – click here (streaming video)

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