Environmental Information for EveryonePosted on by
Our coworkers at CDC’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Program (Tracking Program) come from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. They include epidemiologists, statisticians, database developers, contract specialists, health communicators, and more. If you look closer at the people within those specialties, you will find an even wider array of skills. We have medical doctors, a veterinarian, educators, graphic designers, and former military personnel, among others. Every day, each member brings unique talents, personalities, and backgrounds to produce, maintain, and expand the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network (Tracking Network).
Because of the staff’s diversity, the “one size fits all” mentality clearly doesn’t apply to the Tracking Program. When the Tracking Network launched in 2009, only one way really existed to look at the important environmental and health data within the Network. While the Network was groundbreaking at the time as the first surveillance system to provide environmental data and public health data together in one place, we knew we could improve it, especially the way we communicated data and information to our different user groups. Communicating data effectively to groups as varied as environmental professionals, policy makers, teachers, and concerned parents is challenging. Choosing to be everything to everyone creates many bumps in the road and often fails at being perfect for anyone. We address this challenge by offering a wide array of resources to meet the needs of different groups.
For example, we use the term particulate matter (PM), and more specifically PM10 and PM2.5 when we present data and information about outdoor air quality. Some Tracking Network user groups have no problem with these terms, but some groups are less familiar with them. In a commonly adopted effort to make PM10 and PM2.5 more relatable, we use an easy-to-interpret comparison chart contrasting the size of particulate matter with the thickness of human hair, which is something familiar to everyone (Figure 1).
We also try to address problems with accessing the data. Some users with limited time or skills need help navigating the nearly one billion rows of data, 1.4 million unique maps, and numerous pages of useful content housed on the Tracking Network. Our solution: infographics. Creating and displaying infographics allows the user to consume complex information fairly quickly (Figure 2).
With this in mind, we recently redesigned the “Info by Location” Tracking Network feature to make Tracking data more accessible using infographics. The intent of Info by Location is to present information to Tracking Network users who want to see quick facts about a county or state without having to delve into the data query system themselves. This method allows our creative, multifaceted staff to take a new approach to data display.
In addition to the items geared more toward users who are not public health or environmental health professionals, the Tracking Program aims to meet the needs of our data query system users by expanding the features and functionality for the Tracking Network. Additions have included enhanced display options for maps and benchmarks for certain datasets.
The digital public health landscape is always changing and advancing, and CDC’s Tracking Program continues to work hard to develop meaningful content and resources highlighting the data contained within the Tracking Network. Whether through mapping applications, data query systems, infographics, or face-to-face interactions, we continue to recognize and embrace differences within the population by relying on those differences within our team to make the most impact in environmental health.