First-Time Impression of the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting

Between April 3rd and April 6th, I attended, for the first time, the annual American Association of Geographers (AAG) meeting, in Washington, D.C. Coinciding with the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms and the return of warm weather to the capitol region, this meeting was a productive start to spring. I went with three objectives, 1) present work on automating and mapping the healthcare workforce, 2) host an Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) chapter meet and greet, and 3) attend the diverse sessions within the Geography, GIScience, and Health track.

On the morning of the third day, in the session labeled, “Conditions Impacting Healthcare Access”, I presented a brief overview of a project that I worked on throughout 2018. The American Medical Association (AMA) project includes two main deliverables as defined in the statement of work. The first is the production and delivery of 1,560 PDF maps showing the geographic distribution of the healthcare workforce, relative to population density. During my talk, I discussed how there was room for improvement over the previous methodology of creating these static maps. Next, I touched on the new methods that were used in the new 2018 project year, to automate the production of the same 1,560 maps through the use of Python programming. The other half of the project is for the development, update, and maintenance of the AMA Healthcare Mapper mapping application. I discussed the characteristics of the healthcare workforce and how users use this tool to map physician and non-physician providers. After my talk was finished, I fielded several topical questions that led me to believe that I had actually engaged the audience. Objective 1: SUCCESS!

Later that day, I hosted a one-hour URISA meet and greet. Since the end of 2018, I have been coordinating with representatives from URISA to revive the local URISA chapter that serves the Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia region. I thought it would be a great opportunity, as AAG was coming to D.C., to request a room at AAG to try to meet some local URISA members. I reached out to several exhibitors like Pix4D, University of Maryland at College Park, GIS Certification Institute (GISCI), and URISA, to see if they could provide some free handouts I could use at the meeting. As I sat for close to 50 minutes in a room sparsely populated only with those waiting for the next session, I realized I should have cast a wider net during my email and Twitter (@URISACC) outreach campaign.  Objective 2: UNDER RECONSTRUCTION!

Before AAG 2019, I had been to numerous conferences, some that were GIS and spatial focused. With the AAG program having over 1,700 sessions, I was forced to pick my sessions of interest beforehand. Using the AAG app for Android, I starred my sessions of interest and hardly strayed, making logistics easier. Most of the sessions I attended were in the Geography, GIScience, and Health track, with some being in the general track like Cartography and Developing a Body of Knowledge for Cartography. The rest of my chosen sessions were focused on the role and use of GIS in population, community, urban, and international health. These sessions were filled with various members tied to academia presenting their latest findings. On April 6th, my last day of the conference, I attended a workshop on Geomasking Techniques…Involving Confidential Geospatial Data. The workshop was hosted by members of University of Michigan’s Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), as well as the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The aim of the workshop was two-fold, to introduce the Geospatial Virtual Data Enclave (GVDE), and discuss the methods used to geomask sensitive spatial data. The GVDEis a virtual data environment hosted by ICPSR, where prospective users request access by submitting an application detailing their IRB protocol, data management and security plan, and data use agreement. Once approved, they are given access to the virtual enclave where they have access to a variety of statistical packages (SAS, SPSS, R, STATA) and GIS software (ArcGIS for Desktop, GeoDa, QGIS). In the enclave, researchers can work with a variety of data that pertains to their project, but due to the sensitivity of the data stored in the GVDE, approvals are required for extracting any data from the enclave. The rest of the workshop provided an overview of the spatial methods of geomasking point data. The speakers from University of Illinois detailed the methods of aggregating point data to polygon layers and relocating point data. Both of these methods are useful on point data that’s considered sensitive like locations of sexual abuse victims or patients in medical records.  Objective 3: SUCCESS!

Overall, it was a positive and productive experience at AAG, one allowing me to see a few geo-celebrities like Esri president Jack Dangermond, International Cartographic Association (ICA) president Menno-Jan Kraak, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and cartography guru Kenneth Field. As I look onward to the next GIS conference (URISA GIS-Pro 2019), where I’ll present on workflow and process improvement with Python programming, I know that geography and GIS is where I want to be.

Dave Grolling

GIS Strategist, HealthLandscape


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