Free Press Journal

New app to speed research data collection


Washington: Scientists have developed a new web application that speeds up researchers’ data collection. American University sociology Professor Michael Bader and colleagues used the app to rate 150 different features of neighbourhoods in major metropolitan cities across the US.

They found that the app, called Computer Assisted Neighbourhood Visual Assessment System, eliminated the costly and time-consuming aspects of conducting research. The app harnesses Google Street View technology, the street recognition programme that links together images to create panoramic views of cities and rural areas.

“Before Google Street View, sociologists had to cover hundreds of square miles in neighbourhoods and painstakingly record visual details to answer research questions about gentrification, elders and healthy ageing, and more,” Bader said. “CANVAS takes Google Street View a step further by marrying its image data collection with Django software, providing a reliable, efficient and comprehensive tool for conducting sociological research on a large scale,” said Bader.

Since the 1970s, sociologists have rated neighbourhoods for factors that affect people’s quality of life and health.

In any given rating, researchers must take note of hundreds of details involving land use, aesthetics, traffic design and amenities, a neighbourhood’s proximity to parks, and sidewalk types. “Neighbourhoods affect how healthy people are, how they interact, and how safe they feel. Factors like broken sidewalks, curbs without cut-outs, and a lack of cross-walks are associated with negative health outcomes,” Bader said.

In the case of studying health of elders, ratings identify risk factors, such as broken sidewalks, that could lead elders to experience unhealthy outcomes. For example, if elders have to walk on broken sidewalks, that could make them less mobile and less likely to interact with peers.

The data is used to predict the likelihood of elders ageing in place, which in turn gets provided to policy makers. National Institute for Child Health and Human Development provided a USD 247,888 grant for the creation of the application. The study is believed to be the first one of its scope to examine the reliability of Google Street View in rating US neighbourhoods.

Bader and his colleagues at Columbia University hope to secure funding to develop the app into a product that sociologists everywhere can use. The study was published in the journal Health & Place.