REL EdMaps Helps Analyze School Data in the Midwest

How has poverty changed in the Midwest region since 2000? This question as well as others related to eduction priorities in the Midwest can be answered with the REL Midwest’s newly launched EdMaps.

EdMaps is a mapping application that displays educational data as “story maps” with the focus of building knowledge across the REL’s four educational priority areas. Built by Blue Raster, EdMaps helps users analyze publicly available school- and district-level data, observe trends over time and frame conversations on practice and policy.

REL Midwest EdMaps

In its initial debut, EdMaps includes story maps on graduation rates and poverty levels and future releases of the application will allow a choice of data to overlay and compare over time.

Matt Burke, project leader, says:

We believe that education stakeholders throughout our region will benefit greatly from being able to identify and compare particular schools, districts, and states, observe trends over time and demographic shifts, and create custom data displays from a wide variety of publicly available data. We hope that EdMaps will serve as a useful tool to help frame conversations on practice and policy, and the development of this tool would not have been possible without the knowledgeable and skillful staff at Blue Raster.

The data is delivered by ArcGIS for Server deployed in the Amazon Cloud and uses the ArcGIS API for JavaScript. School District data trends are leveraging with the Dojo Toolkit and HighCharts API.

To view the application, visit

New WRI map confirms long suspected notions of natural resource rights across sub-Saharan Africa

The World Resources Institute (WRI) announced today the launch of their newest online mapping application, the Rights to Resources map. Built by Blue Raster, the tool visualizes resource rights in Africa and allows users to compare findings across countries and resources: water, trees, wildlife, minerals and petroleum.

The data displayed in the tool is the outcome of WRI’s systematic review of the national framework laws across the 5 resources. The results of which confirm long suspected notions that across sub-Saharan Africa, few national laws provide communities with strong, secure rights to the resources on their land and that rights to many high-value natural resources are held by the state.

Rights To Resources Map

For instance, take WRI’s example of the situation in Ghana:

 “Naturally-occurring trees are nominally owned by the chieftaincy or traditional authorities, but commercial rights to timber species belong to the state.  With only weak rights, many farmers are reluctant to plant timber trees. Some resort to destroying or removing trees on their farms before logging companies come to harvest.”

The new Rights to Resources application endeavors to strengthen and secure resource rights for communities in sub-Saharan Africa while incentivizing sustainable management of local resources.

To learn more about the project and review the application, check out WRI’s Land and Resource Rights project page.

NFWF maps 12K Conservation Grants with ArcGIS

To help illustrate the extensive geographic reach of their mission and impact of their conservation programs, Blue Raster built the Where We Work web map for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). The mapping application allows supporters to visualize where NFWF is working and learn more about individual grants of interest. Matt Foster, Monitoring and Biodiversity Officer at NFWF, has this to say about the map – “The interactive map showing NFWF projects over the past 30 years is a great asset.  It really helps to convey the breadth of NFWF work in the U.S. and around the world and describes the wide range of actions that we support.”

NFWF Grant Mapper

Built on ArcGIS for Server using the ArcGIS API for JavaScript, NFWF’s Where We Work map allows filtering based on time, location, and various other grant attributes including the associated conservation program. The Flickr API provides images for the various projects.

To see the map in action and explore the years of conservation work supported by NFWF, go to

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) is a Congressionally-chartered foundation, specifically charged with the administration of monies to “further the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, plants, and other natural resources” of the United States (National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Establishment Act, 16 U.S.C. §3701 et seq.). Since 1984, NFWF has become one of the world’s largest conservation grant-makers with more than 12,100 grants totaling over $2.1 billion.

Famine Early Warning Systems Network – Launches Website

How does USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) prepare for famine assistance to the world’s neediest? One success story is the Famine Early Warning Systems Network at

Blue Raster assisted in releasing the new FEWS NET and is proud to partner with Chemonics International and Forum One in launching the new tool. Blue Raster automated the generation of forecasting maps for the 37 monitored countries, making the maps available sooner to decision makers. Two side-by-side comparative maps of food-security outlooks are produced for every region, and the countries are colored according to their food security, highlighting areas of Stress, Crisis, Emergency and Famine.


FEWS NET is a collaboration of international, regional and national partners to provide timely and rigorous early-warning and vulnerability information on emerging and evolving food security issues. Once identified, FEWS NET uses a suite of communications and decision-support products to help decision makers act to mitigate food insecurity.

The tech behind the site are ArcGIS Desktop and Python Tools as well as ArcGIS Server delivering dynamic maps.  Node.js delivers both dynamic and static maps as needed throughout the Drupal CMS, with tight integration allowing Drupal admins to access maps for report pages during periodic updates. The servers are hosted in the Amazon Cloud environment taking advantage of S3 as well.

National School Boundaries – Mapping Attendance Areas

Beginning in November 2013, school districts across the United States will be able to draw, upload, or update previous year school boundaries in a web-editing application as part of the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Blue Raster developed NCES’s online feature-drawing and editing application using Esri’s ArcGIS for Server and JavaScript API. One of the biggest challenges was offering a customized editing toolset for the non-technical district representatives who best know their school attendance areas.


Once processed, the school boundaries will be freely available for visualization and download on the NCES School District Demographics System website.  By providing the public with detailed boundary information, it will be possible for the public, researchers, and policy makers to examine relationships between schools covering many demographic, social and economic indices.

NCES has initiated this 2013 School Attendance Boundary Survey (SABS) with support from the U.S Census Bureau, to collect school boundaries for the 13,000+ U.S. school districts. This represents more than 100,000 public elementary and secondary schools from the Common Core of Data (CCD) school universe.

Blue Raster has delivered innovative data-visualization techniques for NCES using the latest Esri ArcGIS-for-Server technologies, ArcGIS Online offerings, Python and many JavaScript tools such as data-driven documents (d3.js) .

Blue Raster Celebrates GIS Day with Washington-Lee Students

On November 20th, we celebrated GIS Day by inviting GIS students from Washington-Lee High School to visit Blue Raster. Led by teacher, Ryan Miller, Washington-Lee offers several technology classes linked to James Madison University.  For the second year, Blue Raster has hosted the class, giving them some insight into how GIS professionals are making a positive impact in the world today.

GIS Day at Blue Raster

Our developers invited the students to use Instagram to connect to other GIS Day celebrants around the world, and created a GIS Day Global Map.  Students immediately saw the future prospects of geospatial technology.     Mr. Miller said:

Stephen, Michael and the rest of the Blue Raster Team once again volunteered to spend time during GIS Day 2013 with the high school students in my GIS class. Blue Raster provided an exceptionally strong experience that enriched my student’s perspective of the capabilities and potential impact of GIS analysis on the enrichment of peoples’ lives.

GIS Day Instagram Experiment

The Blue Raster Dev team shared real-world GIS success stories through a round of lightening talks on ongoing projects, and then challenged the students’ analyst skills with a fun Geography Challenge.   We wrapped up with a talk about GIS Careers and enjoyed some pizza and prizes.
Mr. Miller said:

To see the impact of GIS, and Blue Raster’s work, assisted each student in making that essential connection between what we learn in the classroom and what is happening concurrently in the real-world.   As a teacher, I’m so grateful for their time and their willingness to reach out.

You can try the map challenge yourself.

WRI launches the Agricultural Exposure to Water Stress map

Blue Raster recently worked with the World Resources Institute (WRI) to build the Agricultural Exposure to Water Stress interactive map which highlights the intersection between 20 commodity crops, from coffee to cocoa to oranges, with different levels of baseline water stress.

WRI describes water stress as “the ratio of total water withdrawals to the available renewable supply in an area. In highly water-stressed regions, 40 percent or more of the supply is used annually. When that ratio gets up to 80 percent, it’s considered extremely stressed.”

Agricultural exposure to water stress

The new series of maps designed by Aqueduct analyst, Francis Gassert, reveals where crops are grown in areas of high competition for limited water supplies and shows that 56% of irrigated agriculture face high water stress. The tool allows users to zoom to areas of irrigated and non-irrigated farm land around the world and visualize where the demand for water is greatest. With water demand forecasted to increase 50% by 2030 due mostly to agriculture, the tool helps show the urgency of finding sustainable means for food production.

Coverage of the Aqueduct Commodities Interactive Map appeared in Energy & Environment (subscription) and Salon, among others.

Guerrilla Gardening in Baltimore – Crowdsourcing Web Map

Blue Raster enabled BNIA-JFI (Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute) to setup and launch their new interactive map for community gardens and open spaces in Baltimore with ArcGIS Online Accelerate. The Interactive Map of Community-Managed Open Space assists city residents in discovering natural spaces they can protect, claim, and effectively use for their community in an urban location. The site also allows users to search by address or garden, view gardens by categories and submit pictures.

Interactive Map of Community Managed Open Space

Seema D. Iyer, associate director of the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business, said that the website will help communities and community-based organizations visualize where greening efforts have been occurring as they work to coordinate resources:

BNIA-JFI utilized Blue Raster’s ArcGIS Online Accelerate program to help launch an online mapping platform for data that we integrated from five different organizations with overlapping information.  Blue Raster quickly understood our technical needs, met our aggressive timeframe, helped us build our own internal capacity to maintain the site, and provided professional advice on how to augment the site in the future.  We look forward to working with them again.

ArcGIS Online and Flickr API allowed five different organizations – Baltimore Green Space, Parks and People, Master Gardeners, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and Baltimore City’s Power in Dirt project – to aid governmental and non-governmental agencies synchronize “greening activities”. The Interactive Map of Community-Managed Open Space is helping local groups across the city preserve uncluttered space.


Blue Raster is pleased to announce the launch of the Spatial Data Repository (SDR), a  new open data tool that provides geographically-linked health and demographic data from the USAID funded MEASURE Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) project and the U.S. Census Bureau for mapping in a geographic information system (GIS). This new resource offers:

  • National and subnational boundaries of DHS regions can be visualized over time.
  • More than 1,500 DHS indicators and U.S. Census population estimates in GIS format.
  • Users without GIS software can make interactive maps of DHS indicators at STATcompiler.

Blue Raster leveraged the power of ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Online along with custom Python scripts to deliver all MEASURE DHS data in spatial formats (shapefiles and file geodatabase). Users can select indicators of interest (from more than 90 countries) and SDR will create custom data packages for download data .

Visit Spatial Data Repository for access to USAID’s first public and accessible global health dataset.

Spatial Data Repository

Clara Burgert, GIS Coordinator, MEASURE DHS explains,

The Spatial Data Repository has been innovative from the start, being the first time that global health was shared in a GIS format. This new version of the website continues that innovation with new tools and abilities which Blue Raster, a key partner on this activity, was a driving force in implementing. I am particularly pleased with the ability to select and download your own data packages and also visualizing the DHS regions over time. MEASURE DHS has such a wealth of data and resources – we are excited by the opportunities that the new website brings in opening the data to the geographic community.

The Spatial Data Repository is supported by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) effort to provide data for decision making and improve knowledge and understanding of the impact of HIV worldwide. Blue Raster partnered with ICF International to deliver this new open data platform for USAID.

Esri Names Blue Raster ArcGIS Online Specialty Partner

Blue Raster is honored to be one of the first companies granted the ArcGIS Online Specialty distinction by Esri.  Blue Raster has successfully implemented ArcGIS Online for more than 10 clients and established the ArcGIS Online Accelerate program to onramp organizations into the best practices of online/cloud mapping rapidly with a custom approach to each organization’s needs.

“ArcGIS Online is transforming the way organizations manage and share their spatial data with internal stakeholders and external customers,” said Esri president Jack Dangermond. “The ArcGIS Online Specialty allows us to recognize and collaborate with our partners that have embraced ArcGIS Online and are helping users succeed.”

Learn more about ArcGIS Online Accelerate and contact us to get started.

ArcGIS Online Specialty