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Utilization of Google enterprise tools to georeference survey data among hard-to-reach groups: strategic application in international settings

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As geospatial data have become increasingly integral to health and human rights research, their collection using formal address designations or paper maps has been complicated by numerous factors, including poor cartographic literacy, nomenclature imprecision, and human error. As part of a longitudinal study of people who inject drugs in Tijuana, Mexico, respondents were prompted to georeference specific experiences.


At baseline, only about one third of the 737 participants were native to Tijuana, underscoring prevalence of migration/deportation experience. Areas frequented typically represented locations with no street address (e.g. informal encampments). Through web-based cartographic technology and participatory mapping, this study was able to overcome the use of vernacular names and difficulties mapping liminal spaces in generating georeferenced data points that were subsequently analyzed in other research.


Integrating low-threshold virtual navigation as part of data collection can enhance investigations of mobile populations, informal settlements, and other locations in research into structural production of health at low- or no cost. However, further research into user experience is warranted.

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