Most of the time, people don't immediately understand what we mean when we explain that we "make maps for public health purposes." Our process of assessing data needs, collecting new geographic data, and then manipulating it to make maps only comes alive when we use examples and tell stories. As we describe hiking for hours in the Peruvian Andes to get GPS coordinates, explain the different layers we incorporate into a map, or talk about the patterns we are able to visualize in Rwanda, people begin to understand. They start nodding their heads and agree that, yes, this process makes sense and seems very necessary. Convincing someone about the power of maps, and watching them go from polite skepticism to genuine interest and excitement gives us the energy to keep pushing our idea forward.
These two TED Talks by Bill Davenhall and Steven Johnson articulately describe the connections between geography and health, and inspire us to continue perfecting our initial pitch so that it is short, direct, and compelling.