Background: The Pennsylvania Cancer Atlas (PA-CA) is an interactive online atlas to help policy-makers, program managers, and epidemiologists with tasks related to cancer prevention and control. The PA-CA includes maps, graphs, tables, that are dynamically linked to support data exploration and decision-making with spatio-temporal cancer data. Our Atlas development process follows a user-centered design approach. To assess the usability of the initial versions of the PA-CA, we developed and applied a novel strategy for soliciting user feedback through multiple distributed focus groups and surveys. Our process of acquiring user feedback leverages an online web application (e-Delphi). In this paper we describe the PA-CA, detail how we have adapted e-Delphi web application to support usability and utility evaluation of the PA-CA, and present the results of our evaluation. Results: We report results from four sets of users. Each group provided structured individual and group assessments of the PA-CA as well as input on the kinds of users and applications for which it is best suited. Overall reactions to the PA-CA are quite positive. Participants did, however, provide a range of useful suggestions. Key suggestions focused on improving interaction functions, enhancing methods of temporal analysis, addressing data issues, and providing additional data displays and help functions. These suggestions were incorporated in each design and implementation iteration for the PA-CA and used to inform a set of web-atlas design principles. Conclusion: For the Atlas, we find that a design that utilizes linked map, graph, and table views is understandable to and perceived to be useful by the target audience of cancer prevention and control professionals. However, it is clear that considerable variation in experience using maps and graphics exists and for those with less experience, integrated tutorials and help features are needed. In relation to our usability assessment strategy, we find that our distributed, web-based method for soliciting user input is generally effective. Advantages include the ability to gather information from users distributed in time and space and the relative anonymity of the participants while disadvantages include less control over when and how often participants provide input and challenges for obtaining rich input.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number36
JournalInternational Journal of Health Geographics
StatePublished - Jul 11 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Computer Science
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Distributed usability evaluation of the Pennsylvania Cancer Atlas'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this