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333 Software Tools for the Development of Environmental Measures Related to Cancer Health Behaviors and Resources

Fast-Track proposals will be accepted.

Number of Anticipated Awards: 2-3

Budget (total costs, per award):
Phase I: $200,000 for 9 months;
Phase II: $1,000,000 for 2 years

It is strongly suggested that proposals adhere to the above budget amounts and project periods. Proposals with budgets exceeding the above amounts and project periods may not be funded.

The deadline for receipt of all contract proposals submitted in response to this solicitation has expired. It was: November 25, 2013 by 4:30 p.m. ET.


The NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences aims to reduce risk, incidence, and deaths from cancer, as well as enhance the quality of life for cancer survivors. A key to achieving these goals is to improve health behaviors and access to health services. Because environmental factors affect health behavior, it is critical to develop robust measures of the natural, commercial, policy, and man-made environments to better understand and improve health quality. In the past 20 years there has been an explosive growth in the availability of data related to these environmental features. The federal government has recently increased public access to high value, machine readable data through, and HHS has specifically encouraged innovators to utilize health data through the Health Data Initiative at Improved data access and geographic linkages have created a growing interest in the development of indices of aggregate measures of the environments related to diet, physical activity, access to health care, and other health-related behaviors. Better methods and access to software tools to easily develop such indices are required for accelerating progress towards NCI’s mission of cancer control, and also have potential applications in other areas of health, policy and the commercial sector.

The skills required to efficiently collect the data underlying potential environmental indices related to cancer risk factors, health services, and diverse aspects of behavior cut across diverse disciplines and require mastery of disparate concepts and technologies. An especially pressing problem is the need to gain efficient access to the ‘digital environment’ in order to collect data from map resources, online archives, and crowd sourced resources related to walking, running routes, commercial venues, street and transit characteristics, and many other data resources. Many potentially interested parties lack the technical capacity required to automate access to diverse data resources from interactive and frequently updated web sources. This lack of capacity is a barrier to the development, evaluation and utilization of environmental indices in the public health field. IT professionals have the ability to collate needed data, but the health community does not always have access or resources to work with IT teams. An appropriate software tool could be useful to facilitate the development of environmental metrics across different areas of expertise.

Project Goals:

The purpose of this solicitation is to support the development of an efficient, user-centered software tool that connects diverse data sources to enable the creation of metrics describing the environment related to health behaviors and services. This software tool could accelerate and improve decision making-related planning and policy for cancer prevention and control, cancer related risk factors, decision-making about geographic locales for consumers, and site selection issues for businesses and government organizations.

The products called for are specifically related to cancer prevention and control across the cancer control continuum. For example, improving cancer prevention via fostering positive health behaviors, reducing disparities in early detection and ensuring access to appropriate treatment and end-of-life support all require integration of individual and socio-ecological factors to achieve improvements in health. Notably, construction of environmental metrics could play a key role in guiding efforts to reduce health disparities by facilitating efforts to characterize regions or communities with combinations of interacting characteristics that could lead to disparities in health behaviors and health outcomes.

The developed platform should:

  • automate data aggregation from diverse sources to allow users to efficiently obtain data.
  • use a non-expert graphical user interface that allows the design and implementation of environmental indices.
  • support evaluation of environmental indices’ ability to rank locations such as specific addresses, neighborhoods, census tracts, counties, or states in accord with features of interest.
  • support access to or dissemination of data from environmental indices imported or developed by users.

Figure 1. Schematic of capacity and data cycle that enables enhanced development and use of indices of environmental characteristics related to health behaviors and health resource access and use.

Responses to this topic are expected to address the development of efficient methods and platforms to:

  1. Collect data via open data Application Programming Interfaces (APIs),, online web search engines, mobile app data housed on servers, screen scraping, and map resources concerning environmental correlates of health behaviors such as retail outlets, exercise facilities, and other community related venues including schools, churches, and hospitals.
  2. Allow the efficient import of additional relevant data from diverse sources such as physiological data, survey results, field-collected information, and mobile devices.
  3. Compile data at multiple geo-located scales such as point addresses, buffers, and administrative boundaries including but not limited to census elements.
  4. Allow the compilation of data into matrices easily transferable into relevant analytical software packages, including statistical and graphics packages.
  5. Supply scripts or protocols to allow visualization of the correlation structure among collated variables.
  6. Demonstrably allow the recreation of existing metrics related to the food and physical activity environments.
  7. Contain plans for extending these tools into products useful for specific clients such as those in government and public sectors, foundations, and other non-governmental organizations.
  8. Recreate existing indices, replicate their estimates, and then modify them with new data elements or new weighting schemes.

Completed projects could be on-line or stand-alone resources, or they could be applications that work with existing spreadsheet, GIS or other software products, but the product should be usable without high-level expertise in the underlying software platform. Vitally, these tools must allow users to efficiently obtain current, up-to-date data automatically from diverse data resources, as many elements of the environment change rapidly, particularly man-made commercial and retail environments.

Phase I Activities and Expected Deliverables:

  • Establish a project team including proven expertise in software development and methods for obtaining data from web, survey, and commercial sources as well as one or more subject matter experts in environmental determinants of topic areas such as the food, physical activity, or health care access environment. Inclusion of topic matter experts will help ensure that the product is developed with the capacity to integrate key topic specific data resources.
  • Provide a report including detailed description and/or technical documentation of the proposed:
    • Software/Online tool(s).
    • Description of additional software and hardware required for use of the tool.
    • Specific approach to interacting with APIs and integrating data from diverse commercial and governmental sources – is a key target, as is the Google Places API, which currently features over 80 million businesses and points of interest.
    • Data standards for collection, transport, importation, and storage of such data.
    • Proposed built in methods for constructing indices and weighting procedures from imported data sets. These should include a variety of mathematical functions aimed at transforming and rescaling individual elements of the metric and combinations of metrics. They are not expected to implement complex statistical analyses such as factor analysis and other multivariate approaches. Simpler descriptive statistics could be included, such as correlation matrices, and the capacity to visualize distributions, box-plots and other exploratory graphics.
    • Data visualization, feedback, and reporting systems for environmental indices and their elements.
    • Developing a linked data library describing and documenting resources that can be imported automatically or manually into the software for use in constructing environmental metrics.
  • Develop a functional prototype system that:
    • Facilitates use of existing APIs with salient data sources.
    • Allows import and export of data to and from existing tabular datasets.
    • Uses geographic identifiers compatible with major GIS software.
    • Allows the recreation and modification of an existing metric from the web or a scientific publication.
  • Prepare a tutorial session for presentation at NCI and via webinars describing and illustrating the use of the system.
  • Include funds in budget to present Phase I findings and demonstrate the final prototype to an NCI evaluation panel.

Phase II Activities and Expected Deliverables:

  • Further test and finalize interface with online data via diverse APIs and other approaches developed in Phase I.
  • Further test and finalize methods for combining data into candidate metrics.
  • Develop, beta-test, and finalize data integration and visualization tools developed in Phase I.
  • Conduct usability testing of all stages of use of the environmental metric data acquisition and development tool.
  • Develop systems documentation where applicable.
  • In the first year of the contract, provide the program and contract officers with a letter(s) of commercial interest.
  • In the second year of the contract, provide the program and contract officers with a letter(s) of commercial commitment.


Updated Date: 
June 24, 2015