Policy Surveillance Program

Legal Data and Training

The Center for Public Health Law Research Policy Surveillance Program is dedicated to increasing the use of policy surveillance and scientific legal mapping as tools for improving the nation’s health. 

Policy surveillance is the systematic, scientific collection and analysis of laws of public health significance. It is a form of legal mapping that creates data suitable for use in rigorous evaluation studies. Policy surveillance addresses the chronic lack of readily accessible, nonpartisan information about status and trends in health legislation and policy, it provides the opportunity to build policy capacity in the public health workforce, and it can speed the diffusion of innovation.

  • Read a paper by Scott Burris and others tracing the emergence of policy surveillance over the past 50 years, showing its value, and identifying major challenges ahead.
  • Access research on CDC’s use of policy surveillance.

Together with our partners our team of legal researchers produce and maintain datasets spanning a wide variety of public health topics across three websites: LawAtlas.org, PDAPS.org, and CityHealth.org.

Read a 2022 program evaluation from RWJF

CPHLR Policy Surveillance Data Sites

LawAtlas.org is home to more than 120 policy surveillance datasets and counting, that span more than 20 areas of public health. This site is funded primarily by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and includes datasets produced through funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, Pew Charitable Trusts, Arnold Ventures, Trust for America’s Health, National League of Cities and others. Data on LawAtlas.org are used by researchers, policymakers, advocates and others, and have been cited by media and in scholarly work more than 120 times since 2014.

PDAPS.org, the Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System, is a NIDA-funded website that uses policy surveillance to capture characteristics of laws and policies related to prescription drug policy. These include medical marijuana, naloxone access, prescription drug monitoring programs, medication-assisted treatment, and criminal justice-focused laws and policies related to drug use and abuse. PDAPS datasets have been cited more than 100 times since its launch in 2015.

CityHealth.org uses policy surveillance conducted by CPHLR staff members and a rating tool powered by MonQcle to rank 40 of the largest US cities across nine policy domains. The site, which is maintained by the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, is popular among city lawmakers, and has been influential in supporting evidence-based policy change among the cities it ranks.

Legal Research Software

MonQcle is a software to manage the policy surveillance process and create cross-sectional or longitudinal datasets that link text to locations (jurisdictions or other places). The data tracking uses a question-and-answer format with full pin-citations linked back to the user-provided text. The service also provides visualization tools to support researchers as they develop, refine, update, use, and share their data. Originally developed by Legal Science, LLC, the Center for Public Health Law Research received the rights to maintain and develop the software in October 2019. The Center's Policy Research Technology Program now develops the technology-based tools and resources that support legal epidemiology research and the effective use of public health law in practice.

Training and Technical Assistance 

The Center for Public Health Law Research provides a variety of opportunities to learn policy surveillance methods: eight self-guided moduleslive monthly webinars, and an annual three-day training institute. Access the full list of training courses and materials here. Or contact us to learn more about our one-on-one technical assistance offerings.