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What is legal mapping?

Legal mapping is a set of techniques used to capture important features of laws and policies, and to identify how those laws and policies may vary across jurisdictions or institutions, and often over time. Legal mapping takes many forms. It can be conducted using transparent scientific methods for empirical research in legal epidemiology, or it can rely on conventional legal research methods to answer important questions in public health law practice.

Scientific legal mapping activities for legal epidemiology include policy surveillance, legal assessments, and sentinel surveillance. Legal mapping activities for public health law practice include legal scans and legal profiles.

For more information about each technique, detailed instructions on the methods and how to use them to do your own research, access our Learning Library that contains links to training resources.

What is policy surveillance?

Policy surveillance is a form of scientific legal mapping. It is the systematic collection, analysis, and dissemination of laws and policies across jurisdictions or institutions, and over time. Policy surveillance is not limited to just laws and policies made and enforced by governments, it can also include corporate and institutional policies.

Researchers conducting policy surveillance use a scientific process to produce datasets that capture the characteristics of law on a specific topic at a specific moment in time, and to track the change and progression of those laws to date, and often historically. Along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Public Health Law Research (PHLR) program (which was the name for the original Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded program that became the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University) formalized the process for conducting policy surveillance to support the creation of empirical legal data to facilitate health policy evaluation for public use. The process has been refined through a Delphi study of public health law researchers.

In addition to formalizing the process, the PHLR team also developed a unique software tool that allows the data to be collected, coded, and rendered to maps and tables, following the criteria established for policy surveillance and other methods of legal mapping — that software tool evolved into the present-day MonQcle software.

What is the difference between policy surveillance datasets, legal assessments, and sentinel surveillance?

Policy surveillance and legal assessments both produce robust data using a rigorous scientific process. Policy surveillance tracks laws over time and across multiple jurisdictions. Legal assessments track laws at one specific point in time, either across multiple jurisdictions, or in one jurisdiction.

Sentinel surveillance is a relatively new legal mapping method. It is intended to quickly capture and track emerging laws and legal innovations impacting public health. The method creates a dataset that may be the foundation for ongoing policy surveillance, allowing researchers to determine priority candidates for future scientific legal mapping in a timely manner, which ultimately supports the creation of robust legal data that can be used to evaluate emerging laws and policies. The data are produced transparently and systematically, but because of the minimal quality control methods used (there is only one coder and a supervisor who check the data), these data are not meant to be readily usable for evaluation. Instead, they are meant to provide a high-level overview of laws and policies that gives policymakers, advocates, researchers, and others a snapshot of a new or rapidly evolving legal landscape.

What is legal epidemiology, and how does it relate to policy surveillance and scientific legal mapping?

Legal epidemiology is the study of law as a factor in the cause, distribution, and prevention of disease and injury. Policy surveillance datasets are at the heart of most legal epidemiology studies because they are nuanced, replicable, and can be applied to any area of law at any jurisdictional level—from municipal ordinances to international law. Learn more about legal epidemiology.

Who runs this website? is maintained by the staff at the Center for Public Health Law Research at the Temple University Beasley School of Law. Learn more about our staff. was designed by Graphicacy and built by engineers at Source Digital and Graphicacy with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

How do I use this website?

We hope you will use this site and our interactive data visualizations to better understand laws and policies of public health significance. We have instruction guides and videos to help you get started.

Who conducts the research?

Data displayed in the maps and tables on are primarily created by the Center for Public Health Law Research and our collaborators. This site also shares other external resources that provide high quality information about laws and policies related to health. These data are not visualized in the maps and tables, but links to the full data on the external resource’s website is provided.

If you are interested in creating a dataset or updating an existing dataset, please contact

How are the datasets created?

The majority of the datasets on this site are created by the Center for Public Health Law Research staff or our collaborators using scientific legal mapping methods — primarily policy surveillance — to capture the detailed characteristics and nuances of laws and policies of public health significance across jurisdictions and over time.

The policy surveillance process involves a series of systematic and transparent steps that support the creation of high-quality data that may be used in research and practice. To learn more about the details of the policy surveillance process and other scientific legal mapping methods, visit our Learning Resources to access training materials and learn more about attending a training event.

There are other data on this site that have been curated by CPHLR staff but created by external researchers. These data may or may not use the policy surveillance process specifically but have transparently created high-quality legal information or legal data that may be used in research and practice nonetheless. These data will not be visualized in maps and tables on our site, but the following information must be available for the data to be included among our library: information about who created the data, transparent documentation about how the data were created (e.g., a codebook and/or protocol), and open-source access to the data (e.g., a downloadable .csv file). Please contact us if you would like to have your data added to our site.

What technology or tools do the researchers use to create these legal data?

Most of the data hosted and visualized on were created using scientific legal mapping techniques facilitated by the MonQcle software. The MonQcle software platform was designed to help users create cross-sectional and longitudinal datasets linking text to locations (jurisdictions or other places) using a question-and-answer format with fill pin-citations linked back to that user-provided text. The platform also provides visualization tools to support researchers as they organize, develop, update, and share their data.

MonQcle is currently available for public use for non-profit and academic researchers conducting scientific legal mapping projects, thanks to the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Get started today by visiting or contacting Commercial entities interested in using MonQcle should contact for a subscription or licensing quote.

There are several different ways in which you can use our resources and tools to create your own legal data:

  • DIY: Follow our learning resources and training documents on MonQcle to make your own legal dataset or contact us to talk about adopting an existing dataset to update.
  • Work with us: We provide technical assistance to teams working on scientific legal mapping projects and can guide you through the process. We can also supply team members to work alongside your team. Contact us to start the conversation.
  • Work for us: Interested in joining our team? Check out our Employment Opportunities.

How often are datasets updated? I am interested in seeing more updated data on a topic.

Unfortunately, that depends largely on funding. If there are data that you would like to see updated, please contact us — we are always keen to discuss opportunities to update data together, or help you get started with policy surveillance to update the data directly.

Is access to the data really free?

Yes! To read the Terms of Download, please click here. To read the Creative Commons License, please click here.

What formats are available for downloading the data?

Each topic page has a Suggested Citation button that will provide you with the citation specific to the data you’re using.

Generally, please cite the researcher or team identified in the lower right of the map page ("Maintained By"), and then use “Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research” in your citation as the publication source. For example: Burris, S. Syringe Distribution Laws Map. Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research. Accessed July 1, 2021.

How do I cite this as a resource in my work?

Each topic page has a Suggested Citation button that will provide you with the citation specific to the data you’re using.

The Quick Citation box on each dataset page offers a one-click citation download for the dataset. We offer the following formats: APA, MLA, Bluebook, and Chicago.

Generally, please cite the researcher or team identified in the lower right of the map page ("Maintained By"), and then use “Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research” in your citation as the publication source. For example: Burris, S. Syringe Distribution Laws Map. Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research. Accessed July 1, 2021.

How can I learn how to do policy surveillance or another type of legal mapping?

The Center for Public Health Law Research maintains a series of training resources that teach policy surveillance legal mapping methods. Learn more about those resources here.

Where do you find the text of the law used on the site?

We have a defined, systematic process for finding the text of the law used for each dataset. The legal text shown on our site is gathered directly from unencumbered sources, such as government or agency websites.

To learn more about that process, view Module 4: Collecting and Building the Law in our 8 Module Course, accessible from our Learning Resources.

I’m a journalist and I’d like to talk to the researcher responsible for one of the datasets. Can you help me connect with them?

Definitely! You can call Bethany Saxon, our Director of Communications, at 215-204-2134, or send her an email at

I‘ve found an error in the data, how do I report that?

Our data go through a detailed quality control process using statistical quality control measures (learn more about policy surveillance quality control), but errors do still unfortunately happen. Please contact us directly and let us know what you’ve found. One of our researchers will reach out as soon as possible about the error.

Can I be alerted when a dataset is updated?

There are a few ways to stay up to date on what’s happening with our project. The first is through our social media accounts (which are linked at the bottom of each page on this site) where we post resources and announcements when we have an updated or newly released dataset. You can also add yourself to our mailing list at the bottom of this page — we send emails for every dataset we publish or update summarizing key trends and findings.

I would like to have my legal mapping data published to How do I do that?

If you have legal mapping data on a topic not published here, or would like to work with us to update an existing dataset, please contact All data and documents will undergo review by Center for Public Health Law Research staff before they may be published to

Help! My question wasn’t here.

Please reach out to us, we’re happy to help. Click on the letter icon at the bottom of the page to send us an email (or ). You can also give us a call using the phone number at the bottom left of the page.