Moldova Open Innovation Week has kicked off this week to bring together local and international experts with civil society and further stimulate the work in open government and open data in Moldova. Discussions, training sessions, and a hackathon will all focus on how open data and Moldova’s new data portal can be leveraged by the government and local organizations to publish and share information.

I’ll be traveling to Chisinau to participate in the Open Innovations TechCamp on Friday and the “Apps for Moldova” Hackathon happening at the end of the week. As a part of the TechCamp, I’ll talk about using maps to visualize data and conduct training sessions on using TileMill to design custom maps. Creating custom maps to visualize data can be done with completely open source and free tools. In preparation for the event, I wanted to walk through the process of prepping your data and using TileMill to create a custom map.

Mapping numbers of primary health care centers

Everything from prepping your data to joining it with spatial data to designing a custom map can be quick with tools like QuantumGIS, TileMill, and MapBox. Using Ministry of Health data about the number of primary care centers per district downloaded from, we can prepare this to be mapped.

Prepping your data

Data downloaded from will need to be prepped in order to be mapped. Using an open source spreadsheet editor like Open Office (or something similar like LibreOffice), we can open the downloaded .xls file from

To use this with spatial data we need to transpose the district names into one column and add a district ID column to help make a successful join. Here I’ve renamed the columns to be short, descriptive names (I used English in my case, but any language will work).

Now we can save our file as a .dbf file to use within QuantumGIS. This is the format that a shapefile uses to store data. It can be used to join within QGIS.

Using QuantumGIS to join your data

Administrative level shapefiles can be downloaded from Natural Earth, a free and public domain repository of spatial files. I downloaded the administrative-1 borders shapefile, extracted the Moldova spatial data, and added a district ID to help with the join. You can now load the admin shapefile and the health center .dbf file into QGIS

Now we can make the join between the two files by opening up the layer properties of the admin layer and clicking the joins tab. Click the add button and select the correct columns to join.

We can then save our newly joined data as a new shapefile.

Custom map design with TileMill

Using TileMill we can add our new data and style out a color scheme. I used Color Brewer to create a good looking color scheme. With just a few lines of code, we can create a shaded choropleth map that shows the number of primary care centers per district.

We’re looking forward to participating in the discussions and working with everyone in Moldova to create incredible maps from open data. Opening and allowing free access to government data creates great possibilities for civil society, governmental agencies, and the private sector to leverage and develop innovative products for the country’s growth.