Dr. Dana R Thomson

Pronouns: she/her

Senior Staff Associate III; Associate Director, Science Applications Division, Science Applications, Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), Columbia Climate School

61 Route 9W
Palisades, New York 10964
United States


Dr. Dana R. Thomson is a prominent public health and spatial data expert who has worked at the intersection of demography, public health, and geography for two decades. Dr. Thomson’s work is characterized by open data, user-centered design, equitable partnerships that address historical inequities, and co-design of meaningful information. She manages the CIESIN Science Applications division, which advances interdisciplinary research and applications on human-environment interactions, bringing to bear state-of-the-art scientific data and knowledge on pressing sustainable development challenges.

Dr. Thomson helped to establish the Integrated Deprived Area Mapping System (IDEAMAPS) Network which brings together experts from traditionally-siloed “slum” mapping traditions including community members, government officials, humanitarians, and data scientists. Several projects within the IDEAMAPS Network are building the infrastructure and processes necessary for “slum” residents and local experts to access the data they need in appropriate formats and validate modelled outputs (maps) in areas they are familiar with, and for modelers to access a validation data layer to improve future iterations of models.

Dana is also a pioneer in the field of gridded population sampling, developing innovative tools and sampling approaches to more accurately measure populations in data-scarce settings, especially vulnerable and mobile populations who are poorly captured by traditional data collection methods. She developed GridSample and other tools that help survey experts without Geographic Information System (GIS) skills to create sample frames from gridded population data, and recently published the go-to manual on Designing and Implementing Gridded Population Surveys.

Dana holds a BA in Geography from the George Washington University, an MSc in Global Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health, and an MSc and PhD in Social Statistics from the University of Southampton (UK). Her research has evaluated the accuracy of gridded population estimates and feasibility of their use for fieldwork in lower- and middle-income countries, and includes several large-scale evaluations of health systems in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean using geospatial and household survey data. She has also taught practitioners and applied researchers at Harvard University and the University of Rwanda, and worked with AmeriCorps, the Brookings Institution, Johns Snow Inc., the Measure DHS Project, and the World Bank.