Gathering and Transmitting Data with New Methods

by | September 20, 2012
Category: News

Using Mobile Data Collection Tools for Field Data Collection

AfSIS is assisting national agencies in Africa with developing end-to-end soil information systems, which can be continuously updated with both ground-based and remote sensing observations and measurements. One important emerging system includes the use of mobile and sensor technologies for field data collection. This works leverages tools such as formhub, a web-based mobile data management and visualization platform, and ODK Collect, an open-source survey tool for Android.

Mobile data collection is much more efficient than traditional methods of data collection. Rather than paper-based forms that must be later typed into a computer, researchers and enumerators enter information directly onto an Android device through a form tailored for the specific data collection exercise. The data can then be uploaded to a central database. There are numerous benefits to collecting data this way, including

1. Surveyors arrive at site 2. They use Samsung tablets and their GPS functionality to find the specific sample plot 3. Surveyors sample soil and collect information about the surrounding area, taking pictures and recording observations with the tablets 4. Surveyors ship soil samples for analysis using tablets to record what samples have been sent

1. Surveyors arrive at site
2. They use Samsung tablets and their GPS functionality to find the specific sample plot
3. Surveyors sample soil and collect information about the surrounding area, taking pictures and recording observations with the tablets
4. Surveyors ship soil samples for analysis using tablets to record what samples have been sent

Leveraging XLSForms, a standard for authoring surveys in Excel, the AfSIS teams have developed data instruments for conducting and storing data from field surveys (e.g. LDSF, carbon inventory, and socioeconomic surveys) to AfSIS standards. Data gathering is managed by formhub, a mobile data collection service developed by the Modi Research Group at Columbia University, that leverages Open Data Kit (ODK) Collect on the phone. ODK Collect, developed by the University of Washington, is an open source survey tool that can run on nearly any Android phone or tablet, giving organizations the flexibility to choose from a broad range of devices based on availability, budget, hardware specifica- tions, and more. The tool is packaged with compre- hensive supporting materials culled from our experiences piloting the tools and the observations of many others who have implemented mobile past surveys over the past years.

Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) field surveys are underway in Ethiopia using mobile toolkits for field data collection as part of the joint AfSIS/Ethiopia Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) and Ethiopia Ministry of Agriculture (MoA)project called EthioSIS. This marks the first time that soil research has been conducted this way. Ethiopia field teams were trained in LDSF procedures and the use of mobile devices to collect data, navigate to sampling points and track soil sample processing. A range of supplementary forms were developed to facilitate logistical support for field data collection. According to Venance Kengwa, a field assistant on the AfSIS project who recently spent some time in Ethiopia helping train a crew on mobile data collection methods for the EthioSIS project, the mobile data collection was much quicker than paper-based collection because data can be sent directly to a central location after data collection is done, which has great benefits to a project because data is submitted in a timely way when the team is still doing field work. Already, teams have used the tablets to collect information from more than 2,600 sample plots and gathered approximately 14,000 soil samples.

The project is also developing a mobile-based tracking system for soil samples from field to lab. A tracking system for soil samples from field to lab to storage facility will be developed with ATA in close coordination with the Modi Research Group at the Earth Institute. Each sample receives a unique identifier contained in a mobile readable code that links to soil sample metadata.

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