Image of a person at a desk, planning a field data collection operation.

10 questions to help plan your field data collection

Your organization has mandated you to organize a field data collection operation. Whether you are experienced in planning this type of operation or not, to think about it first is often a good idea! When it comes to field data collection operations, there are plenty of elements to consider. We’ve developed 10 questions to guide your reflections, to help you plan your field data collection as efficiently as possible.

1 – What is the purpose of this field data collection operation?

This question aims to establish the basis of your reflection. Understanding the purpose of your field data collection and knowing how the end-user will exploit it is important. You must also be aware of the format in which they are expecting your data:

  • A detailed report, in PDF format
  • An Excel datasheet
  • A geographic map
  • A data file compatible with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) (GeoJSON or Shapefile)

Keep your operation’s purpose in mind all through this reflection. The second question introduces time constraints concerning your operation.

2 – When would be the optimal moment to collect your data?

We invite you to reflect on the moment at which your field data collection should take place. For example, if you need to collect data found on the ground in a natural area. You might not be able to access it if snow covers the ground. If you’re collecting data on a seashore, you might only be able to access data at low tide. If your teams are collecting data door to door, they have more chances to meet people at home after regular business hours then during the daytime.

Depending on the type of data you need to collect, you must think of the optimal moment to collect it. Our next question introduces how time might affect the quality, even the validity of data.

3 – What is the lifespan of the data you’ll be collecting?

We’re asking you to reflect on the way time might affect your data. Should you analyze data based on a single field collection operation, or should you be observing your data’s evolution over time?

Let’s use a data collection on surface control on a road network. Temperature variations and the number of vehicles will directly impact the state of the road surface. In this situation, such as in many others, it would be better to observe data collected a few times during a year.

Following this reflection on the consequences of time over data, here is a fourth question, which might save you some time!

4 – Is there any existing data available?

Here’s a simple question that might save a lot of time during your data collection operation! Would your organization already have data that you could use? Is there any open source or public data that you could integrate into your data sets? If so, this could spare a considerable amount of time from your operation.

Let’s move on to where your data collection operation will take place, with a fifth question.

5 – In which environment will your data collection operation take place?

The environment of your data collection operation may have a direct impact on data accessibility. Some types of environments might enable your teams to collect data with ease. For example, if they need to collect data on grounds owned by your organization. Other settings might complicate their task. For example, if the data they need to collect is located on top of telecommunication towers, sitting on grounds requiring granted access. 

In some instances, you may even need to collect data where sending people would be unsafe. Thus, you might need to seek alternative solutions or technological tools, such as these different types of imagery:

  • Satellite
  • Aerial
  • Drones

This reflection on the environment in which your field data collection operation will take place leads us to a sixth question.

6 – How will your data be geographically positioned?

The nature of the data you will be collecting should determine how you should position it geographically.

A simple postal code might be sufficient to position data when collecting door to door. In other instances, latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates might better suit the needs of the end-user. For example, if collecting data on municipal infrastructures (street-lights, fire hydrants, street signalization, etc.). Depending on the nature of the data, you most likely will use one of the following means to position data:

  • The civic address if your operation is taking place in an urban environment
  • Noting coordinates taken with a GPS pointer
  • A software application on a mobile phone or tablet
  • Surveying equipment

The nature of the data required by the objective and the deliverables of your operation directly influence the choice of equipment. This seventh question is also concerning your data collection’s environment.

7 – How will your teams find their way and know where to collect data in the field?

Depending on where your data collection will take place, there might be an internet connection available or not. Regardless, your teams in the field should have proper orientation and know where to collect data. So now, think upon what you’ll be providing for them to know their whereabouts in the field. After all, many options are available:

  • Paper maps
  • Electronic maps downloaded on mobile
  • Cartographic software applications
  • A data collection application that includes a mapping interface

Following these reflections about your operations environment, our next question brings us back to data.

8 – Which data is essential to reach your collection’s goals?

We invite you to reflect upon the data necessary to reach your operation’s objective. It may be tempting to collect data that is superfluous, just because it is available. However, not only might this complicate data collection in the field, but also make its management more difficult.

Once you determine which data is primordial, you may start working on the form that your team will be using in the field.

When establishing data collection forms, one of the best practices consists of inserting multiple-choice questions to your form, as often as possible. This technique enables you to:

  • Reduce the amount of time you devote to collect data
  • Standardize the data 
  • Scale down on the amount of time your data management requires

Let’s move on with a question concerning data that will support the one collected in your field operation.

9 – How will you collect metadata?

Supporting the data you collect during your operation with metadata is a strong recommendation. Metadata allows you to keep track of who collects the data, where, and when. This most likely will be useful throughout your operation, and perhaps even after, in some cases. Metadata helps you:

  • Follow the evolution of your teams in the field
  • Check for data trends and anomalies effectively
  • Offer traceability to your data

For more information on the importance of metadata you can refer to the 8th error of the article: 9 common mistakes that could ruin your field data collection operation!

It is preferable to integrate the collection of metadata directly in the form your team will use in the field. Alternatively, you may choose to use tools that automate these steps in your processes. Which takes us to our last question:

Image of a person collecting data in a field with the help of an app on a tablet.

10 – Which equipment or technology might help you collect data most efficiently?

The purpose of this question is to help you determine which tools could optimize your field data collection operation, based on the expected results. Nowadays, data collection applications, such as Coral Collect, optimize the efficiency of field data collection operations. Coral Collect helps by:

  • Improving your team’s orientation in the field while enabling real-time data sharing
  • Implementing geographic coordinates to the data automatically at the moment of collection
  • Adding photos directly into your forms
  • Enabling the export of data into reports instantly 
  • Automating the transfer of data into the database, thus reducing the time allocated to data management by 40% in comparison to traditional methods.

Imagine the amount of time transcribing data manually onto paper forms requires! Data collection applications eliminate this type of manipulation in your process.

We sincerely hope that these questions will help guide your thinking so you may plan your field data collection efficiently. We invite you to try the Coral platform for free! You will be able to collect, save, and share data in the field in a collaborative way with everyone involved in your operation.

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