Data Collection Tools

The first phase of my research involves creating a base map of the city of Beni. Before I came to Beni I traced the streets of the city using a program called JOSM (Java OpenStreetMap) Editor that I then uploaded to OpenStreetMap and can open in a desktop GIS program. The map is incomplete because it may have errors from tracing from an image and also because there is no road information such as road types and names. I learned that another important element to include on a base map of Beni is bridges. Beni has a large network of creeks that run through the city and there are hundreds of bridges of all shapes and sizes. Lastly, not many people know road names and so people find their way around using points of interest. Points of interest are also useful for preliminary research of the city, such as knowing how many schools or clinics are in the city. The only way to collect most of this information is to go and find it in the field.

In preparation for coming to Beni I researched methods for collecting data in the field. After exploring and testing several mapping application tools, I chose to use three tools called ODK Collect (with FormHub), OSMAnd, and Field Papers.

  • ODK (Open Data Kit) Collect is a smart phone application for creating and employing custom surveys. A project leader can create the survey using Excel, upload it to FormHub, and then download the survey onto the phone. Multiple field volunteers can then use the same survey in the field. All of the data that gets collected gets saved onto the phone and then can be uploaded to the FormHub website when there is access to a wifi network. The data is automatically compiled and available for download from the website as a csv, xls, or kml file. The application allows for a variety of question types including taking a photograph and collecting the GPS coordinates. It took a lot of work to structure the survey and create all of the questions and hints in both English and French.


  • OSMAnd is an application that can also collect GPS coordinates, but the real strength of the application is that maps can be downloaded onto the phone so that they can be viewed without internet access. Since I was intending to send groups to different parts of the city, it was important for them to have a way to locate themselves on the map. Even a physical map would not be enough to locate oneself since it is very difficult to distinguish which road is which or where the limits of the neighbourhoods are. Since OSMAnd uses the OpenStreetMap base map, field volunteers are able to locate themselves on the map that I traced. OSMAnd also has a tracking option so that we can see where the volunteers go when they are in the field. This is useful if we need to double check the location of a road or point of interest, or see where we might have missed an area. Lastly OSMAnd has the ability to show the areas that each group will be assigned to explore (see last post). I used QGIS to save the divisions as a gpx file that can then be made visible as a layer in OSMAnd.


  • Field Papers is a tool that combines digital data collection and physical note-taking. I chose it so that we would have a back-up in case we have technical difficulty with the phones or need to double check any information. On the Field Papers website it is possible to tile the OpenStreetMap base map into a print-ready pdf of the desired area. Field Volunteers can then take the papers into the field and mark them up at the same time as collecting the digital data. After the data collection is complete it is possible to take a photograph of the papers and upload them back to the website, where they are automatically geolocated because of a scan code that is on each page. JOSM Editor has a plug-in for FieldPapers so that allows the elements to be traced offline.


By word of mouth and text messages, we recruited a group of students who were interested in learning the GIS tools and join us in the field. I originally had the goal to recruit ten to twenty people, but we had thirty students come to our first meeting! We went through an introduction of how to use the tools and then the students partnered up and spent time wandering around the grounds and testing them out on the phones.



2 Comments to “Data Collection Tools”

  1. Wow, Liz! Sounds like your work is going well. I’m so proud of you! :)

  2. Thanks Lise, it all sounds interesting, but you lost me at JOSM. I’m an old guy, remember? Just glad you’re safe, we’ve been hearing about violence, both real and potential in the DR Congo. Keep in touch, I’ll continue to think of you and pray for you regularly.


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