Improving Data Quality & Feedback Loops With QA

14 September 2016 by Joe Larson

This is part 2 in a series about feedback loops and reducing the time between response and action. In this part, we’ll cover how using various features in Fulcrum can improve the quality of the data you collect and decrease the amount of time spent cleaning up and correcting data.

Quality Assurance (QA) in data collection is the process of maintaining a level of quality and preventing mistakes or errors in the data. With various features in Fulcrum, you can be continually improving and controlling the way data is gathered in the field by enforcing custom QA requirements in your apps.

Feedback loops

In traditional field data collection cycles, the workflow typically goes something like this:

  • Field-personnel are briefed or trained on the process or have a set of instructions to follow while collecting data
  • Observations are recorded
  • Field-data is processed back in the office
  • The results are analyzed
  • Feedback and insights are made, potential new actions are taken
  • The process repeats

By using Fulcrum, you’re already eliminating most of the processing back in the office step. What we want to focus on in this post is how some of the other steps can be improved with Fulcrum to increase efficiency and productivity. Collecting mobile data can take a lot of time & money and the decisions that are made based upon the information gained from observations can have a large impact on your organization or business. Hopefully these insights will inspire you to invest the time it takes to make the proper survey design and tool choices, and achieve better results.

Fulcrum Data Event alerting photo that's not geotagged

How to Enforce QA with Fulcrum

Conditional Logic Rules

Fulcrum allows you to set up conditional logic rules on fields, depending on your collection requirements. This means that the fields in your forms can dynamically be made required and/or visible, based on values entered in other fields. Using conditional logic is a feature which is very intuitive and approachable for all levels of Fulcrum app designers. Consider it early in your design phase to ensure your survey flows smoothly and achieves the desired outcome.

Data Validation

Text fields in Fulcrum support custom validation patterns by using regular expressions (regex). Using regex validation in your forms can enforce QA immediately at the data collection step instead of having to ‘clean up’ the data after processing/review. We’ve provided a few examples built into Fulcrum’s App Designer, as well as reference to an online tool to learn, build, and test construction of your own expressions.

"Regular expressions"

Data Events

When your workflow requires more than conditional logic and data validation, Data Events can help you implement your unique requirements to ensure the resulting data is collected to meet your specific needs. Data events allow users to perform ​actions​ on the input when certain ​events​ are triggered. Some examples of QA requirements that data events can enforce are preventing changes, making fields read-only, and requiring certain details.

We have also recently announced more configuration settings for quality assurance with Optional Projects/Assignments and New Data Event Functions, so be sure to evaluate these for incorporation into your projects if needed.

Validating spatial relationships with CARTO from a Fulcrum Data Event

Other Ways to Improve Quality and Feedback

Conditional logic, data validation, and data events are all great ways to make sure your field surveys result in high-quality data but there are a few other approaches to also consider.

One of the easiest ways to allow your data collectors to provide quality feedback is to include a place to provide general notes or comments. A simple inclusion such as this won’t really take away anything from the survey, but allows for potentially valuable information to be noted where it otherwise couldn’t have.

Photo or video fields allow you capture rich media information to enhance documentation of your survey, providing you with details that may prove difficult to capture with other field types. SpatialVideo is one of the features of Fulcrum that sets it apart from other mobile data collection platforms. Be sure to check out our data events for photo and video fields that help implement consistent QA of your data.

Because Fulcrum was built with extensibility in mind, there are plenty of ways to set up integrations with Webhooks, API’s, and other services for alerts and feedback when certain actions occur. One popular example is sending email notifications triggered by an action in Fulcrum. Coleman previously covered an example of this using Zapier and Bryan has shown how this can be done with Google Apps Script.

Benefits of Tighter Feedback Loops

To recap, here are a few of the benefits you can expect to see with shortened feedback loops and enforcing QA in your data collection process:

  • Immediate action when specific events are triggered
  • Elimination of return-trips to recollect data
  • Elimination of data that is thrown out because it’s bad
  • Time and money saved
  • Improved accuracy and confidence in decisions made based upon the data collected

Hopefully we’ve identified a few tips which you’re already using or will soon be using in your Fulcrum workflows. We’re always working with customers and coming up with new examples over in our Developer Documentation, so be sure to check back often.

About the author

Joe is an integration engineer with Fulcrum, and works with clients to help make Fulcrum work with their workflows.

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