Field data collection can be a complex process, requiring time, money, and people. That’s why logistics are important. A successful project design will save you from wasting time, energy, and resources, and ensure the most reliable data possible.
With that in mind, we’d like to offer some tips for planning an effective field data collection project:
Before you start collecting data, make sure your goals and objectives are clearly defined. What do you want to learn?
There will likely be more data you can collect in the field than is necessary, so beware of scope creep! Collecting additional data that is not critical to your purpose can quickly increase costs and time spent conducting your survey.
Your survey’s design has an enormous impact on how your data is collected, processed, and analyzed. An effective survey is specific and laser-focused. “Nice to have” information should be scrutinized as to whether it really needs to be included, since it can eat up precious time in the field.
When designing your questions, consider how the data will be processed. For example, do you want questions to be open-ended, or do you want to provide a range of structured answers from which respondents can choose?
Another thing to consider is whether you will need supporting reference information while the data is being collected. For example, if a surveyor needs to verify that he or she is within a specific area, how will they confirm that?
Design and logistics go hand-in-hand.
A thorough understanding of the project on the part of your staff will be reflected in the quality of your field data, so don’t skimp on training your teams. Explain the overarching project, and why their job is important. Give them a reason to feel invested in the result.
Introduce them to the tools they’ll be using in the field. If they’re using mobile technology, make sure they are trained by someone who understands it thoroughly.
Then, take them through the survey. Run through each question and make sure your data collectors understand what they are expected to deliver.
If your field teams will be surveying people, they will need to be trained on protocol, such as:
We recommend pairing more experienced technicians with newer ones so they can share their skills and knowledge. Older surveyors tend to have more domain experience while the younger ones are often better at working with technology, so they are cross-trained by the end of the project!
It may seem obvious that you know “where” you’re going to gather data from, but it’s crucial to have a plan before you start.
You’ll want to consider things like:
How many hours per day it will be possible to collect data? What is the distance between collection sites and how will your surveyors travel between them? How long does it take to complete each survey? Does it make more sense to start at the furthest location and work backward? If you are collecting data from multiple sites, there will be an optimal route. Find out what it is!
Lastly, consider what your collectors will need to conduct your survey safely and effectively. How much time do they need? Should they break into teams of two, three, or more? What tools do they need? How will they handle inclement weather? Try to think of every possible scenario and prepare for it.
Check and double-check your gear, and ensure everything is in working order. Make sure surveyors have extra batteries or a designated location on their route where they can charge their devices.
Once you have taken these steps, you’re ready to start collecting data!
But you’re not finished yet…
When you start receiving data, you’ll need to do some:
Monitoring: Watch your teams in the field and monitor your data to note common mistakes and inconsistencies. Share that information with the collectors, and solicit feedback from them as well. They may need extra training or resources to do their jobs correctly, or you may need to make changes to your survey.
Processing: Once you have collected a batch of data, you may need to process it for visualization or analysis. This step can vary quite a bit depending on how the data was gathered. For example, if your protocol dictates that data will be collected with pen and paper, you’ll need to enter the information into a computer spreadsheet or database.
Every additional step introduces a new opportunity for error, so the more you can automate the process, the better.
Analysis: The next step is to analyze the results of your survey by diving deep into your data. A thorough evaluation of your findings may support your hypothesis or disprove it, or introduce possibilities you didn’t even know existed! Either way, if your analysis offers measurable facts, you will have more confidence in your conclusions.
Distribution: Once your data has been analyzed, you may want to distribute or publish your findings. You can use various methods to convey your results: charts, maps, graphics, reports, etc. A combination of methods will often work best to tell your story.
Remember that not all data collection platforms are created equal. Some (like Fulcrum!) allow your data to be instantly distributed in a variety of formats once it’s collected. You can also consider other integrations, such as the ability to connect your data to third-party services.
Want to learn more? You’ll find best practices, tips, and tricks in our Guide to Field Data Collection!