Open Data Kit – A Must Have For Field Work

Posted on September 7, 2016


I am very into developing solutions for people, with a bad habit of sometimes opting to devising new solutions in-house, maybe because it is relatively faster and fits in just perfectly to what is needed. In line with this, I have led projects with my team where we had to device survey mobile applications, as in ones where participants could interact with. In all cases, because our clients had a specific requirement on how things were to be presented, sequence and Design, we opted for building each solution with two main things in mind: ease of use in terms of management of the app by the client, and make an awesome interactive and wow’ing solution.

Our solutions’ ease of management was accomplished by using google forms as the back-end! How you may ask, well, we designed a very simple form with text responses where the data would be sent to, and on the native Android or iOS application we would organize the data to be submitted to the form. This was done because our clients did not want cumbersome tools or systems to manage this. And it is a dead simple and very cost effective solution for projects with not too high demands, and offline capability apps.

Recently, I have been involved in a project where I have a need to carry out surveys, and I had to consider a few very important points:

  1. I do not care on the presentation aspects of the survey, I just need to collect data!
  2. I have very little time to implement a solution because I need to be on the field and focusing on other aspects of the project;
  3. The data collection work will be carried out in rural areas of Mozambique, with very limited access to the internet on some of the locations;

With this in mind, many options, including Google forms were ruled out and I recalled having played around briefly with ODK – Open Data Kit. I hadn’t fully implemented the solution before, nevertheless I quickly identified that it would be a suitable fit.

So I started reading the documentation at and began by installing the mobile app, played with sample form builds and in no time had my surveys designed and on the mobile devices with ease! And to be honest, this was all done in less than an hour, while on the car to the field! (I did however, have the questions prepared beforehand). I carried out my first survey with select participants, which worked well, with exception of geolocation capturing on my tablet (Amazon 7 inch Fire) and I am sure it is the device itself, and not the app, because my mobile phone works just fine.

The last piece of the puzzle was to get the data up on the cloud for later manipulation, that’s when it was necessary to get the back-end set-up. ODK provides many options for getting data in and out, including Google Spreadsheet, but to really reap the benefits of the solution, I would highly recommend setting up an Aggregate as per the instructions on which took me the time we got into the place we were going to spend the night, to when we had to leave for dinner (all in >30 minutes) to get setup. And it is free to host it on Google Servers, if that does not concern you. After setting up the server, it was a matter of configuring the devices to point to the aggregate url from appspot and voilá, synchronized all the data to the cloud.

I would definitely recommend anyone who needs to carry out field surveys and the sorts, to give this tool a try. It is awesome! Oh and it is Open Source!

Thanks for reading.

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