Capturing digital data in the field
– Ganfield: data integrity from field to final product
Guy Buller, Geological Survey of Canada
We aim to develop a field data collection tool that will emulate present
information gathering procedures that will be run on a pocket PC.
This tool will use ArcPad as the mapping portion of data gathering
while other information will be captured using ArcPad application
but will be stored in a separate distinct database. By having the
two different storage techniques of data there is little or no manipulation
of the original data upon returning from the field. By removing the
burden of having to input field data into a computer system the scientist
is able to concentrate on the big picture rather than dealing with
data input problems. The storage of information in a data structure
also allows the geologist to easily query all the field information
to aid in determining trends or common traits in the study area.
The information gathered in the field is the starting point for the
development of understanding and by facilitating the access to data
the time lag to publishing results is reduced. It is also hoped that
the field information would be able to seamlessly link to geochemical
information that would be derived after the testing of field samples
later in the year. Linking the field observations to the geochemical
analysis would allow a researcher to view both the geologists actual
field measurements and observations and relate them to the geochemical
evidence. This connected information would give much more information
to an individual measurement than just the numbers being determined
from a lab.
The following point form sequence items are further explained in
the development plan below.
- Determine what information needs to be gathered by geologists
in the field.
- Enhance map capture pages for the ArcPad application that are
intuitive to the user.
- Enhance the field information database that takes in all the
varying information that geologist would capture (i.e. make it
- Continue development of pages in the ArcPad application that
will send information to the separate database.
- Lab test and evaluate
- Redesign as per need
- Field test
- Refine as per need
The following is a guide to the development of the application
following the procedure outlined above. The first four items may
occur concurrently while the last three are subject to the final
outcome of the previous item. Each item is explained below.
- The initial stages of the development there is the need to find
out what the exploration geologist needs. The development team
needs to keep in mind that much of the techniques that the geologist
uses have been passed down from others and may have been in use
for a long period of time. By building an understanding of what
the user expects or wants out of a collection device will help
the development process ensure that in the end the geologist will
actually use the device. There is a caveat however, that too much
information can cause a bottleneck and slow development through
too many differing ideas. By entering into discussions with a few
scientists there is an ability to develop a straw man concept of
development. This concept allows the end-users to get a sense of
where the development is going and they are able to make suggestions
as to what is needed. This also makes them involved in the project,
which enhances the chances of use later on. It is fairly obvious
that this phase of the development is an on going activity through
the whole development phase.
- The development of the map capture pages will be the easiest
portion of the development phase as much of the work has already
been completed in previous activities. The only thing to take place
is the refinement of the code and the reworking of the forms to
fit with the latest release of the development application. By
using the latest version of ArcPad the team is able to use the
latest object model refinements and thus make the final development
more robust. Importantly the map page is the jumping-off point
for the data collection process and must be set up so that the
user can easily understand what the next action is to be done after
completing the mapping portion of the application.
- In terms of a separate database that is to be developed some
problems are foreseen. These stem mostly from the diversity of
mapping and sample collecting techniques from scientist to scientist.
Furthermore, the differences between specific focus groups' needs
must be considered to allow for a broad range of usability of such
a data system. This 'global' requirement implies that the data
structure needs to be modular in design so as to be able to 'plug
in' specific table sets that allow the easily assimilation of the
greatest variety of data. To make this happen a common lexicon
or generalised terms need to be used so that all users will be
able to understand or translate common concepts to their particular
need. Though the database itself does not need to be accessed by
the end user, it has to be intuitive enough that non-database orientated
users will not be automatically turned off by its complexity. This
need for non-complexity becomes a problem as more and more diverse
information is gathered. To further complicate the situation, the
new data structure must be able to link to the existing enterprise
level data structures that are already in place for the various
focus groups. Thus the development and design in this phase will
require an increase in the amount of discussion with the geoscientists
to be able to meet their needs.
- For an application to work well, there should not be any need
to jump through hoops to achieve a result. The best solution considered
right now is to use a single application rather than multiple applications.
This means that the main application to be used will be ArcPad,
which will connect to the separate database. The connection to
the database will be via ADOCE using the scripting portion of ArcPad.
As the development of the scripts utilises VBScript, common to
Active Server Pages on the web, there is no need to become an expert
in a new language before results are obtainable. In concert with
the scripting language, all the forms are built using XML which
is easily understandable as it is a close cousin to HTML.
- The two phase lab testing and evaluation of the Ganfeld system
will require the use of the tool in the field like conditions and
'show and tell' meetings with geoscientists The simulated field
testing will build on the experience gained in the preliminary
tests last year, where the collection of data was very successful
even with a limited application design. This first phase of evaluation
will focus purely on the functionality of the system and will have
to be monitored closely so that refinements to functionality can
be made. In the second phase of testing it is expected that there
will be the discovery or addition of new end user requirements.
Again, by involving the end user during the development of the
product there is greater chance that the end user will adopt the
system in their fieldwork.
- Redesign of the application will come about as to the needs of
the end user. These redesigns may take place during the testing
phase but should only be considered as tweaking the system rather
than a redesign phase. Should the need to change pages and functionality
of the application take place then this would be a redesign phase.
It would be in the best interest of the team to make sure that
the changes are documented so that they are reproducible at a later
- Field testing or field trials will take place in real time situations
of actual field gathering. This will require that a paper backup
(field note book) will be maintained at the same time to ensure
against a catastrophic data loss. It is thought that the field
trials will be where the greatest variability of mapping techniques
or sampling technique will take place. During this phase, specific
notes on required functionality change will have to be taken and
passed back to the development team prior to final release.
- Final redesign will take placed based on information gathered
from the field trials
- Release is where the application is in a usable format where
a geologist can rely on the application more than the traditional
note book and where the input of information is as rapid as writing
in the note book.
Presently the first three development phases are taking place.
The development has been an advancement from the early stages of
last year's application design, which was developed in the course
of a few days and was a bare bones application having a number of
faults. Interaction with geologists continues and provides greater
clarity as to the needs of the geologists. Development of the interface
is continuing with some success for the non-map related data gathering.
Plans are in the works for running a testing phase during the summer