Mobile data collection – a perfect marriage for community-based research?


Community-based monitoring networks. Guardian watchmen/stewardship networks. Citizen Science. Crowd-Sourcing. Ground-truthing. Call it what you will: NGOs, community organizations, indigenous governments, wildlife managers (and their consultants) work to fill the data gaps required to manage and protect resources, allocate services, and record rights-based activities using the observational power of people — so that decisions on these things are informed by the best possible local knowledge, are aggregated and in context, and reflect the lived experiences of their members. However, collecting, aggregating and accessing such data on these issues takes money, resources, and technology.

People use different GIS and mobile data collection (MDC) tools to make these projects possible – but which are the best? Is it open data kit? iForms? Cybertracker? There are literally dozens of possibilities. A technical comparison of them all might make a good future post (WWF did a limited one a while back, which is at least a good start. Find it here.

But here’s the first category you might like to think about: up-front cost/effort versus back-end cost/effort. Many Mobile Data Collection (MDC)  tools require back end work to build forms, set up a server, check the forms, migrate the data over to a database, etc…., and then entirely separate systems for analysis. Who will you hire to do that, and how much will you pay them to do all that back-end work setting it up, building forms, migrating data, working out new bugs? If you have internal staff capable of handling this, what’s the cost there? A few years back, a group of practitioners decided that our work required technology that could do x AND y AND z, and none existed. So we’ve funded it, designed it, and built it, worked out bugs, revised it, and pushed it out to communities.

Trailmark Systems is a fully searchable web-mapping, archive, and mobile tool for participatory mapping, field data collection, archiving, and analysis. You can map things in it that link with a transcript (ie. what was exactly said about that place), you can upload audio files, and tag pictures and even old maps to your mapped places. You can query it all and see who said what about where and when. You can do textual (qualitative) analysis about what was said, as well as spatial analysis (which still includes what was actually said or recorded about that space too – let’s not lose that!). Spatial analysis includes filtering, keyword search etc. and easy upload of other spatial files – or draw your own polygon – and see where the interactions are in your data. You can upload old maps, and other archived data. You can export any of the data, anytime. There is a survey tool – with logic settings – that includes a mapping function too (we like the survey tools out there like, but none seem to have a mapping component, so we built one). Yes, and the Mobile Data Collection piece. Ours is flexible and form-based–you make the form (easy peasy – no tables) and it send it out to your devices. Devices can gather GPS’d audio, photos, points and trails data as part of your question tree. And all the data collected automatically goes to an aggregated map page when in wifi range – then you can analyze it based on whatever terms you configured it with. Through the use of standard mapping codes, your mobile, participatory mapping, and survey data is all brought into clear relation.

Oh, and it’s secure. There are permissions levels that define what different users can do and see, all the way up to community level – this means that communities or tribal groups wishing to standardize data collection but not necessarily share everything can do so, within one database. That’s Trailmark in a nutshell.

If you’d like more info, we are always around to chat. Sign up for a freemium version or send us your comments to

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