Field Data Collection: Why It Matters

Learn what field data collection is, why it matters, and how the most accurate data can be collected.

What is Field Data Collection?

Field data collection gathers data from an environmental or socio-economic system that is not controlled according to strictly defined experimental conditions. It can be done through direct observation, measurements, GPS devices, or drones.

The focus of field data collection is on measuring and observing phenomena in their natural setting. It implies that the researcher does not manipulate or intervene in the system but instead observes it as it is. Data collected in the field can take many forms, including numerical measurements, observations, interviews, and photographs. The choice of methodology will be dictated by the research question and the nature of the phenomenon under study.

Field data collection is a complex and challenging endeavor, but it is also essential for understanding real-world systems. By studying phenomena in their natural setting, researchers can understand how these systems operate and how they are affected by external factors.

When Should You Choose Field Data Collection?

Field data collection is often the best option when collecting accurate, timely data with a specific environmental requirement from a particular location. For example, if you need to collect water samples from a river, you can’t do that from your office. You have to go to the river and collect the samples in person.

Similarly, if you need to collect data about traffic patterns at a busy intersection, you can’t do that from your desk. You have to go to the intersection and observe the traffic patterns in person. In both cases, field data collection is the only way to get the accurate data you need.

Which Industries Can Benefit From Field Data?

There are several sorts of businesses that can benefit from field data collection, including:

  • Agricultural businesses that monitor crops or combat pests
  • Construction and engineering businesses that examine structures or protect the health and safety of their staff on construction sites
  • Environmental testing companies that inspect pollution on the seaside or soil and borehole sampling
  • Telecommunications companies that inspect poles
  • Municipalities that maintain road signs or pavement surfaces
  • Electrical companies that require data on the environment to provide their services
  • Manufacturing companies that need to ensure the quality of their products and test against industry standards

Types of Field Data Collection

Several different uses for collecting data on-site, including inspections and checklists, allow researchers to build an organized system to process the field data, make it easier to read, and ultimately compile it for future use.

Here are the many forms of data collection you’ll encounter in the field:

  • Investigations – An investigation is a procedure that aims to gather evidence to solve issues.
  • Inspections – An inspection assesses an infrastructure or area to determine its current condition.
  • Assessments – An assessment is a procedure for determining the significance, size, scale, or worth. A damage assessment, for example, may gather information on the degree of property damage caused by a calamity such as a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake.
  • Inventories – An inventory is a count or listing of items, often done to ensure that supplies remain stocked or assess what needs to be replenished.
  • Checklists – A checklist is a list of items to be checked or completed. For example, a job site safety checklist will gather information to verify that the site meets the required safety standards.

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How to Choose the Right Environment

It’s usually best to collect field data in the environment where the product is intended to be used, regardless of what type of data you’re gathering.

However, consider your natural and controlled data collection methods equally. Having too much natural data may make it difficult to control variables accurately. On the other hand, if your information is too controlled, it may not indicate how the product will perform in the real world.

The best way to find the right balance is to pilot test your data collection techniques in natural and controlled environments to see which provides the most accurate results.

Collecting Data in Natural Environments

An uncontrolled environment is when data is collected in a natural setting when external factors are uncontrollable. We can develop realistic use-case scenarios to enhance technology’s ability to mimic a natural environment.

For example, if you want to test how well a new pair of running shoes perform, you would go for a run instead of walking on a treadmill in a controlled environment. By collecting data in uncontrolled environments, you can more accurately simulate real-world conditions and get a comprehensive overview of their performance.

The advantage of collecting data in uncontrolled environments is that the results are more accurate; however, it can be challenging to control external variables.

To collect data in an uncontrolled environment, you’ll need to use a mobile data collection method such as GPS trackers, sensors, or beacons.

Collecting Data in Controlled Environments

A controlled environment is one in which the researcher deliberately imposes experimental conditions on the subject to study them. In other words, the researcher has more control over the variables in a controlled environment.

For example, in a lab experiment, the researcher can control the environment (e.g., temperature, humidity, lighting) and subject (e.g., age, gender, race) to study.

The advantage of collecting data in a controlled environment is that it’s easier to control for external variables. However, the results may not be as accurate.

To collect data in a controlled environment, you can use online surveys, lab tests, or focus groups.

Challenges of Collecting Field Data

Data collection may be time-consuming and challenging, and various factors might determine your success. The following are some of the difficulties that can arise while collecting data:

  • Staff management and training
  • Extreme weather
  • Environmental hazards
  • Language barriers
  • Broken or inaccessible equipment
  • Time limits
  • Lack of cooperation from participants
  • Inability to get accurate and representative data
  • Difficulties in data analysis and interpretation

Information gathering is only half of the work. Transmitting your data back to the office and into forms that can be analyzed frequently presents a whole new set of difficulties, including:

  • Paper forms with missing, damaged, incomplete, or incorrect information
  • Handwriting that is hard to read
  • Transcription errors
  • Ineffective or lack of location data
  • Reporting that requires significant amounts of labor
  • Information that is no longer accurate

In certain situations, it might take days, weeks, or even months for field data to reach its intended recipient, making it essentially useless.

Rob Paredes
Article by
Rob Paredes
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He is a content writer who also does copy for websites, sales pages, and landing pages. Rob worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade before joining SafetyCulture. He got interested in writing because of the influence of his friends; aside from writing, he has an interest in personal finance, dogs, and collecting Allen Iverson cards.