OpenForis is a set of free, open-source tools that enable data collection, analysis and reporting, they were produced by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). While the toolkit is flexible enough that it can be applied to many sectors, it was primarily developed for environmental surveys that support National Forest Inventory and the stratification of land cover using satellite imagery.
The toolkit comes with five component parts:
- “OpenForis Collect” for survey design and management
- “OpenForis Collect Mobile” for data collection and validation, this app can be run on android mobile phones and tablets
- “OpenForis Collect Earth” for land cover assessment based on freely available satellite imagery
- “OpenForis Calc” for analysing and disseminating data
- “OpenForis Geospatial toolkit” for processing geospatial data
The Collect Earth and Geospatial toolkit components are both for land cover assessment. Both also draw on satellite imagery rather than field data, therefore we do not focus on them here.
OpenForis Collect can be used to design field surveys on a windows desktop and aggregate data collected through the Open Forest Collect Mobile app. Surveys can be designed to collect both quantitative and qualitative data within one form, with questions being compiled through the user-friendly interface.
When designing the survey in OpenForis Collect, the user can enter validation rules. For example, a validation rule could enable an error message should a tree diameter at breast height be entered, when in answer to a previous question the user has noted the tree is less than 1.3m (breast height). Validation rules such as this may minimise the errors recorded in the survey.
Special features of both OpenForis Collect and OpenForis Collect Mobile are that they can handle large datasets and survey questions with long lists of attributes, including species lists. The user may also use the OpenForis Collect Mobile app to navigate to predetermined geolocations for surveying, which may be especially useful for forest inventory.
Once the data have been collected in the field, data are then transferred from the mobiles to the desktop computer. Data may be transferred from the phones by cable, bluetooth, email, Dropbox and Google Drive. This gives the user a lot of flexibility. The data are then aggregated by the OpenForis Collect application on the desktop. From OpenForis Collect, data can then either be exported into other packages such as Excel, or into OpenForis Calc for statistical analysis.
There are several strengths and weaknesses of OpenForis for community-based forest monitoring:
- OpenForis Collect can give the user feedback on their device of the data they have just collected. For example, if they have just recorded different sources of household income, they may see the total household income at the end of the survey on their mobile.
- Surveys can accommodate a large volume of data from multiple plots and the software has the flexibility to deal with complex questions and answers.
- OpenForis does not require a local area network or internet to transfer survey results or to aggregate data. This reduces the risk that data may be viewed by non-community members, and reliance on the internet or hardware that produces a local area network.
- Multiple language are supported.
- Training materials are only available in English.
- Designing a survey requires some technical expertise. The “Calc” analysis package requires a high level of technical expertise and statistical experience.
- Compared to Cybetracker and Open Data Kit, the software has a comparatively small user group, thus a smaller troubleshooting community is available.
OpenForis is similar to Open Data Kit, in that its components allow you to create surveys and analyse data, and they can both collect data on android mobile phones and tablets. However, in Open Data Kit users build forms in Microsoft excel (or in a similar interface online) while OpenForis enables users to build forms through a less complex desktop based user interface.
Find out more
The software is available to download from www.openforis.org. Tutorials and videos are also available from the same site. The Open Forest Collect Mobile app is available from the Google Play Store. For the whole package, there is an online community support group here: www.openforis.org/support.