Category Archives: Apps

Using Input/Mergin and QGIS for Field Data Collection

This post will show the basic steps for working with an alternative to Fulcrum for community data collection with a smartphone. The app is named Input. It’s a mobile app developed by Lutra Consulting. The app is free. Until now it was only available on Android. However, Lutra Consulting is working on a version for iOS! The Input workflow is based in QGIS. This means you set up your data layers in QGIS, along with the logic for your data collection. (This will mean a steeper learning curve for those not already familiar with QGIS. But don’t let that discourage you, it is not that much steeper!)

You then use their Mergin  cloud service to synchronize your QGIS project and data between your desktop and phone. There is a Mergin QGIS plugin making this quite simple. All the symbology you set up with your data in QGIS will be honored by the Input mobile app. With the combination of QGIS and Input/Mergin you can mimic all the field data collection functionality covered in a typical Community Health Maps workshop!

Getting started

Here I will walk through the steps in setting up the same type of data collection in CHM workshops. (Note: this post was inspired by the well done video by Dr. Hans van der Kwast on using Input). To get started:

  • Create a folder for your project
  • Open QGIS (in this example I’m using v 3.8).
  • Install the QuickMapServices plugin and add the OSM Standard and Google Satellite basemaps.
  • Zoom in to your study area.


This step is optional but helpful. You will set up a layer as the study area boundary.  From the QGIS menu bar choose: Layer | Create layer | New Geopackage Layer.

  • Save the Database  (*.gpkg) into your folder.
  • Table name = study_area
  • Geometry typePolygon 
  • Click OK.

Now that the study area has been created, the polygon for the study area can be digitized and then styled. Right-click on the layer and choose Toggle Editing from the context menu. Use the Add Polygon Feature tool on the Digitizing toolbar to trace your study area. 

Styling the Study Area

Clicked F7 to open the Layer Styling Panel.  Here I gave the polygon a Fill Style of No Brush, a Stroke Color of bright red and a Stroke Width of 1.26. This study area covers a school and park near my office.


Creating the Infrastructure Points Layer

This is more important. Create a second layer into which you will record points out in the field. Repeat the above steps to create a point layer and save it into the same GeoPackage. Name the Table infrastructure and set the Geometry type to point. Before clicking OK you will add columns to record the data you will collect. For each new column, enter the name, set the Type , Maximum length and click the Add to Fields list button. (Although not in the screenshot below you can also choose to add a date column – type = DateTime.) When you have added each field click OK to create the layer. 


When saving, choose Add New Layer so the layer is added to the existing GeoPackage.

Now symbolize the points. Here I have used to Simple markers to create a purple target icon.


Save your QGIS project as a QGS file into the same folder. (At the moment Input does not support the zipped default QGZ project file format.)

Creating Offline Basemaps

If you have a cellular connection the basemaps will work fine. However, if you anticipate losing cellular connection out in the field, you can use the Generate XYZ Tiles (MBTiles) processing tool to create offline versions of each basemap. You can set the extent to that of your study area layer. You will need to experiment with the zoom level settings. When they have been created you can use the Browser Panel to add these to your map. 


Working with Map Themes

You can also set up Map Themes. These allow you to have different views of your map. Clicking the eye icon at the top of the Layers Panel will open the Map Themes menu. For example, to set up a map theme for just the Offline Satellite layer the study area and your point layer, you would just turn those three layers on. Then choose Add Theme and name it Offline Satellite from the Map Themes menu. Here I have set up several themes. With these I can easily toggle between these different views while in the field. 


Setting Up Field Widgets for the Points Layer

The next steps are key for mimicking the data form functionality in Fulcrum. You will open the Layer Properties for the point layer, and switch to the Attributes Form tab. Here you can select each Field, and set up custom widgets which will control the editing behavior in the field. Below are the fields typically used in a CHM workshop.

  • fid – you don’t need to see this field, so select it and choose a Widget type of Hidden.
  • Infrastructure type – Select a Widget type of Value map. Here you can enter a series of choices with 1-x values. Under Constraints check Not Null which makes this required data.


  • Bike rack capacity –  Select a Widget type of Text Edit. This allows the data collector to type the number for this. Since this only needs to be answered if the infrastructure type = Bike rack you can enter that as an expression in the Constraints section.


  • Num bikes – set this up the same as the bike rack capacity.
  • Tree type  Widget type = Text Edit and you can set up the appropriate Constraint expression for this.
  • Sign type – Widget type = Text Edit and again set up the appropriate Constraint expression.
  • PhotographWidget type = Attachment. In the Path section click Relative paths. Then scroll down to find the Integrated Document Viewer section. Set the Type to Image.
  • Date – Set the Field Format to Date. Uncheck Calendar popup. Under Constraint check Not Null. Then in the Defaults section enter $now which will default to today’s date. 

Close Layer Properties and save your project. 

Project Properties

Now there is just one more setting to create. From the Project menu choose Properties and switch to the Data Sources tab.  Here check the box making the study_area Read only. This layer is just for reference and will not be edited in the field.

Save your project.

You are done with the set up and will now use the Mergin plugin to migrate your data to the server. In QGIS install the Mergin plugin.

Setting Up Mergin

Visit the Mergin web page ( and set up an account. With the free account you get 100Mb of data storage. (You can inquire with Lutra Consulting about getting additional cloud storage space.) 

In the QGIS Browser panel you will see a new Mergin data provider. Click on it and when prompted enter your credentials.


In the Browser panel again right-click on the Mergin icon and choose New Project. Fill in the details and click OK. The data will upload to your cloud account.


Collecting Data with Input

Now that the project is uploaded to the Mergin server you can switch to your smartphone. Install the Input app. Log in with your credentials and you will be able to access your project from the Projects list. You can then use the More option to switch between different map themes.


When you are ready to collect a point, click the Record button and then the Add Point button. The form will open allowing you to collect all the data for that feature including a photograph. The points which have a condition preventing them from being entered will be unavailable and red. For example, the animation below shows a Stop sign being collected. The fields related to other things (bike racks and trees) are unavailable because a condition has been set within QGIS. Once the information has been entered simple click Save and move to the next data collection point.


Downloading/Synchronizing the Data

When you are ready to download the data you can either 1) Use the Mergin data provider via the QGIS Browser panel to Synchronize your data, or 2) Synchronize the data via the Mergin website.


You can then open the updated project from the same Mergin provider and begin to work with your data!


This is still a very new app but shows immense promise for Community Health Mappers. I encourage Android users to try it out. iOS users stay tuned for future developments.

Fulcrum Updates The App Designer

We introduced Fulcrum in a recent post and are very impressed with this tool. Recently Fulcrum updated their App Designer. Fields are now divided into categories from the most common and basic fields, to the most advanced.  The groups of fields have also been color coded from green to red to make this arrangement more intuitive. The five categories are: Basic, Choice, Design, Media and Advanced. At the top are Basic fields which include Text, Numbers, Date etc. This reorganization makes finding fields and developing a form even faster.


Re-organization of the Fulcrum App Designer

One category of interest is Design. These are fields that can be used to organize your data collection form. Sections allow you to divide your form into parts. For example, you could separate your main survey questions from your data collector metadata questions. The example App below has two sections: Main section and Data Collection Information.


A Fulcrum App Using Sections

Organizing your questions like this can help data collectors complete the form, especially for form with a lot of questions. The screenshot below shows how the above form is rendered on a smartphone.


Data Collection App Implementing Sections on a Smartphone

In future posts we will give some helpful hints to working with Fulcrum including sharing forms, managing data and downloading data. Stay tuned!

Community Health Mapping: A New Year Review

To start the New Year I thought I’d begin with a review of Community Health Mapping (CHM). There are a lot of new project partners, and I thought it would be a good time to give a project overview. CHM is a collaborative effort between the National Library of MedicineCenter for Public Service Communications and Bird’s Eye View. The National Library of Medicine is funding the initiative.

The overall goal is to empower community organizations serving vulnerable or underserved populations with low cost, intuitive mapping technology. Therefore we’ve been working with programs organizations who:

  • Focus on vulnerable populations
  • Frequently use and collect data
  • Need effective, scalable & easy to use mapping tools
  • Lack resources (i.e., for proprietary GIS training & software)

We have identified a suite of tools that allow you to collect custom field data, analyze that data, combine it with other spatial datasets, and generate both static maps and/or dynamic maps on the internet. This allows organizations to collect and work with their own data, and if appropriate, share it with others. CHM involves three components that meet all basic mapping needs:

  • Field Data Collection
  • Desktop Analysis and Cartography
  • Internet Mapping
Community Health Mapping Workflow

Community Health Mapping Workflow

A given project may not require all three, however, collectively these components address the basic needs of all mapping projects.

Field Data Collection:

Rather than focusing on the use of expensive GPS receivers, we recommend the use of smart phones and tablets for these reasons:

  • Most community-based organizations already have them!
  • Many know how to use them
  • They’re intuitive
  • They’re portable
  • They come with an on board GPS receiver (iPhone 5 uses GPS + GLONASS)
  • Have on board cameras
  • Can connect to wireless networks
  • Access to the internet
  • Email is available
  • “There’s an app for that!”
SmartPhones and Tablets vs. Traditional GPS Receivers

SmartPhones and Tablets vs. Traditional GPS Receivers

Of course an important consideration is horizontal accuracy. You can read our blog post on that topic to see if mobile smart devices meet your project needs.

When collecting data you need to be able to develop your own custom data collection form. The top three mobile apps we have found are:

Desktop Analysis and Cartography:

After community field data collection, the next step typically involves bringing the data into a desktop GIS. This is the middle step in the workflow. Here the data can be viewed against basemaps such as Google or OpenStreetMap, and combined with other organizational data. This is also where analyses (proximity, density etc.) can be conducted. Presentation quality maps can also be generated in this step.

The software we found to be the best fit is QGIS. This is an open source desktop GIS software. It has many strengths:

  • It can consume many kinds of data, including all the data that would come out of the field data collection apps.
  • It is both intuitive and robust.
  • It has a large suite of geoprocessing tools for analyzing data.
  • It will run on Windows, Mac, or Linux.
  • It is free to download and install.
  • It is well documented.
  • There is a large user community.
  • New functionality is being continuously added. New stable versions are being released every 4 months!
Baltimore Diabetes Data in QGIS Desktop

Baltimore Diabetes Data in QGIS Desktop

Web Presentation

Often you may want to present an interactive map of your results. Interactive means the map reader can zoom in/out, pan the map and turn layers off and on. For this we recommend CartoDB.

You can sign up for a free account, which gives you 50Mb of storage space. Data can be collected with a smart phone or tablet and brought directly into CartoDB.  It is a very intuitive platform. You can literally drag and drop a spreadsheet onto the CartoDB page and have the data upload to your account.  It will accept the most common geospatial file formats including: spreadsheets and comma delimited text files with addresses or coordinates, KML/KMZ, GPX, and shapefiles.

CartoDB also has great documentation including:

Baltimore Diabetes Data in CartoDB

Baltimore Diabetes Data in CartoDB

In Conclusion

This blog has a lot of resources including reviews of mapping technology and case studies. You might begin by clicking on some of the links in this entry. We are also working on a 6 lab CHM curriculum that interested parties will be able to use to hone their skills. Stay tuned for that!

We are always looking for new partners and continuously work to support current project partners. If you are interested, or have questions please don’t hesitate to contact John Scott (jscott at or Kurt Menke (kurt at Most importantly get out and do some mapping in 2016!




Field Data Collection with Fulcrum

Fulcrum was reviewed in our initial survey of field data collection apps in 2012, and almost made the top three. In the last 3 years Fulcrum has improved and has become perhaps the most intuitive and useful data collection app we’ve evaluated period.

It is available for both iOS and Android. It isn’t free, but the subscription fee is affordable. It costs anywhere from $18 – $25 per month. The three pricing plans give you 10 – 30Gb of online storage, which is substantial. Fulcrum offers a free 30 day trial which includes all the functionality. You can use this option to test Fulcrum for your projects. In the following example, I will be using a health care facility data collection form to show how Fulcrum works.

Fulcrum has the most intuitive data collection form builder of any app we’ve seen. When you design a form Fulcrum calls it an ‘app’. Simply drag and drop from the Add Fields section to your ‘app’ to add questions (see figure below). Available data input types include text, numbers, date, single or multiple choice, photos, videos, and audio.  There are no tricks to collecting GPS locations as with iForm. Fulcrum collects locations automatically.

A health care facility data collection form in Fulcrum.

A health care facility data collection form in Fulcrum.

Once a field has been added simply set you parameters. The figure below shows the facility type question being edited. To do this simply click on a field, and fill out the details. It’s so easy a 50 year old can do it!

The health care facility type question parameters.

The health care facility type question parameters.

The companion mobile app can be downloaded for free from the Apple Store or the Google Play Store. Once installed, login and your data collection app(s) will sync with your mobile device. The figure below shows the health care facilities data collection app on an iPhone. Answering the questions is intuitive. Once collected your data will be synced with your cloud account.

Health Care Facilities data collection form on an iPhone

Health Care Facilities data collection form on an iPhone

Once back in the office, login to your account, select your data collection app, and choose Start Export Wizard. You will be taken to the page below. Choose your file format. A complete array of GIS formats is available including: shapefiles, geodatabases, KML, PostGIS and Spatialite.  Choose any other appropriate options and click Next to download your data.

Fulcrum Data Export Options

Fulcrum Data Export Options

I highly recommend that everyone involved in Community Health Mapping evaluate Fulcrum. Along with iForm and ODK Collect is a CHM recommended data collection tool. There is a monthly subscription fee but it is low. It is the easiest and most flexible tool we’ve found. You can use the free 30 day trial period to see if it works for you.

Field Data Collection with iForm

Unfortunately the most recent iOS system update rendered the EPI Collect app unusable. Apparently it is no longer being supported on the Apple platform. With this discovery, and a training in Charleston just around the corner, we set out to find a replacement. We searched for another free app for iPads and iPhones that allows you to develop your own data collection form. Fortunately we discovered iForm  which turns out to be even easier to use, and more robust. (NOTE: It is also available for Android devices.)

iFormBulder Website

iFormBulder Website

This app has a lot of similarities with ODK Collect which we recommend for Android users (ODK Collect is described in the Field Data Collection blog post). With iForm you create a free account on the companion iFormBuilder website. You use their online form builder to create your data collection form. The form builder has over 30 different types of data inputs to choose from! For example: text, number, date, time, pick list, phone number, location (GPS coordinates) and images (photographs). Individual data elements can be set up as questions for the data collectors such as: What is the name of the site?

A form being designed on the iFormBuilder site

A data collection form being designed on the iFormBuilder site

Once the form is developed you can begin to collect data.

  • Open the app on your mobile device and login.
  • Tap the Sync button and all the forms and records that are associated with your account will be downloaded to the device.
  • Head out to your project site and collect data.
  • At the first data collection site simply open the data collection form, answer each question, and click Done to save the information.
  • Repeat at each site.
Data collection form while out collecting data on an iPad

Data collection form while out collecting data on an iPad

If you are collecting data while in cellular coverage, the data will be synced to your iFormBuilder cloud account as you go. If you leave cellular coverage that is OK. The on-board GPS receiver on your mobile device will still allow you to collect your locations. Once you are back within cellular range you can Sync your data to your iFormBuilder cloud account. The data can be viewed on the mobile device in tabular or map format. Back in the office the data can be downloaded from the iFormBuilder site in several formats, the most useful of being an Excel spreadsheet. The data in the spreadsheet can then be brought in QGIS or CartoDB and mapped.

Field data being viewed on a map on an iPad

Field data being viewed on a map within the iForm app on an iPad

iForm has some additional features that stream line data collection. You can link your iFormBuilder account to a DropBox or Box account. With this link established your data and photos will be uploaded to a DropBox folder automatically. There are also tools for assigning a form to different users. This allows you to develop one data collection form and share that among a team of data collectors.

The free iFormBuilder account has some limits.  You are limited to 10 forms and 100 records per form. However, you can log in to your account, export the data, and delete those online records and continue data collection.

In summary, iForm is a powerful and intuitive free app for collecting community health data with iPhones, iPad, and Android devices.

Community Health Maps Conducts a Training in the South Carolina Lowcountry

Recently Kurt Menke headed to Charleston, South Carolina to train several groups how to map their communities. This region is also known as the ‘lowcountry’ due to the flat, low elevation geography. The training was hosted by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and included people from Communities in Schools – Charleston (CISC) and the MUSC College of Nursing.

MUSC Community Health Mapping Training Session

MUSC Community Health Mapping Training at the School of Nursing

First everyone learned how collect GPS field data with iPads. For this we used a new app named iForm. This app was used in lieu of EPI Collect, which no longer supported on iOS. (The next blog post will cover iForm in more detail.) iForm is an app very similar to the Android app ODK Collect, allowing a custom data collection form to be developed. To practice we collected bike rack locations  and seating areas around the MUSC campus. The afternoon was spent working with everyone’s  data. GPS data points were brought into QGIS and shown against some local Charleston GIS data layers.

MUSC Data Points in QGIS

MUSC Data Points in QGIS

The points were also uploaded to CartoDB. CartoDB is another new component of the Community Health Mapping workflow. It has become more intuitive than GIS Cloud and worked really well. (Note: There will be a post on using CartoDB soon too.)

The following day I visited CISC’s Derek Toth and three of his students at St. John’s High School on John’s Island, SC. Over a working lunch Mr. Toth showed students how easy it is to collect GPS points with their iPhones. We collecting several points while walking around the campus.


Mapping the St. Johns Campus

Afterwards we went back inside and showed them how to upload the points into CartoDB and make a map. The figure below shows the results of 45 minutes worth of work! Click on the map to open the live version.

St Johns High School Map

St Johns High School Data Points in CartoDB

This spring these three juniors will be leading the charge to map their island!  They will be presenting their work to the National Library of Medicine later this spring. I look forward to seeing their work!

St. Johns High School Mapping Team

The St. Johns High School Mapping Team from left to right: Jocelyn Basturto, Khatana Simmons, Candace Moorer (MUSC), Corrieonna Roper & Derek Toth (CISC)

Technology + Youth = Change

by Chad Noble-Tabiolo

It all started in May 2013 when I watched the documentary entitled Revolutionary Optimists on PBS’s Independent Lens. It showed how young people from a slum in Kolkata, India were able to map the deficient and unsafe water taps in their community, in order to plea with the government for more and safe drinking water lines. The film highlighted technology in an unconventional way. It showed GIS-technology as an innovative tool to mobilize youth for social change.

This heralded the beginning of a partnership with Map Your World to develop a mapping project in the Philippines in the summer of 2013. Through coordination with domestic and international partners, the youth mapping program was implemented in Southville 7 — an impoverished and neglected slum community, about three-hours south of metro Manila. The issues faced in Southville 7 ranged from lack of access to jobs, water and electricity to food insecurity and child and maternity health; and because of a lack of response from both the government and non-governmental sectors, the project was aimed to raise awareness and demand change.

In just a few weeks, a dozen phones were donated. Youth, ranging from 15 to 23 years old, were trained to go house-to-house to collect data. By the end of three months, 3000 families were surveyed and the needs of the community were mapped. Depicted below is Map 1, which shows the families who have direct access to water in their homes.

Families who have direct access to water in their homes.

Map 1 – Families who have direct access to water in their homes.

Because of the unequal distribution of resources, it was evident who had direct access to water and who did not. Map 2 shows those families who did not have direct access to water. These families had to walk more than 1 kilometer to a communal water tap.

Families who had to walk more than 1 kilometer  to water.

Map 2 – Families who had to walk more than 1 kilometer to access fresh drinking water.

Lastly, Map 3, represents the top four needs according to the three different subdivisions or sites in Southville 7.  Collectively these maps and data provide an opportunity for proper and adequate planning for public health infrastructure and needs.

The top four needs according to the three different subdivisions or sites in Southville 7: Jobs, Water, Electricity and Healthcare.

Map 3 – The top four needs according to the three different subdivisions or sites in Southville 7: Jobs, Water, Electricity and Healthcare.

The Android mobile phones used by the youth were powered by open-source applications for GPS-mapping and data collection. ODK Collect or Open Data Kit was the data collection tool utilized in the project. It can be found on the Android market. (NOTE: This tool is also described in the Community Health Mapping blog post on Field Data Collection). This tool is functional only after uploading a survey form that is created in Microsoft Excel and uploaded to the companion site The maps were created online with Map Your World, an online community mapping tool inspired by the Revolutionary Optimists documentary.

Map Your World Banner

Map Your World Banner

In the end, the 30 youth involved in the mapping project were able to accomplish an endeavor that many people in their community had not expected. They were able to successfully map who in their community had access to water, electricity, jobs and vaccination for children under five years old, among others. They became leaders who are now equipped with leadership and technological skills that many in their community lack. They were empowered to raise awareness about the social injustices and health inequalities existing among them.

One of the community mappers with an array of Android phones.

One of the community mappers with an array of Android phones.

The Southville 7’s mapping work was primarily a vehicle for instilling hope, and the use of GPS/mapping-technology offered an opportunity for the youth to be the voice for their community. According to one youth, “For me, mapping is like knowing. Knowing the problems, and how people are coping with them. Through the work we can open the eyes of the people, not only the things that can help them, but things that can help us all.

Youth mapping their community

Youth mapping their community