Field Papers: Sometimes Pen and Paper is the Appropriate Technology

Over the last year as the team at Cadasta worked on the initial design, and subsequent development of the Cadasta Platform for documenting property rights, a critical consideration for us was ensuring flexibility in how data was collected for posting to the Platform.  Recognizing that we would not be able to integrate with every data collection tool and scenario, we elected to initially focus on a range of options that we felt would address most use cases – this includes:

  • Open source mobile applications for data collection OpenDataKit (ODK) & GeoODK, commonly used survey field collection tools (though other applications will be able to directly integrate in the future through Cadasta’s API);
  • Digitization from imagery using a global basemap from Digital Globe; and
  • Utilization of Field Papers to allow for paper based sketch maps which could be integrated into the platform as digital boundary maps.

While I had worked with mobile data collection applications in the past and utilized imagery to digitize property boundaries, admittedly Field Papers was new to me when first recommended by our CTO, Kate Chapman. As she explained, Field Papers is a tool that allows a user to print a map (with a backdrop of OpenStreetMap data or imagery) and then take into the field for recording notes, sketching boundaries, etc.  Later, the user can photograph each printed page and upload – and here is what makes Field Papers so interesting – because of the QR code embedded in the bottom corner of the printed sheets, the image will then be geo-referenced within your database, and the user can then trace any boundaries and transcribe notes as needed.  

A paper based approach to data collection has always been critical for us at Cadasta, as our experience has told us that there is often times no replacement for pen and paper.  Murphy’s Law is alive and well, particularly when working in emerging economies; hardware breaks, devices need charging, parts can be hard to find and the price point of electronics can at times be too high to be a feasible options for some groups. Field Papers fills a need for Cadasta and many of our partners, is easy to use, cost effective and in many instances is fit for the purpose at hand.  


Field Papers Four Step Atlas Creation Process


As we began working with Field Papers we recognized that their would be some challenges in integrating with the Cadasta platform, and subsequently have been contributing to and investing in this open source project.  My colleague Lindsey Jacks will be detailing some of this work in a soon to be released blog. Stay tuned!