How to use Scanbot to collect and organise field data

This post is a break from my current series looking at tools to visualise data.  Instead I'll write about a tool that you may find useful to collect and organise data from the field.

If you're working at a larger scale across multiple sites then it's really important to collect your data in a more structured and standardised way.  If you don't the work involved in aggregating and analysing it is very significant.  This is an area that we specialise in helping with.

However, if your work is at a smaller scale (say across a handful of sites) then simpler tools may be better for you.  In this post I’ll write about Scanbot, a free app for Android and iOS that can help you to collect and organise field data.

I’ve chosen to cover Scanbot as I’ve used it extensively for a while now.  However, there are of course many alternatives that you can try if you prefer.  Some of these are PDFpen Scan+Scanner Pro and Evernote.

What does Scanbot do?

Scanbot makes it easy to create and share a high quality scan of any document using the camera of your Android or iOS phone or tablet.  You simply open the app, point the camera at the document and it takes a scan.  The app will crop and re-size the image.  If you have an Internet connection, it can also upload the file to a cloud server.

How can it help field workers?

Imagine that you've just completed a workshop.  You're left with lots and lots of paper to organise.  There is the attendance list of the participants, flipchart papers and some data collection forms that participants have completed.

Field workers can use the camera on their smartphone to take a picture of each document.  The app will automatically crop the image to fit the boundaries (cutting out the background of the table it's on for example), adjusting the perspective (if you took the picture at an angle) and re-size the image (avoiding enormous files that full up your device).  The result is a professional looking scan.

If you have a 3G connection these can then be automatically uploaded to a Google Drive, Dropbox or othert cloud folder that is shared with your colleagues.

The same can be done with receipts, saving you from carting lots of paper around with you.

How can it help M&E managers?

Scanbot saves M&E managers waiting for flipcharts and forms to be transported back to the office for collation and processing.  It can help name each file according to a pattern you set (using criteria like place, date or time), making it easier to organise and store your data systematically.

The paid version also includes optical character recognition, which is designed to create an editable PDF where you can cut and paste text from the scan into another application.  I've had great results with this when scanning text that has been typed.  However, recognising hand writing has been a bit hit and miss. 

If you want to try it out you can start with the free version.  The paid version costs about $5 and includes some more advanced features.