Quality Assurance

Quality assurance (QA) is like putting railings on stairs: the goal is to prevent problems before they happen. QA is the proactive process intended to minimize the chance of an error being inserted into your data. Practicing QA throughout the monitoring process (Figure 1) can help ensure that the data you are collecting is high quality, follows AIM guidelines, and can be stored in national databases (TerrADat and AquADat). The 2020 Data Management Protocol and the Aquatic Data Management Protocol provide the most current information for ensuring that your data follows AIM standards.

QA measures include strategies like using electronic data capture tools (e.g., DIMA or SARAH) which warn users of invalid data values as they’re entered, calibrating field crews on the methods used, and confirming the completion of all collection methods and forms before leaving a monitoring site.

The first step in QA is ensuring that data collectors receive proper training in the data collection methods.  A complete training includes:

    • Demonstration of methods by subject matter experts
    • Practice of the methods in a range of vegetation communities or stream types
    • Calibration of data collectors
  • Practice using electronic data capture tools and built in QA/QC functions in DIMA or SARAH


Figure 1. Quality Assurance responsibilities for field crews

QA Responsibilities:

Field Crew/Crew Lead QA Responsibilities (Figure 1):

  • For terrestrial data collection, it is the primary responsibility of the Crew Lead to fully QA and QC the project database and coordinate with the terrestrial ID team to determine appropriate data requests.
  • For aquatic data collection, it is also the primary responsibility of the Crew Leads to fully QA the data because by definition QA cannot be performed after leaving the site. The National AIM Team works with the Project Leads, Crew Supervisors, and the Field Crew to QC the data after collection but the QA that the crew does in the field is the very best way to prevent and catch errors in the data.
    • After every transect: pay careful attention to the warnings that SARAH displays regarding values that are outside legal or typical ranges or missing data .
      1. Recollect or remeasure data to double check values as appropriate and make sure to recalibrate the sonde if any water quality measurements are in question.
      2. Make appropriate comments for any unresolvable issues and taking pictures if applicable.
    • Prior to leaving the site:
      1. Pay careful attention to the warnings SARAH displays and make sure to recalibrate the sonde if any water quality measurements are in question.
      2. Make appropriate comments for unresolvable issues and take pictures if applicable.
      3. Prior to leaving the site: pay careful attention to the final QA/QC check in SARAH that displays all missing data and outliers.
        • Consider the values in the ecological context of the whole site. Does the value make logical sense given the sampled reach?
        • If you cannot remember the transect, physically revisit the transect to compare the flagged measurement with the observed conditions.
        • The crew lead is responsible for signing off on the final QA/QC checks, backing up data to the iPad, and reviewing the site csv file to ensure there were no app glitches.

Project Lead and Crew Hiring Agency QA Responsibilities:

  • For terrestrial data collection, the Project Lead should provide oversight of the project database process, and should review the database again once the Crew Lead has gone through it. For aquatic data collection, the Project Lead  and/or Crew Supervisors also provide oversight of field crew decisions on which sites are sampled and how field protocols are implemented. This process will be more intense at the beginning of the season while the crew is still learning.
  • Aquatic Project Leads and/or Crew Supervisors work with The National AIM Team to communicate QA and QC concerns to field crews and resolve these concerns. This process will be more intense at the beginning of the season while the crew is still learning.

QA advice from other project leads:

  • Pay attention to GPS coordinates during the QA and QC process. I found many of the sample points were not at the randomly generated target. This error appears to have been the result of the crew using a graphical interface to navigate to points, rather than waypoints.
  • Check for errors in data collection at the completion of each transect and site.
  • Terrestrial only: Maintain a spreadsheet of unknown plants in the field and update in electronic form on a regular basis.
  • Aquatic only: for instances where a crew is unsure of where to locate bankfull and/or incision, instruct crews to take lots of photos and review the photos with them after they return from the field.
  • Carefully review the data collected after the first 1-3 field outings. This may enable you to catch errors before they are propagated through a large duration of the field season.

Helpful Documents and Links

2020 Data Management Protocol

2020 Collector Survey123 Protocol v4.0

Aquatic Data Management Protocol

Monitoring Manual Volume I – Core Methods – Note the blue QA checklists for each method

Monitoring Manual Volume II (PDF)

Terrestrial Protocol Training Videos – NMSU (html)

Aquatic Monitoring Methods (PDF)

Supplemental Aquatic Monitoring Methods (PDF)

Calibration Report Generation Handout (DIMA)

Click here to go to the Quality Control Page

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