Category Archives: Uncategorized

Version 20.05

It looks like we have just got the May release out in time! Enjoy while I get straight into the June release.

New Features

Transcription of Medical Notes

Transcribe Medical can now be used to convert audio into text with special consideration given to medical terms. To use this you will need to add the following parameters to a text question:

  • auto_annotate=yes. This makes the system automatically convert the audio to text otherwise you can use the console to manually do the transcription. You can also use the console to modify an automatic transcription.
  • source=question_name. The source identifies the name of the question that has the audio recording
  • medical=yes. If not set the standard transcription will be used and probably will make a mess of the medical terms.
  • from_lang=en-US. US english is the only language currently supported. Because there is only one valid choice you can omit it.
  • med_type=conversation, or med_type=dictation. If you specify conversation then the transcription will expect more than one voice.

After you submit your survey it can take a few minutes for the transcription to happen. Just keep pressing refresh in the console until you see the results.

Online Editor Support

The online editor now supports the setting of translate and transcribe parameters.

In the online editor select “parameters” as the attribute that you want to edit. Then click on the “edit” button of the text question that is going to hold the transcript. The annotation parameters can be set on the “Annotate” tab of the dialog.


As with the standard transcribe there are fees levied by AWS on the use of transcribe medical. Currently we allow 800 seconds per month free usage. However this free usage has to be enabled for an organisation. Get in touch if you want to try it out or need more than 800 seconds per month.

“In” and “not in” Supported as search functions in WebForms

In the previous release support was added for cascading selects using CSV files in WebForms. These used the ‘matches’ function. For example:

type        name    label     appearance
select_one  country  Country  search(locations)
select_one  city     City     search(locations, 'matches', 'country', ${country})

Now you can also use the ‘in’ function. The list of values is space separated. So the same format as select multiple question. This allows you to do the following:

type            name     label     appearance
select_multiple category  Category  search('list')
select_one      product   Product  search('list', 'in', 'category', ${category})

The products that are in the selected categories will be available for selection in the second question.

“not in” works in a similar way but will only show choices that do not have a match in the list. The other 3 search formats supported by fieldTask are not currently supported in webforms:

  1. contains
  2. startswith
  3. endswith
  4. matches (webforms)
  5. in (webforms)
  6. not in (webforms)

Support for Static Default Images

You can specify the name of an image, from shared resource, as the default value of an image question. For example this could be a diagram on which the user is expected to mark their response.

Other Changes

  • The server is now completely translated into Portuguese
  • You can now set the background colour of buttons and the colour of button text from the web form settings tab on the users page.
  • The server and identity menu options in fieldTask can be disabled on the server
  • When conducting an email mailout you can generate the links and export them to an excel file. This allows you to send the links using other channels to the user. For example from your own email server in a fully customised email message.
  • The guidance hint in surveys can now be enabled or disabled on fieldTask using a server setting.
  • High resolution video capture in fieldTask can now be disabled/enabled from the server
  • Links to embedded files are shown in PDFs
  • The latest mapbox styles are now supported for custom maps
  • Limits have been added to export of survey data for importing into another survey. This overcomes a problem where exporting surveys with tens of thousands of images could cause the server to crash.

Bug Fixes

  • Errors in the task creation rule for a single task group should not now cause the application of rules for other task groups in the same project to also fail.
  • Leading zeros in task durations that previously caused task group rules to fail are now automatically removed.
  • Other miscellaneous crashes reported over the last month

Accountability and Feedback Application Updated

The example application was out of date and did not work. This is because it used the old approach to “oversight” forms. The new approach is that any form can be an oversight form and used to annotate submitted data. My apologies if anyone tried the obsolete example app.

It now works again and I have taken the opportunity to add some artificial intelligence services:

  • Automatic identification of objects in photographs
  • Automatic conversion of an audio recording into text

Another change is that the documentation on example applications has been moved to from its previous location in the “Products” menu.

Version 20.03

This release adds greatly improved support for conducting email surveys. Previously you could conduct mailouts of surveys using the task interface. Now there is a dedicated “Campaign” module. It can be accessed by selecting “Modules” then “Campaign”. Documentation.

Creating a Campaign

A campaign is associated with a survey. You can specify

  • A name for the campaign
  • The subject to be used in sent emails
  • The content of the email
  • A list of email addresses and names

Pre-populate Survey Forms with Data customised for each Recipient

You can include customised data specific to each recipient for any question in the survey.

Manage Contacts

Contacts can be added and edited on a new contacts page. However most commonly a contact will be added indirectly when they are included in a mailout. The contacts page is useful for changing the name of the a contact and also seeing quickly if an email address has unsubscribed.

Campaign API

The API allows you to:

  • Get a list of campaigns
  • Create campaigns
  • Add an email to a campaign

When adding an email you can specify that the URL with the survey should not be sent to the recipient via Smap. The API call will then return the URL to the calling program. This allows you to manage the distribution of survey links in your own application.

Version 20.02

New Features

Opt in for emails

There was existing functionality to include an unsubscribe link with every email sent. If the recipient selects that link and then unsubscribes they will no longer receive any emails. However previously, if they just ignored the email then they would keep getting more.

The opt in applies to emails sent by a notification, a task reminder or an email task. If it is the first time an email has been sent to that email address then an opt in email message asking if the person wants to opt in is sent instead and the email that triggered this is placed in a pending bucket. If the user opts in then the pending email and future emails are sent to them. Otherwise they will not receive any more emails from the above sources. They will still receive emails that allow them to set their password unless they unsubscribe.

You can review pending emails from the “Monitor” page. You can also resend an opt in message from their if the user has neither unsubscribed nor opted in.

Other Features

  • Changed the label for the button that creates an importable version of the data from “export” to “backup”. This differentiates it from the export menu which exports data for analysis.
  • Added support for the lookup_choices() survey functions in the online editor. This function is a replacement for search() that does an online search to get choices instead of downloading them in a CSV file.
  • Added support for default values in a survey that are calculated when the survey is opened.
  • Added a logs api.

Bug Fixes

  • Issue where fieldTask used by recent users was not automatically synchronised with the server
  • Exports of CSV files using the api (/api/v1/data.csv) were not in unicode
  • Fix an error when changing a question from text type to note type in the online editor
  • Validate that names do not clash between surveys when surveys are uploaded into a group.

Version 20.01

New Features

The previous release was back in August 2019. (Version 19.08) so the new features listed below have been added since then.

  • Selection of sub forms (begin repeat) in the console
  • Drill down from parent form to child form in the console. For example If you have selected a parent record such as household #10, you can then select drill down to see the plots of land associated with that household.
  • Drill down from a form to the data that was collected in a form launched from the current form.
  • Online documentation. This has mostly replaced all the content in the old powerpoint files and added a lot more besides.
  • Ability for users to self assign tasks. Once a user has assigned themselves other users will be blocked from the task.
  • Late tasks are now shown in red on the console and in fieldTask. Cancelled tasks which were shown in red are now shown in brown.
  • Server calculations. These can be used to generate data on the server that is shown in the console.
  • Added a start-geopoint preload. This will automatically record a location for the survey when the enumerator answers their first question. A message will be shown that the location is being tracked but the enumerator will not need to do anything to record this location.
  • Simplified the XLSForm survey template
  • The projects, roles and organisation sections of the dialog that edits user settings have been made expandable. This caters for situations where there are very large numbers of projects that you are not interested in looking at.
  • Allow a users to be assigned to a project from the project editing dialog
  • Added support for Ubuntu 1804 in downloadable versions of the server
  • Show a warning to a fieldTask user if the time on their phone is more than 60 seconds different than the time on the server
  • Provide an API call to retrieve the times that fieldTask users have refreshed the forms on the their phones

The No-Code Digital Transformation

No-Code and Citizen Developers

The concept of no-code systems is that non-developers, sometimes referred to as Citizen Developers can create sophisticated IT systems without having to write any application code. This can result in IT systems being deployed faster at much, much lower cost.

This means that no-code has the potential to be hugely transformational to the IT industry. However according to this article in Forbes the no-code movement is being held up because it is “too disruptive”. The article goes on to say that “A traditional enterprise application that might require $2 million dollars to develop and deploy could be reduced to a cost of $50 thousand”, and that this impacts on traditional software development organisations and IT departments who are pushing back against the technology, limiting its adoption in established enterprises.

The opportunity in International Development

And herein is the opportunity for the use of no-code in international development where cost is critical and there is a dearth of existing IT systems. Also in international development there is already widespread usage of Mobile Data Collection (MDC) technology for M&E. This technology can be readily repurposed as a no-code implementation tool.

An Example – Developing an Approval System

The following video demonstrates building an approval system in a few minutes using Smap which is an MDC tool that also has strong capabilities in delivering Mobile Workforce Assistants and Case Management applications.

Implementing an approval system in a few minutes using MDC technology


We have the opportunity to change the way we use IT in development. It no longer needs to be seen as a major cost item developed by large teams working with head office. IT systems can be developed by citizen developers quickly and at low cost to make an immediate impact.

Of course this does not remove the need for traditional IT system development and of course IT governance. It would be a shame for example to create dozens of totally different approval systems. Also some core IT systems are likely to be more efficient if developed the traditional way however even in these cases a “no-code” pilot should be considered.

Version 19.08

Well we Just got the August release out on the last day of the month, that was lucky. Mostly this release is about the console and has already been covered in the post However there is some additional functionality that I should describe:

Setting a Theme for Your Organisation

If you are an “Administrator” when you to to the user management page you will see a tab called “Appearance”. If you select that you can set the color of the menu bars and the logo that you see on the home page. In order to enable your new theme you will need to also check the checkbox labelled: “Set as Theme”

Oversight Forms have been Retired

Instead of having to create an oversight form using special syntax you can now group any other standard form with your primary form. There are some features of oversight forms that were not in the normal XLSForms that you use for data collection. Including Server Side Calculations and setting the background color of answers to questions. These have now been added to XLSForms (See Below)

Server Side Calculations

You can use a new question type “server_calculate”. Put the calculation in the “server_calculation” column.

Expressions are the same as for the advanced filter. However as here we are creating new value and not filtering there is no equals sign. For example the following will show a date 7 days on from the time editing started on the survey:

  • ${_start} + {7_days}

These server calculations are evaluated at run time so if you change your calculation and replace the form then the server calculation will be updated for all the data you have already collected.

A new capability not available in the advanced filter is the if() function. Here your server_calculation will simply be:

  • if()

Then you specify the conditions in a new “conditions” work sheet. In the example below the value of the calcy question will be set to ‘Not neil again!’ if the value in the name question is ‘neil’. Note that there is a set of conditions for each server calculate question that has its calculation set to if(). Hence you put the question name in the first column.

There is only limited support in the online editor for server calculations. Specifically conditions are not supported.

Color Highlighting in the Console

You can use a new “styles” worksheet in the XLSForm editor to specify colors for cells in the console table that are dependent on the value of the data. The following example shows an example of a style list.

Note for styles we do use the list_name approach. Hence you can have a single set of styles that color multiple questions. Specify the name of the style list name in a new column “style list” in the survey work sheet.

Version 6.32 of FieldTask now in Play Store

This release includes a number of significant new features


If you select menu then history you can see a list of all survey instances that have been submitted to the server or deleted.

History view

The view is updated after you perform a refresh to synchronise with the server. In addition you can also delete an instance from the main screen by doing a long press on it. You will then select “reject” and will have to provide a reason.

Mapbox Tiles for use as offline maps

Both vector and raster tiles are supported.   A while ago offline map tiles were supported.  However this was when the maps used the google maps API.   ODKCollect have been progressively migrating to the MapBox API which supports tiles in a different format.  However now the feature is back.  Sample tiles are available here: just download them and copy the mbtiles file onto the phone’s sdcard under /sdcard/fieldTask/layers.  

Persian Calendar

If you have a date question and want to use the Persian calendar specify an appearance of persian.

A Console for Case Management – Release 1908

Organisations using Smap are increasingly managing work using data records that correspond to someone or something in the real world. This might be the maintenance of equipment, or the delivery of services such as education to a student, training to a teacher, health services to a patient or climate change resilience improvements to a community.

These applications represent an active form of Case Management where information is recorded against a case over time and used to guide the delivery of services. In the August release we have added a number of features to support this, including:

  • Find and view the record of data that represents a case
  • Update that data in a controlled way with logs and security
  • Request a task be sent via email, or to a mobile phone app, requesting an action be taken and data be collected
  • View all changes made to a case
  • View the status of all tasks
  • Send reminders if a task has not been completed via email or SMS or to fieldTask users

These activities can now be managed using a “Console” which allows a user to manage cases using the same forms that are used by the field workforce.

The role of the console in case management

What is a Record?

In the Smap universe every time you submit results from a survey you create or update a record.   You can group surveys so that they all share the same records.  This allows you to, for example, create a record with survey A and then update it with survey B.   Each case can be recorded in one or more of these records and so this feature is what provides a lot of the power of Smap as a case management tool.

Surveys in a group managing a record

When you select surveys on the records page, if they are in the same group then you will see the same records for each of them although the columns that you see in the table will be determined by the columns in the survey.

Actually this is a slight simplification in that you can also use security roles to restrict the records shown on a per form per user basis so not all forms in a group need show the same records to the same users.

New Features

Replacement of WebForms with a Console module

Here is some history to explain where the console came from. In the old Web Forms module, as well as having a list of forms you could launch in you browser, there were menu options for Browse Results and Managed Forms. Browse results was going to be the new analysis page but we never managed to make it better than the old Analysis page so it just lurked in Web Forms not being particularly useful. Managed Forms was similar to Browse results but it allowed you to attach another form and edit the submitted data using that form. This has been used in applications such as Feedback and Accountability.

Now Browse Results and Managed Forms have been merged and renamed to “Records”. The WebForms module itself has been renamed to “Console”. It still includes the page to launch forms and respond to tasks using your browser but it now has a focus on individual data records rather than analysis of all the collected data.

New Console Module Home Page

A scalable records page

By scalable we mean that the console can handle hundreds of thousands of records. Previously the browse results page had problems when customers had this many records as it tried to load all the data into the browser first and then filter.

Records page

If you look at the records page you will see that it is in two parts. The top half consists of filters that are applied on the database before data is retrieved. Underneath are the table view, map view and calendar view. For these the filters are applied in the browser. Hence you can select the survey, the from date, to date, an advanced filter and max records and a new query will be made on the database to get that data. The first time you open a survey the limit will be set to 1,000 so that you don’t have to wait to get the data. You can then change the limit of you need to see more, or less, records.

Modifying a Case

When managing a case you will need to be able to make changes to the data directly from the console. The first step is to lock a case for editing. Once you have done that it is assigned to you and other people cannot edit the same record, although an administrator could re-assign the case to someone else. In the diagram below the “Unassigned Records” switch is selected so that cases not assigned to anyone can be selected. An unassigned record has then been selected by clicking on it. The button “Lock for Editing” can then be clicked.

Locking a record for editing

Once you have locked a record the edit button will be shown. The questions you can change are determined by the Oversight survey that you have selected as well as any security roles that have been applied. These questions are shown on the right hand side of the page and are labelled as “Management Data”. Any remaining questions in the main survey that are not in the oversight survey are shown as read only on the left hand side for your reference.

Record opened for editing

In the above image there are 2 questions in the management form, a geopoint question and a text question labelled as “comment”. You can select a new location, change the comment and then click “Save”. The existing data for the record will be updated.

Reviewing changes to a Case

If you click on the events tab you can view all changes made as well as see all task and reminders that have been created for the record. You can also create new tasks that can be assigned to your field work force to update the case or send a reminder.

Events on a task

In the above diagram changes have been made to the record using the survey called “Map”. The location question and questions “q2” and “hi” were changed. For location questions; points, lines, areas the old location is shown in blue and the new location in red.

A task has also been created on this record but it has not yet been assigned to anyone.


There is a lot more functionality in this upcoming release that I will talkcover once the software is deployed to the servers. Hopefully this post will give you some ideas for the types of case management applications you will be able to create from about the middle of August.