Quality Assurance & Quality Control

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). 

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 survey plot.


Figure 1. Quality Assurance steps

QA Responsibilities:

  • It is the primary responsibility of the Crew Lead to fully QA/QC the project database. The Project Lead should provide oversight of this process, and should review the database again once the Crew Lead has gone through it. This process will be more intense at the beginning of the season while the crew is stilllearning.
  • It is the responsibility of the Project Lead to field data requests from other specialists, and work with the Crew Lead to fulfill those requests where appropriate. However, it is the responsibility of other specialists to become familiar with the DIMA interface and retrieve data for their own projects/documents.


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 line and plot.
  • Maintain a spreadsheet of unknown plants in the field and update in electronic form on a regular basis.


Additional Resources

Field Soil Kit Bag Components (xls)

Monitoring Manual Volume I – Core Methods (PDF)

Monitoring Manual Volume II (PDF)

Training Videos – NMSU (html)

Aquatic Interim Methods (PDF)

Quality Control

Quality control (QC) aims to identify errors in the final dataset, meaning that it occurs after all field decisions (good and bad) have taken place. During QC, the ability to correct errors is limited because plots cannot be revisited with the exact conditions that occurred during the original data collection event.


Figure 1. QA/QC Timeline

Figure (1) shows a generic QA/QC timeline for the AIM monitoring process. Currently, a more detailed AIM QA/QC protocol is being developed at the National Operations Center (NOC) and will be available for viewing in the near future. In the meantime, if you have specific questions about QA/QC procedures please follow the guidelines outlined in the Monitoring Manual for Grassland, Shrubland, and Savanna Ecosystems Vol. I.  Contact Sarah Burnett (sburnett@blm.gov) at the NOC with questions.

For additional Quality Control resources, see the following links:

Terrestrial Quality Control: Who’s responsible for what?

Remember that quality control is conducted after field data collection. For correct quality assurance procedures (which are conducted throughout the entire monitoring process), please visit the Quality Assurance page.

Field Crew/Crew Lead QC Responsibilities:

Click on links below for detailed guidelines regarding end-of-season QC procedures.   

  1. Field crews conduct the bulk of the QC done throughout the monitoring process and are responsible for the following:
    1. QC’ing the Database for Inventory, Monitoring, and Assessment (DIMA) – after each plot, daily, weekly, monthly, and at the end of the field season.
      1. Use version 3.1 (as of December 2015) – please note, this is not the most current version that the ARS-Jornada has on its website
      2. Ensure coordinate system, datum, and zone are correct for all AIM plots
      3. Ensure that the correct number and orientation of transects are recorded
      4. Include travel instructions to each plot
      5. Ensure all AIM data were collected. For more detailed instructions for each method, please refer to the QA/QC protocol (coming soon) or the Monitoring Manual for Grassland, Shrubland and Savanna Ecosystems Vol. I
        1. For each plot:
          1. 3 lines of line-point intercept
          2. 3 lines of gap intercept
          3. 1 species richness form
          4. 1 soil stability form
          5. 1 soil pit description (if not a revisit plot)
          6. Plant density forms (if applicable)
          7. Interpreting indicators for rangeland health forms (if applicable)
          8. Any other supplemental method
      6. Assign growth habits (graminoid, forb/herb, shrub, sub-shrub, etc.) and duration (annual, perennial) to each species encountered and classify all appropriate species as invasive  
      7. Document any missing data or known errors
    2. Take photos at each plot and label them correctly using the following naming convention:
      1. ProjectName_PlotID_Description_YYYYMMDD
        1. Descriptions should be labled as follows:
          1. Transects: T1, T2, T3
          2. Soil pits: Soil1, Soil2, Soil3, etc.
          3. Miscellaneous: Misc1, Misc2, Misc3, etc.
        2. Example: WhiteRiverFO_Alkali-1_T1_20140721
        3. PlotID’s should match the PlotID established in DIMA
      2. Please limit photos to those that are relevant to monitoring (e.g., plot photos). No need to include multiples of the same transect unless they add new information.
    3. Assist the Project Lead with the End of Field Season Implementation Summary (see Project Evaluation)
    4. Assist the Project Lead with sample design documentation
    5. Transfer all data and documents to the Project Lead



Project Lead QC Responsibilities:


The next person in the QC process is the Project Lead. The project lead should be communicating with the field crews about QC on a constant basis and is responsible for the following:

  1. Checking field crew calibration results – once in the very beginning of the field season and periodically throughout the field season
  2. QC’ing the field crew’s DIMA early in the season and periodically throughout the season to ensure data quality
  3. QC the field crew’s final DIMA. The QC process will be outlined in the AIM QA/QC Protocol (coming soon). For now, please refer to the End of Season QC Checklist.
  4. Updating your sample design documentation
    1. Update the Project design template which includes the project background, management and monitoring objectives, strata descriptions, supplemental indicator documentation, sampling weights given to each stratum
    2. If NOC/Jornada did sample design, please send:
      1. Completed SeasonEnd2015_XXXX geodatabase – please see Season End Documentation for more detailed instructions on populating this geodatabase.
    3. If you did the sample design (not NOC/Jornada), please send:
      1. Completed SeasonEnd2015_XXXX geodatabase – please see Season End Documentation for more detailed instructions on populating this geodatabase.
      2. Shapefile of strata boundaries
      3. Shapefile of study area (e.g., all BLM land within the project area)
  5. Completing the End of Field Season Implementation Summary (see Project Evaluation)
  6. Transfer all the above data (within 1 month of the conclusion of data collection) to your state AIM monitoring lead (list of state AIM monitoring leads can be found here


State AIM Monitoring Coordinator QC Responsibilities:


The next step in the QC process is sending all of the data to the state AIM monitoring lead, who is responsible for the following:

  1. Merging all project DIMA’s into one state DIMA.
  2. Ensuring all errors/missing data are documented.
  3. Ensuring all data and documentation are completed in full including the DIMA, sample design geodatabase, photos, and the end of field season implementation summary (refer to the End of Season QC Checklist)
  4. Transfer all data to the National Operations Center – please contact Sarah Burnett (sburnett@blm.gov) for detailed instructions. 


National Operations Center QC Responsibilities:


The final QC is done at the NOC, where they are responsible for the following:

  1. Converting GPS locations to the BLM national standard of GCS NAD83
  2. Running reports for any missing data or outliers and making sure they are identified in the missing data documentation sent from the state
  3. Communicating with the state if any errors are encountered that were not identified at previous steps
  4. Ingestion into TerrADat: please refer to the TerrADat Ingestion Decision Tree for guidance on data that will and will not be accepted into TerrADat
  5. Sending states a final QC’d DIMA with documentation of anything that was fixed


Aquatic Quality Control: Who’s responsible for what?

Content coming soon… 


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