Australia Use Case - Observations vs Incidents / Patrol Packages vs Independent Incident Packages

Hi all,

It looks like Northern Australia’s conservation management has a different flavour compared to other parts of the world where the SMART platform is used.

Here is a bit of context first:

We have adopted an adaptation of the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation called the “Healthy Country Plan” (HCP), with the support of the Conservation Coaches Network. The HCP is developed through workshops involving Indigenous Traditional Owners and ranger groups. It identifies key elements such as Targets, Threats, Result Chains, Strategies, Activities, Indicators, and Goals, forming the basis for a ten-year period. The plan is periodically reviewed and updated to ensure its relevance and effectiveness, providing a structured approach to conservation that integrates traditional knowledge and modern conservation practices.

Most of the HCPs have these Result Chains in common, and they are reflected in the Configurable Models we have created and the Packages we use:

  • Weeds Management → Patrol Package
  • Feral Animals → Independent Incident Package
  • Fire Management → Patrol Package
  • Freshwater Management → Independent Incident Package
  • Cultural Heritage Management → Patrol Package
  • Indigenous Sites and Culture → Independent Incident Package
  • Fisheries → Patrol Package
  • Indigenous Knowledge Transfer → Independent Incident Package
  • Marine Migratory Species → Independent Incident Package
  • Threatened Species → Patrol Package
  • Visitor Management → Patrol Package

Once we looked into adopting the SMART platform in the Top End of Australia, we were confronted with two dilemmas. The first one is around the word “Incidents”, and the second one is about the important decision we had to make regarding when to use a “Patrol Package” and when to use an “Independent Incident Package”.

It might sound odd, but the word “Incident” creates some confusion for our rangers (and ourselves as support staff).

Incidents vs Observations

Basically, we don’t have many poaching issues, and we are mainly collecting “Observations” and not “Incidents”. Collecting eDNA samples in a billabong is not an “Incident” for us but an “Observation” or “Record”; this is the same for recording a rock art site. Sometimes an observation would qualify as an Incident (illegal fishing, trespassing on Aboriginal land), but most of the time it is just a “Record” (multiple observations at the same GPS location).

Patrol Packages vs Independent Incident Packages

For us, the main criterion was “Do we need to record a track?” but I am starting to challenge this and wonder if all our packages should be Patrol Packages. Another criterion was “How likely is it that the rangers will stop doing their main activity to record something else?” There are pros and cons on each side.

Where are we at now?

We have 12 Configurable Models, 6 Patrol Packages, and 5 Independent Incident Packages. We also created a special Configurable Model/Independent Incident Package called “Opportunistic Record” that is attached to all the patrols and available in the “Report Incident”. This allows the rangers to record simplified observations that are not related to the current patrol they are on.

For example, if they are on a Fire Management Patrol and they see a rare bird, they can record this observation using the “Opportunistic Record” sequence within the Patrol. They do not need to end the Patrol, start another Package, and restart the Patrol once the Opportunistic Record has been recorded.

Our ranger groups’ typical day can be divided into two:

  1. A day or half a day that is dedicated to a specific activity: sea patrol, controlled burning, etc.
    • More suitable for Patrol Packages
  2. A day or half a day that will have multiple different activities at the same time: weed observations, feral animal observation, etc.
    • More suitable for Independent Incident Packages because it is easier to jump between packages

The questions we asked ourselves were:

  • What is the most practical/friendly for the rangers in the field?
  • How does this impact how the rangers access the data inside SMART Desktop?

I’d love to hear your experiences regarding how you use SMART Mobile and when you decide that a package should be a Patrol Package or an Independent Incident Package.

In a perfect world, we would prefer to have the term “Incident” renamed to “Record” or something similar, to remove all confusion inside SMART Mobile and SMART Desktop.
I wonder if this is something that could be configurable?



Hi Xavier,

You raise some interesting and common questions/issues. A few thoughts:

-If you want to minimize the number of packages to avoid confusion, you could probably combine the patrol packages into one and differentiate between (if you need to separate out different kinds of work) them using the Mandate option in the metadata. In the parts of the world I am familiar with, much of what you have separated into different packages is done in a single package (e.g., fire, feral animals, invasive species, wildlife monitoring). There are really only three reasons to create separate packages: 1) if you want to prevent a certain type of data from being entered by particular users/if too many options will cause confusion; 2) if you need different GPS/track log settings depending on the type of work; 3) if you want to have different metadata types associated with different packages.

-The reason to use Patrols vs Incidents is if you want the track data and is you need to have “Patrol” metadata (e.g., staff names, mandates, transport type, etc.) associated with each observation. I would avoid using Patrols (vs incidents) if there is a question about whether recorded track will be representative of reality. For example, if for one kind of work a staff person is travelling between different points of interest and spending a lot of time at each point recording data, but you don’t care about the distance between the points. In this case Incident recording is preferred to avoid extraneous distance data between points and to prevent the problem of artificial distance measurements being created by an effectively stationary device collecting multiple points over time at the “same” location due to inherent GPS inaccuracy.

-The use of terminology in SMART is sometimes a sticking point for people. SMART was originally designed as a conservation law enforcement tool, hence the terms “Patrol” and “Incident”. Despite the origin of the terms used, we try top be consistent with how we use them to avoid confusion within the software. An “observation” is an observation of a shingle phenomenon at a specific place and time (a waypoint). An “Incident” is when multiple observations occur at a single waypoint. As you suggest, the term “Record” could be used interchangeably, but to retain consistency with existing data, training materials, etc. we probably would not change that. However, we are in the process of developing what we are for now calling “Generalized Patrols”. This will allow you to use the patrol data format (i.e., a set of observations/incidents and their associated metadata), but with user-configurable metadata and “Types”. So instead of Patrols, you could have for example “Community Management Work” and remove references to Patrol Members. Patrol Leaders, etc., while specifying customized metadata options.

Some of this can be hard to talk through on a forum like this, so if you would like to try and set up a call with someone on the SMART team I am sure we could manage that.


Thank Rich for your response,

I am digesting it and will get back to you.
It forces us to really think at the whole data collection system for all the different ranger groups we look after.