needs to facilitate transparent, repeatable observations, and also facilitate participation, framing, and interpretation. This means that data systems and tools must be citizen-usable, accessible, and user-friendly, and that rigid data schemas and numerous blank fields may take a back seat to usability and flexibility. For example, many academic and institutional databases are designed so that all data conforms to rigid standards and formats. For the Atlas of Biological Work, site-specific repeatability is more important than data standardization.
And there are many native apps that also work well for a variety of flexible and configurable data entry:
ODK (old but very reliable, also the model for atlasbiowork.com). Android only, offline-capable.
MapIt-GIS is relatively low-cost and flexible
Google Forms works well if you are collecting photos, numbers, and text, or if you have an auxiliary GPS and can use that for location.
There are also app development frameworks that enable you to build your own app via a drag-and-drop interface. They typically are not free.
Georeferenced data can also be displayed in Google Maps with a spreadsheet that can be uploaded as a Google Fusion Table. See https://soilcarboncoalition.org/changemap.htm for an example.
Atlasbiowork.com is a potential platform for a good deal of data, but one of the core formats of the Atlas will be map layers in GeoJSON format. These can then be layered together using Leaflet or other tools in custom, local maps to display whatever combination of data that is most relevant -- even including data on problems, symptoms, or species. The core idea of Atlas is thus a participatory, flexible, and open mashup rather than a pre-configured website with limited options.
The guide has a checklist of common tools for making water infiltration, soil cover, soil density, and soil sample observations. Sometimes these take a bit of ingenuity in finding the right materials, for example for infiltration rings that can be made of aluminum irrigation pipe but steel is better (an auger tube works well, so does a combine reel axle).
We like an infra-red thermometer for measuring black-body radiation from vegetation, soil, and sky. This can be an incredibly revealing activity around how plants manage water, and in managing water they manage heat, as Peter Andrews has noted.
5x plastic jeweler's loupes are a great tool for groups and individuals, to break down their stereotypes of all kinds of small things, and to see the soil surface with different eyes. Order them through the Private Eye.
Last but not least are some skills and formats for creating an environment between people where listening and trust can grow, perspectives can be shared, and wedge issues defused, while people enlarge their views and contexts for soil health and watershed issues. Bob Chadwick's book Finding New Ground is a great guide and explanation.
See also the downloadable booklet on the Atlas of Biological Work.
Soil Carbon Coalition is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization