Introduction to OpenRosa

OpenRosa/ODK is the name of ecosystem that Enketo is a part of. Tools within this ecosystem follow a standardized open-source form format and a standardized way of communicating with each other. Other well-known tools within this ecosystem are ODK, KoBoToolbox and Ona.

Who is it for?

The OpenRosa ecosystem is best suited for organizations and people for whom one or more of the following requirements is valid:

  • require tools that follow a non-proprietary form format and communication protocols
  • require a system that they can easily add components to or remove components from
  • require forms that have complex skip and validation logic
  • require tools that are open-source
  • require advanced data collection in places that do not have internet access

What are the components?

diagram showing components of an OpenRosa system

The beauty of the OpenRosa ecosystem is that for each of the components illustrated in the diagram, several options are available, which are built and maintained by different groups.

Some tools have spun-off from their originators and have branched in different directions. This has resulted in a vibrant community with a wide selection of competitive and complementary tools.

What are the key players?

This list is an honest attempt to list the key ones but it is still subjective. There are many more.

Form Management & Data Aggregation

This is the core component of an OpenRosa information management system as it ties all other components together. The open-source options are KoBo Toolbox, ODK Central, Nemo, Ona, and ODK Aggregate (deprecated).

The requirements for choosing this crucial component will vary greatly from organization to organization, so we recommend having a look at all of them to determine which one fits best. It is also important to check the GitHub repos of these products to see how actively maintained they are.

Form Building Tools

Enketo currently recommends using either XLSForm or the new KoBoForm to construct XForms. Another tool is ODK Build.

XLSForm is a way to build forms in a spreadsheet. After an initial learning curve, it becomes very easy to build and maintain forms with this tool. A great advantage of this tool is that it makes it easy to share and discuss forms with others.

A new tool by KoBoToolbox, that continued the earlier excellent work of Alex Dorey, provides a Graphical User Interface for XLSForm. This easy-to-use tool was launched on in 2014 and is starting to revolutionize form building in the OpenRosa ecosystem. In 2017, Ona launched a fork of KoBo's formbuilder.

ODK build is another easy-to-use tool. It is, however, not suitable for users that require complex or long forms. In 2017, ODK Build added the ability to export forms as XLSForms which means that you can now use this to to build forms to be deployed on KoBo Toolbox and Ona.

Data Collection

The two options are Enketo and ODK Collect (there are also various tools that are based on ODK Collect which are grouped together for this comparison). The options are complementary, and it is recommended to decide on a survey-to-survey basis which is the most suitable. The following table demonstrates the key differences:

Enketo (web) ODK Collect
Platform web android
Works offline
Dedicated Single Submission view
Edit already submitted data
Dedicated readonly, PDF, print and preview views
Retaining submitted data locally
Embedding forms into any webpage
Automatic saving
Additional paper + pencil collection workflow support
Barcode scanning
Truly dynamic repeat count
Bearing widget
Large text input
Full-form-as-one-page mode
Page-by-page mode
Dynamic "readonly" logic
Data collection audit logging
Multiple themes custom
Setting default values dynamically via API custom
Analog scale inputs custom
Comment widget custom
Linking with external mobile apps custom
Distress input custom
XLSForm select_external support custom
appearance search() support custom
Printer widget custom

Form-level features marked with custom are not part of the agreed common form standards and are unlikely to ever be supported by both clients.

Additional differences with respect to the supported appearance values can be found in the XLSForm Reference Table.

Data Analysis

Linked with Data Aggregation component. The options are too numerous to mention.

Some tools have analysis built-in. Others focus on exporting data into formats that can easily be imported into tools of your choice.