Brand audits are a real thing

From the Break Free from Plastics (BFFP) website, a brand audit is defined as follows:

a citizen science initiative that involves recording data on plastic waste to help identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution and hold them accountable.

 Current implementation

Currently, the data collection piece for a brand audit is mostly a manual process consisting of filling out a Brand Audit Data Card, and then uploading that data.  Here’s what the paper-based Brand Audit Data Card looks like.

After filling out the Brand Audit Data Card, the volunteer’s team leader then uploads that data in one of three ways:

  1. Entering data into TrashBlitz
  2. Uploading the data via an online form
  3. Filling out a Google Sheet

All that data eventually makes its way to a data dashboard and report provided by BFPP.  Here’s a screenshot of the data dashboard, where you can select a country and view the top brands of trash per year.

Description of the proposed improvements

We propose to offer use of the XForms platform free of charge to any ocean cleanup efforts, including BFPP’s brand audits initiative.  The system would consist of a digital Brand Audit Data Card form capable of running in both online and offline mode on any iOS or Android device, as well as online and offline on any laptop.  By now, in 2022, most humans on the planet have a very capable mobile phone in their pocket, even if its an older-generation phone.  The ability to run offline, even on low-end Kindle Fire tablets and Android devices, makes this technology available for most brand audits worldwide.  And not everyone on a brand audit would need to fill out a brand audit card on a device, as long as enough folks on the brand audit team have some available.


  • A reduction in data collection friction points.  Currently, volunteers have to fill out paper forms and hand those to a designated person(s).  Then those designated people have to re-enter the data on the paper forms to an online form or Google Sheet.  Photos that were captured also need to be downloaded from mobile devices and cameras to laptops, and then uploaded to the BFFP site.  All of this takes time and effort.  With the proposed solution, double-entry of data is reduced to single data entry, at the time of collection.  This cuts down time as well as transcription errors.
  • Faster delivery of data into visual reports.  Currently, the data is uploaded into a BFPP data system, which is then available for display on an annualized basis.  I’m not sure if the data is available via an interactive map tool.  This may be available, but if it is, it’s not quite discoverable.  With the proposed solution, data would be available in real-time as soon as the information is synced to the server.  Accessing the data over the reporting dashboard would require a valid credential, so possible detractors of the field work conducted by the volunteers would be a non-issue, as they would not have access to the data collected until it was made available into publicly-available systems, which could be throttled to update a certain period of time later to avoid conflicts between volunteers and detractors of the work being conducted.
  • Improve data distribution/data sharing.  Currently, all the data resides in the BFPP data system, with no known ability to consume that data programmatically into other technologies. The current implementation of data sharing is lacking at best.  There’s no easy way to share information collected.  By using a system with readily-available, RESTful APIs, the information collected into XForms can be easily shared in a multitude of ways, with little to no human interaction.  For example, because the mobile app automatically collects geolocation data when a new form is initiated, form data can be pushed to ArcGIS or some other mapping tool and displayed online, with links to the data collected, including images.  Another example: the data from form submittals can be extracted and inserted into Microsoft PowerBI or Tableau for further processing, analyzing, and visualizations.  This would probably lead to interest and excitement from other people and organizations to get involved by disseminating the information collected in creative ways.

We took the liberty of creating a digital version of brand audit data card and testing it in the XForms platform.  Here’s a couple of short videos illustrating the system in action.

Mobile App

Here’s a look at the brand audit data card in action, running on an iPhone.  The example video below shows how you can create simple listboxes to normalize valid values, table grids to collect multiple rows of information, and validation rules (labels in red) to ensure that a submittal includes certain pieces of information.  The system also automatically captures the phone’s geolocation when the data card is initiated, enabling the ability to easily plot the location of the audits with no human involvement required.



Reporting Dashboard

Here’s a short video illustrating the out-of-the-box reporting dashboard implementation for the brand audit card data.  Note that anything collected can be displayed in the black “aggregation” blocks.  As data is collected over time, the aggregation—or key performance indicator—blocks improve in the ability for the user to access and aggregate key indicators of the underlying dataset.  A simple mapping tool is also included that plots the locations of where the forms were initiated.  Export to Excel is also readily available from the Forms screen, making it easy for manual data export.


XForms has a set of open APIs that can be used for virtually any type of programmatic integration.  The APIs are two-way, meaning that data can be inserted into XForms as well as data extracted out of XForms.  An example of data being inserted into XForms is a list of locations to populate listboxes, where a user would select a value from a dropdown instead of havingto enter text, which could result in some data normalization issues.

As for extracting data out of XForms, anything stored can be extracted, including photos (both original photos and photos with a draw layer on top), captions to photos, PDF versions of the submitted forms, and all data including table data.  Geolocation data and other metadata can also be extracted out.

The possibilities for integrations is endless and would inevitably result in better awareness of brand audit efforts to clean up our oceans and waterways.

No strings

Besides this blog article, and maybe some press down the road, there are no strings attached to this offer/proposal.  It would be our way of doing something to tackle the enormity of the plastics issue.

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