The Anatomy and Physiology of a Form

form

No one relishes completing a form, yet forms are everywhere. They add vital structure to an organization and create standard ways for completing inspections and observations.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just go out to a construction site, outfall or manhole, make observations and not be bothered with capturing tedious amounts of data? It would be easier in the moment, but in the long run the facts needed to make data-driven decisions would be lacking.  Across many areas of our regulatory world from the FDA to Special Education to Public Works there are 2 rules that are universally accepted:

1 – If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.

2 – If it isn’t written down properly, you’re not sure exactly what happened.

Good forms provide fields for inspectors to enter all the information they need to complete the inspection. Better forms are organized and electronic, making them easier to complete. The Best forms feel like they were designed to help you accomplish the task at hand. They are not just “paperwork” that needs to be completed; they become a tool to guide you through the process. They can be understood by someone who is completing them for the first time, and they are fast for someone who completes them on a daily basis. They ask only the questions that are necessary, and provide simple input options that are appropriate for the question. Simply put, the best forms are a delight to complete.

Now that we have covered the generalities, let’s get into the specifics including the whats and whys of what can and should be included in the best forms.

Form Sections

Header

The very first thing you see on any form should be a good bold title and detailed organization or city logo. The title should be at the top of the form and clearly describe the purpose of the form.  It should share the space easily with the logo.  The logo gives a very easy way to identify whose form it is.

Inspection Information

This area should be divided up into two different sections: General information and Detailed information.

The first section, general information, if set-up correctly, allows the inspector to review the information briefly or skip it altogether because he is confident it is correct every time.  Because the information is pre-populated from the GIS, it doesn’t require any extra input from the inspector.  Some of the necessary and important information that should be included in this section are: a unique identifier such as a manhole ID or construction site name, the current date, inspector and contractor.  This is not the section where data observations are entered.

The second area in this section should contain detailed information.  This is where observations should be noted. Pre-populating the fields as much as possible will give you the best chance at success with getting field personnel to complete forms.  They will only have to enter information that is unique to each inspection.  Simple things like organization name, address, or last rainfall date should all be saved in the database.  The inspector is there to make observations.  The form should do the rest.

When designing the types of questions in your form a few things should be kept in mind.  Free form is bad. It takes longer to complete, puts more responsibility on the inspector to remember everything, and it is not easy to review results later on. Instead, break down the inspection into simple questions.  Use free-form fields as a last resort. Single-select and multiple-select questions are much faster to complete, easier to review and more accurate.  The last tip is to use skip logic. Don’t ask questions that aren’t relevant. For example, don’t show the “Items due by next inspection” and “Due by date” if the site status is “Compliant”. Those are only appropriate if the site status is “Action Required”.

Photos

Most forms are not complete without a photos section. In a lot of cases it is the simplest, fastest way to document the inspection.  It may save you in the long run when questions arise about the inspection or area.

Conclusion

After the above sections there can also be an area included for a general status as well as a signature and date.

When completing a poor form, you are done when you answer the last question.  When completing a great form, you are left with a strong conclusion that forces you to make an overall recommendation.

Now that we have talked about what should be in the form, let’s show an example with a Construction Inspection.

Good:

Free form including only observations

Better:

Includes the work being performed and the observations

Best:

Includes the general information such as site name, number of personnel on site, size and type of equipment on site, work being performed, observations, as well as photos and a signature.

Click here to see examples of other best forms!

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