Using mobile survey technology for data collection

By December 12, 2019 No Comments
mobile survey

Development Works Changemakers always strives to innovate and optimise the use of technology, especially in research processes and evaluation studies.  One way of improving efficiencies and data quality, whilst maximising time in the field is to use mobile survey technology.

Paper-based data collection / paper-based pencil interviewing (PAPI) has been the standard method for decades. However, errors are frequent, printing, transport and storage costs are prohibitive, and the chance of double data entry are higher.

The development of electronic methods

Electronic methods of data collection have been developed in order to merge the process of data collection and data entry. In 2017, more than 90 per cent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa were covered by 2G networks. But more advanced networks are now beginning to take hold.

South Africa leads the continent in mobile penetration with 153 mobile cellular prescriptions per 100 populations. Use of mobile phones is widespread even in remote areas of rural South Africa.

Computer-Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI)

One example is Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) which our team have used as a method of data collection for an evaluation of upgrading of informal settlements programme.

The evaluation aimed to assess the outcome of the upgrading of informal settlements. The extent to which the programme had enhanced the security of tenure, improved healthy and secure living environments, and reduced social and economic exclusions, with the aim of identifying strengths, challenges and lessons for future strategy planning.

A mixed-method summative evaluation design using the Lot Quality Assurance Sampling (LQAS) methodology was used to assess the outcomes of the programme in designated areas of the Western Cape.

The methods of data collection employed were key informant interviews, focus group discussions and a beneficiary survey.

Our researchers employed a CAPI software application that was uploaded onto a mobile phone. The software allows for access to a survey, which takes the mobile phone user through the survey step-by-step. The data was saved and uploaded when the mobile phone was next within network range.

The process and application

With extensive training, the fieldwork research team found the whole process of creating and uploading the survey to be very user-friendly. Typically the application takes the fieldworker through the survey, question-by-question.

Fieldworkers are required to select options in example questions shown above. Including multiple-choice questions, qualitative or open-ended questions and tick-box questions.

Additionally, the application has prompted to ensure the validity of answers captured by the fieldworkers. Thereby forcing them to answer a question or give a valid answer. This avoids skipping questions.

Once in the field, the research team were able to use the phones with ease. Fieldworker Monalisa Guzana shared, “Using mobile survey technology was tricky when we first began, in terms of learning the questions on the phone and how they were formatted, charging the phones every night – we had to get used to these aspects not present with paper-based surveys. Once we had systemised our way of working, the application and tool made our work simple and quick.”

After the fieldworker had completed a survey, the results were uploaded from the phone once within network range.  Fieldworker Tarryn had this to say about capturing data electronically for the first time, “CAPI is the future… Conducting surveys/questionnaires via cellphone simplifies the process of capturing the data. No paper, no fuss. It is convenient and easy to use. It was such a delight to use in the field.”

The benefits

A key feature of mobile survey technology is that the system provides a fieldwork management spreadsheet showing the number of surveys captured by each agent, when they were uploaded and how long the survey implementation took.

This information is vital for an evaluation. It streamlines the process of fieldworker and survey management. It also allows project managers to see where each fieldworker is reporting from and how long each survey takes to complete.

Researcher Paul shared his insight, “CAPI is an innovative tool that not only improves efficiency in the research process but also secures data. Using the software also requires adequate training, an aspect, which should not be undermined.

Nevertheless, with appropriate skill and technical know-how, designing the surveys within the software online and actual execution of the survey and analysis of results thereof will become an exceptionally manageable time and cost-saving.”

data collection

Tips for using CAPI/mobile survey technology:

After using the technology ourselves, we’ve put together a list of tips to help with the effective use of CAPI technology.

1. Maximise on the input/support around the design and functionality of your survey 

Firstly, the initial navigation of learning how to design and create your CAPI survey can be quite daunting. Ensure sufficient time and budget is allocated for this crucial stage.

2. Train your fieldwork staff thoroughly

It is imperative to provide thorough training for fieldworkers who will be collecting data. When fieldworkers are comfortable using a new form of technology before embarking on data collection, it will create fewer problems once they are in the field. Run through your phone survey in the training!

3.     Pilot your survey, analyse the results and give yourself the necessary time to make any adjustments needed

Piloting your tools before entering the field is an essential component of any research process. When using a new form of data collection, it is advisable to give yourself enough time to analyse the results and make necessary adjustments. Practice, practice, pilot!

4.     Regularly check your data as it comes in

The CAPI web console allows you to access and manage data in real-time. This is particularly helpful as it allows you to monitor data as it is coming through. You are able to keep track of progress and identify any problems early-up. Project managers can keep track of fieldworkers and surveys online, in real-time!

5.     Regularly check up on your data bundles to ensure that your surveys are captured

A pay-as-you-go method for data collection with purchasing credit for mobile phones helps to monitor credit usage and ensure surveys are being captured optimally!

Our DWC portfolio highlights our years of experience in data collection and fieldwork. If you need effective data collection for any project, programme, research study or assignment, please do contact the Lindy Briginshaw at info@dwchangemakers.com.

In conclusion, for a detailed comparison between CAPI and PAPI visit Survey CTO’s link here. Survey CTO is a highly reliable mobile data collection platform. Our team of researchers and evaluators have used it often when working in offline settings.