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Data collection is the process of gathering and measuring information on variables of interest, in an established systematic fashion that enables one to answer stated research questions, test hypotheses, and evaluate outcomes. The data collection component of research is common to all fields of study including physical and social sciences, humanities, business, M&E amongst others.

Mobile data collection is the use of mobile devices such as tablets and mobile phones to collect data. More and more organizations and researchers are shifting from traditional paper based data collection to mobile based data collection. There are many reasons for this paradigm shift including; availability of the technology and skills, ease of use, the time factor and the penetration of use of mobile devices across the world.

There are different tools and platforms that allow data collection using this technology. The good news to anyone considering to use this technology is that several tools amongst them some of the most popular and best developed in terms of user experience, effectiveness and ease of use and setup are free and open source. This means that all you have to do is learn how to setup and use the tool without paying a cent. Did I mention that you don’t have to worry about support?! There are tons of consultants, organization and tech firms offering support in training and implementation at a cost. If you are the DIY kind of guy, most of these tools and platforms have vibrant online user forums and communities where you can get support from peer users for free.

What are the benefits of Mobile Data Collection?

The turnaround time

When using mobile devices for data collection, data entry is done at the point of data collection, this means that the data entry phase is eliminated thereby hastening the research process significantly.

Richer Data

Mobile devices come embedded with chips and rich features. For example, a camera, GPS, audio/video recorders, scanners and screens that can allow capturing signatures. All a researcher has to do is leverage these features. The result is the acquisition of extremely rich data which would have cost a fortune some years back.

Cost Cutting

This technology greatly cuts the cost of data collection without compromising on quality. For example, no costs of data entry or extra costs of buying GPS devices or cameras are incurred.

Quality data

This technology comes with techniques of enforcing skip patterns, constraints and questionnaire logic ensuring that collected data conform to the set rules.

Real time access to data

When using this technology, data is collected and sent to a central server, this allows real time access to the data as it streams in.

Enhanced Data Security

Data is usually held in servers that are secured with security certificates and unauthorized access restriction.

Environmental Protection

Of course with this technology, we don’t have to cut trees to conduct research. By the way, have you heard of that joke? That humans are the only creatures in this world who cut treesmake paper from it and then write "Save The Trees" on it.

 

How does it work?

 

The easiest way to explain this is by using a diagram as illustrated below.

 

Tools and Platforms

There are various mobile data collection tools and platforms available. As mentioned earlier some of the best tools are free and open source. Free - You don’t pay to use the tool, open source - You can extend the features and functionalities of the tool if you have some software development skills. There are also paid platforms, these come with user support and a few additional features.

The tools and platform vary in features and functionalities. For example, some of the platforms support offline mode, allowing data collection even without an internet connection while others only support online/live mode. Below is a list of some of the popular platforms. This list is not exhaustive though.

  1. Open Data Kit - ODK
  2. KoBoToolbox
  3. SurveyCTO
  4. CSPro for Android and smart devices
  5. Open HDS
  6. REDCap
  7. mWater
  8. Magpi
  9. Epi Info

Watch out for part two (2) where we will look at these tools and platforms and more in detail.

 

 

 

 

Article by: Jeff Karani.

Jeff Karani is the Team Leader at Tech For Development – T4D, a leading Tech Consultancy Firm Based in Nairobi Kenya.

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