Data collection using mobile phones

Many projects working to improve the livelihoods of farmers spend a lot of time gathering information from the communities. They need to conduct detailed studies in order to compile baseline data, develop plans and monitor progress. But collecting detailed information, and making sure it is accurate, can cost a lot of time and money. It is expensive for fieldworkers to travel regularly to every project site, and the technology involved in gathering the data – often small handheld computers – can take a lot out of a limited budget.

One solution is Mobile Researcher, a tiny application that can be installed on the mobile phones. The researcher then simply follows a step-by-step process to gather data, either by entering text numbers or by answering a series of questions designed to meet the specific needs of the project. The information can be sent instantly to the project office or securely stored on the mobile phone until the researcher is back within the range of a cellular network.

Mobile phone
Mobile Researcher can be installed on a wide variety of mobile phone handsets from most of the major manufacturers [see complete list on Mobile Researcher website]. Phones costing under €50 can be used to conduct even long, complex surveys with the added advantage that fieldworkers and respondents are already familiar with the interface. Phones which have internet connectivity can be configured and connected to the system within a few minutes.

Web browser and internet
To design a survey questionnaire and analyze the data, all that is required is a web browser, such as Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, and an internet connection. A project team can design a survey on the web and send it to fieldworkers within minutes, almost anywhere in the world.

There is no need to download software or to install servers or other hardware. Mobile Researcher is hosted entirely by the developer but, if preferred, the data are available for download in a common format such as Microsoft Excel for later analysis and safekeeping.

Sign-up and support
First, complete the short ‘contact us’ form on the Mobile Researcher website, briefly outlining your requirements and the purpose of the research. . Installing the application on a mobile phone can be quite difficult the first time, so the developers usually provide assistance with the initial survey and handset setup. Most users become proficient in a short space of time.

The developers of Mobile Researcher offer on-site training within South Africa and provide free email support to all other active clients.

Users of Mobile Researcher are not required to make a long-term commitment or pay a subscription, but pay for use of the application on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis. Since cost of the system depends only on how often it is used, even small organizations that need to conduct occasional surveys can afford to use it.

Online Research Console
Each user receives a web-based ‘Research Console’ that supports many of the processes related to field research and data collection, including:

  • Survey design: you can create surveys tailored to your specific needs within your web browser. You can also save your survey templates and questions so that they can be used again in the future.
  • Fieldworker management: you can supervise fieldworkers from a single project office as the system can also gather and present information relating to their performance and activities. You can configure the phones of new fieldworkers and link their handsets to the system from the web browser. If the fieldworkers are conducting several surveys on different subjects, or in different locations, you can adapt their survey assignments from the research console at any time.
  • Communications: you can send SMS messages directly to fieldworkers through the system, which also logs all communications.
  • Data management: you can view survey responses from the moment they are uploaded from a handset into the system. You can then export the data in any standard format or generate graphic reports online.

The developers of Mobile Researcher have made the Application Programming Interface (API) freely available so that it is easy to access and incorporate the data collected in other systems. Surveys can be designed to access dynamic information from external sources, thus providing even greater possibilities for integrating data.

Using Mobile Researcher

  1. The main screen shows that there are data from two surveys that still need to be uploaded as soon as the mobile phone is connected to a cellular network (‘pending upload: 2’). The fieldworker can then choose whether to start a new survey (‘conduct survey’), check for updates (‘check for updates’ – either to the questions in a survey or new assignments), or exit the application (‘exit’).
  2. The fieldworker can choose from a number of surveys. In this example, they are surveys of ‘farm infrastructure’, ‘farmer’s yield’ and ‘soil health’.
  3. Multiple selection option lists are one of the many types of question available. Here a fieldworker conducting a survey of farmer’s yields can answer the question ‘Which of the following are used on this farm?’ by choosing one or more of the options ‘herbicides’, ‘insecticides’ and ‘fertilizers’.
  4. The option lists can be defined online by project staff through the ‘research console’, or they could be linked to a list of options from an external source on the internet.
  5. Questions in the survey can follow directly from the data entered in answer to the previous question, and allow the possibility to add specific information such as a date. In this example, the question, ‘What date was the last Maize crop planted?’ refers to the answer to the previous question: ‘What is the main type of crop being grown?’



For more information: Mobile Researcher

15 June 2009

Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (ACP-EU)