Now That You've Decided Mobile Tech Is Your Answer
Now that you have officially ruled in favor of using mobile technology in your next data collection effort, there are two important steps to take. First, reflect on some important questions about mobile tech and your project. Second, choose the appropriate tool for you
Some important questions about mobile tech and your project
Why are you collecting this specific data and what will you do with it?
Don't collect tons of data just because you can. Yes, you can take pictures, record videos, record GPS locations for everything under the sun, and upload hundreds of survey responses in the blink of an eye. That doesn't mean you need all of that data. Fewer, quality indicators will yield clearer, actionable results, which will ultimately be more useful than tons of data collected on vague or unrelated indicators. Think not only about what data you would like to collect but how exactly it will be used. Collect only what you need, analyze this data, report your findings. Whenever possible, find ways to incorporate your findings and reports into a real feedback loop so that all stakeholders see the results of their participation.
What type of data will you be collecting?
Outline what type of data you will be collecting, and decide which would be appropriate to collect using mobile technology and which are better collected using other methods. Do not force mobile technology onto all of your M&E activities, it won’t always work, and sometimes face-to-face and paper methods are the best for the job! By choosing certain tools or methods are you leaving out qualitative data or indicators that might be more difficult to measure? Traditional methods should be integrated alongside digital methods if ICTs limit your ability to collect this type of data.
Where is the data coming from?
You are asking real people to take time out of their lives to answer some (or many) questions for you. If you are asking them to participate in SMS surveys or wish to include video testimonials, you need to understand their level of technological literacy and comfort with such methods. Do they have access to technology? Asking community members to learn how to use digital tools may exclude some people who don't feel comfortable with the technology. Understanding your audience is key. Who do you need to hear from? Will technology encourage access to and participation from these individuals? Understand issues of power, literacy, access, language, cultural and religious barriers, and general capacity in order to make a decision about how and what kind of technology will be incorporated in the data collection process.
Who is collecting the data?
What capacity field staff have for collecting data and with what level of technology? Will mobile data collection methods empower or exclude anyone? Will this new technology create an unnecessary time-burden for field staff or will it enable them to better perform program activities? Having technology will not make up for a lack in M&E training and understanding. You must know how to design and conduct effective M&E activities first, and then adapt these for mobiles. Yes, now you can collect vast amounts of data, but if you do not have the experience to process and analyze it, it won’t be useful.
The Local Context
What are the connectivity and power issues in your field locations?
Every mobile tool has different connectivity and power requirements, so you will be able to narrow your options down when you know what the situation will be in the field. No matter what, you will need to field test your tools to get a real handle on the types of issues you will face. Find out when and where you will have access to electricity, cellular service, and where you have to do without. Figure out what devices are already being used. Choosing devices that people are familiar with reduces training time and helps with troubleshooting. Learn about and choose the local service providers with the best coverage in the areas you will be working.
Are you meeting ethical and security standards?
Have you put in place measures to keep your data secure? Beneficiaries should be informed about where data is going, how it will be used, and how their personal identifiers will be kept secure. Can you ensure that telecommunication companies will also protect the privacy of beneficiaries? Make sure you are not putting anyone at risk through the use of mobile technology.
Design your new framework to be both robust and flexible
Be flexible and ready to adapt your M&E design as necessary. The people conducting M&E activities in the field will know how the original data collection design could best be modified for mobile, so it's important to consult with them throughout the process and to identify areas for change and improvement. During the testing and early adoption phase, build in plenty of stakeholder feedback sessions about what is working, what isn’t, why, and what changes should be made to the process.
Now you’re ready to choose the appropriate tool for you
With all of these questions in mind, it is time to choose a tool. We have provided a guide outlining several of the most widely used tools for data collection by international development organizations. As with everything in the digital world, these tools and their functionality are constantly changing and evolving, so always check their websites to make sure you have the most up-to-date information.
Once you've narrowed down your options, choose the best fit and run a small-scale pre-test of the technology itself, to identify all of the potential stumbling blocks and address these details before investing time and money in additional hardware/software/training, etc.