May 25, 2016
Mobile data provides numerous benefits to organizations working in the last mile that go above and beyond what you can do with paper data collection. As your organization moves from paper data collection to mobile forms for data collection, consider the points below to better ensure a smart, comprehensive and smooth transition – and to fully take advantage of the key features of mobile technology.
Before translating your paper surveys into mobile forms, take the opportunity to re-evaluate the goals of your data, and what data and information actually needs to be gathered to achieve those goals. Questions to ask include:
Answering these questions can help determine if the same data needs to be collected or if adjustments need to be made with your transition. Now let’s turn to….
A major difference between paper and mobile data collection using mobile forms is the presence of “meta-data,” or data that is collected in the back-end, behind the scenes, by the system when an activity occurs — this could include information that describes when, where, and by whom the data was collected. In the case of TaroWorks, when field officers are logged into the mobile app, the system automatically captures the user name, GPS, and timestamp (see examples below). This is one of the major benefits of using mobile technology for your forms.
On paper forms, field officers may need to write their name, start time of the session, end time of the session, and location on each form. This means that the self-reported data can sometimes be entered incorrectly, and that if the field officers are filling these forms out very frequently, entering the same information will seem redundant.
Mobile apps using mobile forms allow you to collect this type of information in the background. Before translating your paper forms to mobile forms, check whether the mobile app you’re using captures this type of information automatically, and how you can access it for your reporting. Using meta-data will mean your field officers have a few less questions to fill out, and you have more accurate information about their activities.
Mobile data collection allows for a greater range of data that can be captured and displayed through rich media – including pictures, video, audio clips. A paper form that collected information about a farmer’s results using a specific fertilizer may translate into a mobile form that include pictures of sample plants, audio clips of individual farmer testimonies, and video of insect interactions with the plants.
Think through what rich media can add to a form, how to retrieve and display the media, what media your organization can actually handle, and how to address limitations on certain mobile devices. Used well, rich media can make for robust analyses paper forms cannot provide. Used incorrectly, rich media could lead to respondents including information that an organization does not know how to find, use or address. If a farmer provides a video to explain why using your product results in crop failure, your organization needs to know how to retrieve and analyze the video.
Gathering information with paper forms necessitates human interaction that can lead to errors, but human interaction also lends opportunities to discard erroneous or illogical answers. Automating that same data validation process is a critical component to the mobile data collection. How to configure data validation requires an understanding of the errors that existed in your organization’s paper forms and thinking ahead to how a respondent might incorrectly input information on a mobile device.
Mobile data collection requires parameters to be defined to discard erroneous responses. Common examples include required fields and prompts to help users input information in correct formats. Other validation methods include skip logic, custom responses and defining acceptable ranges. Depending on how diverse possible responses are, your organization should test data validation criteria on representative samples of respondents before implementing. Criteria that are too strict might deter a customer from participating, while criteria that are too relaxed may result in errors that render entire questions unusable.
Storing meta-data and rich data entail privacy concerns that paper forms often do not. An ongoing consideration as your organization transitions to mobile data collection includes the following questions:
Making the shift to mobile data collection can open up a world of data that can provide insight into your program effectiveness and help increase your operational efficiency. However, the first step is to understand the types of features that are available to you. If you’d like to learn more about how you can get the most of mobile data collection, we’re always happy to help at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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