Historically, there have been several obstacles to effective field data collection. Cost, time, delays, and potential inaccuracy inherent in paper collection techniques could severely hamper the efforts of even the best teams.
That’s why electronic mobile data collection (MDC) — whether by smartphone apps, or by SMS messaging, or by voice response (IVR) — or has become such an important new offering for health organizations, non-profits, and corporations that rely on heavily on data collected by field workers. By moving from paper to mobile, these organizations are able to benefit from a robust new field data collection platform that is faster, cheaper, higher quality, and easier to integrate with other systems.
Benefits of Mobile Field Data Collection Over Traditional Paper Questionnaires
Mobile data collection is a perfect fit for organizations that gather a lot of quantitative data in the form of numbers, multiple choice questions, dates, and photos. Streamlining data collection has many benefits including:
- Reduced Cost – By reducing or eliminating the need for paper and cutting the time needed by field workers to collect data, you can realize serious cost savings. A study in 2011 of the Magpi mobile data collection system found that these savings can easily be as high as 71%, and our experience has confirmed that again and again.
- Reduced Environmental Impact – Paper surveys are wasteful from an environmental perspective. A simple 5,000 household survey alone can waste thousands of gallons of fuel, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, and up to twelve trees.
- Increased Speed – MDC reduces both field data collection time, and also the time required for analysis and distribution of data and resulting reports. A dramatic example of this occurred during the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa, when Magpi MDC was used to dramatically speed up reporting of suspected cases — but the benefits apply equally to reporting of supply levels, or maintenance issues at industrial sites.
- Improved Data Quality – Mobile data collection not only reduces the possibility of error at the point of collection, but can automated the cleaning of data down the line – and by presenting the data more rapidly, errors that may remain can be identified more quickly.
- Decreased Administrative Burden – Paper can be unwieldy, not only for field workers, but for the staff that needs to manage the paper forms. And if changes are made to those forms, it can be a nightmare to prepare and distribute changes on paper — a process which often fails, resulting in data inconsistencies. Mobile forms, on the other hand, can be updated and pushed to all field workers quickly and automatically at the press of a button.
- Safer Storage and Backup – Paper can be lost, destroyed, or mishandled in a number of ways, which can create problems later if the data needs to be reaccessed. Digital data, on the other hand, can be easily and inexpensively stored, copied, backed up, and — if needed — encrypted for secure future access.
For all of these reasons, many organizations stand to benefit substantially by switching from paper to mobile data collection for their field work. A good example is Generations for Peace, as discussed in our last Guest Post by Sairah Yusuf. The bottom line for GfP was the total cost of ODK or KoBo Toolkits (software cost, setup cost, training cost, and operating cost – the combined total of which is often an order of magnitude lower for ODK than other solutions):