The field of digital data collection is constantly and rapidly changing, and as we’ve seen in the many iterations of our online courses on Mobiles for International Development and mHealth, Magpi has been a leading innovator in mobile data collection.

That’s why we were not surprised to learn that Magpi has been ranked “Top Digital Data Collection App” by Kopernik, a Rockefeller Foundation and Asia Community Ventures non-profit that ranks technology for development tools in their “Impact Tracker Technology” program.

Rankings for this category were based on scoring for criteria including affordability, usability, rapidity – the “ability to send and receive large volumes of data on a real-time basis”, scalability, and transferability – “flexibility in using the services for different purposes, sectors, and contexts”. This is first time Magpi has appeared on this Kopernik list where the judges tested the tools in the field.

For those who might not yet be familiar with Magpi, it is a user-friendly mobile data collection application that works on various mobile devices. Magpi uses SMS and audio messaging, and is built specifically for organizations with limited IT and financial resources. The company formally known as DataDyne is now Magpi and they have retired the DataDyne name as well as updated their website here, which lists some of the new comprehensive features they’ve recently added. Magpi is led by Joel Selanikio, who is also an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University’s Department of Pediatrics

Congratulations to the Magpi team! We look forward to having you guys join us again in our upcoming online courses!

Sustainability is the theme for the 2014 American Evaluation Association conference to be held in Denver on October 15-18th. Donors, and evaluators themselves, are demanding more and more from the evaluator profession as accountability and transparency have become hot topics. Adding to the complexity of the profession, this year’s AEA conference has called for a “visionary” evaluation for the 21st century: Using systems thinking, how can evaluators tie the complex, interconnected worlds in which they work into long-term global sustainability?

Evaluation will need to rely ever more on technology at both the micro level (tablets and cell phones for data collection) as well as the macro (ICTs for visualization, mapping) in order to envision an answer. To show you how ICT needs have evolved in the evaluation field, this year’s conference highlights panels such as “How to Use Analytics in a Visionary Evaluation” while the professional development workshops have doubled their “Data Visualization and Reporting” offerings, including classes in “Evaluation Dashboards” and the “Role of Data Visualization in Reporting.”

The step from using technology for data collection to mapping and visualizing has been building over the last several AEA conferences. Mobile data collection panels were the most popular sessions last year in Washington, DC. Crowds, sitting on floors and squeezed against the back wall, packed into sessions to hear the best cellphone and tablet options, software tips, and lessons learned from the field. Evaluators from the health, banking, and agriculture sectors drilled presenters from the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), Pact, and Population Services International. Representatives from UNICEF wanted to know the best IT strategy for field support. Mobile Accord, a Denver-based socially responsible mobile platform, inquired about the advantages of buying devices and software in-country versus pre-loading and shipping devices in pre-tested.

Here is a sample of last year’s takeaways to give you a sense of what to expect at this year’s AEA conference:

1. Buy devices, software, and support in-country
For large scale surveys, Daisy Kisyombe of Pact recommended buying devices, software, and support in-country, as import taxes were normally cost-prohibitive. Android phones can easily be purchased for under forty U.S. dollars in her native Tanzania, and survey software and support were available all over Africa from Mobenzi, based out of South Africa. In Tanzania, the cost of doing survey evaluations among farmers had dropped to one cent per survey, allowing for a typical 100 person sample to be done for as little as six hundred U.S. dollars.

Laptop data collection in India

2. Select a field surveyor as a point person for IT support
For IT support, several NGOs recommended selecting a field surveyor as point person on cell phone and software support. In exchange, the surveyor will receive the phone at the end of the year. “Theft is never an issue for the phones,” Daisy said. “It is the wear and tear in the field that is the issue. This is an incentive to take care of the phones. And the more surveyors who volunteer, the more we make them teach us IT support back at headquarters.”
3. Use mobile phones to reduce data collection costs
Aleck Dhliwayo of Population Services International (PSI) in Zimbabwe shared that their evaluation survey costs had also dropped dramatically since moving to mobile phone collection. It also allows headquarters to review data in real-time. If there are any questions, headquarters can call surveyors to clarify while they are still in the field. Results used to take up to three weeks on the old paper-based system. Now they have them instantly. Yet, Aleck, too, said the management of new technology required a different mindset: It is tempting to collect more information than you need. But that information needs to be analyzed, stored, and linked to other systems – Data collection used to be the driver of cost. “Now it is the analysis that is more expensive,” Aleck said.


4. Capture more quality data in different forms with tablets
The non-profit NORC, based out of the University of Chicago, has a long track record of working with tablets overseas, a mode of survey evaluation everyone agrees will greatly open up the response possibilities. Cell phone surveys usually limit qualitative responses to one word. Tablets can show a farmer an image of his crops, record his thoughts for transcription, and still capture the traditional quantitative data associated with cell phone surveys. Yet, echoing Aleck from PSI, Samuel Haddaway from NORC says analysis and transcription can be expensive, especially in languages other than English. Yet the metadata produced, such as time stamps from when the evaluation was conducted, is invaluable for data quality. NORC normally buys tablets in-country, but doesn’t give them to surveyors as they are too expensive right now. They leave them for the home office because, again, taxes make it prohibitive to ship them out of the country.

5. Pre-test, pre-test, pre-test
The lesson all panelist stressed to international development evaluators: Pre-test, pre-test, pre-test. “The first time we did not sync the phones until we arrived in the field, where connectivity was low.” Shared Daisy Kisyombe of Pact, “It took us half a day. The next time we did it in our office, it took fifteen minutes.”

Expect this year’s AEA conference to provide more takeaways on data analysis, visualization, and mapping as the needs of the field evolve beyond the needs of data collection to ensure project success.

Christian Douglass

Christian is a recent graduate of George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs mid-career program focusing on Monitoring and Evaluation in International Development. Christian has eight years of experience of program design, implementation, training, and evaluation including a USAID Rule of Law initiative in Russia; USAID private sector develop project in Ghana; and conflict analysis and evaluation with the U.S. State Department. A former international private sector consultant who conducted on-the-ground economic research in 75 countries, he has also been a business journalist and researcher for the Harvard Business School. He is currently an independent contractor working with private sector international development firms in the D.C. area.

If you interested in these topics, please enroll now in the Technology for Monitoring and Evaluation online course that runs Sep 22 – Oct 17, 2014.

What role can mobile phones play in distributing a survey and collecting feedback and data from respondents? In particular, how can we use mobile technology to reach out to and engage individuals in developing countries that tend to be underrepresented in global surveys?

In the recent My World 2015 survey launched in December 2012 in honor of the end of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 and the establishment of a new “post-2015” global development framework, the United Nations Development Program, the UN Millennium Campaign, the Overseas Development Institute, the ONE campaign, and over 700 on-the-ground grassroots organizations as well as international and local information technology companies created and continue to implement a worldwide survey seeking to collect the opinions of individuals everywhere on what matters most to them when it comes the future.

Survey respondents are asked to vote on 6 out of a possible 17 policy priorities, including a fill-in-the-blank priority that the individuals can add themselves. The survey aims to examine the public policy priorities of individuals across the globe. The survey allows respondents to choose 6 out of 16 pre-selected priorities or to submit their own priority in a 17th ‘fill-in-the-blank’ option. Respondents have participated in the survey via pen-and-paper ballot, via a central website, and through mobile technology (SMS, IVR, and a mobile application).

Here are five findings on the ways mobile phones have been leveraged for distributing the My World 2015 survey:

1. About 20% of over 2 million votes have come in via mobile phones.

2. Over 70% of the mobile phone respondents live in developing countries. These participants came from nations that score low on the Human Development Index (versus 31% in the overall survey).

3. More men have responded via mobile than women. (at a rate of 2 male respondent for every one female), and respondents via mobile tend to prioritize better job opportunities at a slightly higher rate than the majority of respondents.

4. Mobile distribution benefited heavily from local and international partnerships and, as with the web, more immediate and centralized collection of the data was possible. In implementation, the mobile phone promotion and distribution of the survey differed slightly from the pen-and-paper and web distribution of the survey.

5. A survey is only as effective as its promotion and distribution. Local and international partnerships helped distribute the survey through targeted high tech, low tech and no tech campaigns. Promotion for all three of the survey distribution methods included integrated campaigns targeting specific national and regional audiences as well as ongoing global efforts to raise awareness and foster interest in the survey.

How do these results so far compare to your own surveys? What kind of mobile data collection methods have you used in your projects and organizations? What challenges have you faced in gathering this feedback and engaging with survey participants in developing countries?

Linda Warnier OECD

Linda Warnier is a Communication Officer at OECD and an alumna of TechChange’s Mobiles for International Development online course. She develops and implements digital strategies and uses paid and free tools to plan and perform online impact assessments for large international organisations including the OECD and, before that, the European Commission.

To read Linda’s full report of My World 2015 and Mobiles, please click here.


To discuss this topic and similar issues related to mobile phones and data collection, be sure to join us for our upcoming online courses on Mobiles for International Development course and Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation!

We’re just one week away from the start of our Mobiles in International Development course and we couldn’t be more excited!

This is the 8th time we’ve run TC105 and it’s going to be better than ever with our latest updates. We have new animated videos, a revamped course platform, and fresh content to get you caught up on the latest mobile technology for the developing world with better networking, content viewing, and engagement. Check out this video to get an overview of the course, and learn why mobile phones matter for international development.

So far, we have participants enrolled from over 12 countries including Austria, Cote D’Ivoire, Ecuador, Malawi, The Netherlands, Norway, Trinidad & Tobago, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, USA, South Africa, and more joining every day. These participants represent several organizations such as the World Bank, UNDP, International Youth Foundation (IYF), NORC at the University of Chicago, Mission Measurement, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Digital Afrique Telecom, Ayala Consulting, Millennium Water Alliance, Umtapo Centre, Radio Zamaneh, Kenan Institute Asia, Tribeca Film Institute, JEVS Human Services, and others.

We’re especially looking forward to our special line-up of guest speakers including:

It’s not too late to join this global online learning community. Register for Mobiles for International Development now by clicking here.

On February 26, USAID received the “Best Government Policy for Mobile Development” award at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress 2013. And while the Mobile Solutions team was receiving an award in Barcelona, TechChange and the MS team were also receiving over 1,500 mobile poll responses from recipients in DRC taking part in an online exercise designed by 173 USAID staff and implementing partners in 21 countries. The way this was possible is through harnessing the same potential for public-private partnerships used for external implementation and applying it to internal education and collaboration at USAID.

Fig. 1: MapBox visualization of GeoPoll responses.

The exercise was part of a 4-week online course in Mobile Data Solutions designed to provide a highly interactive training session for USAID mission staff and its implementing partners to share best practices, engage with prominent technologists, and get their hands on the latest tool. Rather than simply simulating mobile data tools, USAID staff ran a live exercise in DRC where they came up with 10 questions, target regions, and desired audience. The intent was to not teach a tool-centric approach, but instead begin with a tech-enabled approach to project design and implementation, with an understanding of mobile data for analysis, visualization, and sharing.

Fig. 2: Student locations for TC311 class.

This would have been a formidable exercise for any organization, but fortunately we augmented USAID’s development capacity with the abilities of three organizations. TechChange provided the online learning space, facilitation, and interactive discussions. GeoPoll ran the survey itself using their custom mobile polling tool. And MapBox provided the analysis and visualization needed to turn massive data into a simple and attractive interface. (Want to check out the data for yourself? Check out the raw data Google Spreadsheet from GeoPoll!)

But while the creation of an interactive online workshop for small-group interaction requires barriers to scale, the content is under no such restrictions. One of the videos from our previous course on Accelerating Mobile Money provided an animated history of M-PESA, the successful mobile money transfer program in Kenya, which allows everything mobile phone users to pay for everything from school fees to utility bills and is proving transformative in cases such as Haiti.

Fig. 3: M-Pesa animation used for TC311 and USAID Video of the Week

But there’s still plenty of work to do. As mobile phones continue their spread to ubiquity, the challenges for applying their potential to development will only increase, along with the continuing possibilities as the technology continues to improve. However, in the short term, we’re focused on increasing mobile access, which is the topic of our next course. If you work at USAID or with an implementing partner, we hope that you’ll consider joining us and lending your voice to this process.