Instead of collecting data on paper using a pen, which is then manually entered into a database for analysis, data is input into a device which is then capable of exporting directly into a centralized database (which can be done using the Internet or a local computer).
MDC is a powerful method when applied correctly and to the appropriate types of questions. It applies existing technology to existing methods, resulting in improved process. MDC simply allows project staff to conduct their survey more efficiently.
MDC is not a remedy for correcting the effects of poor M&E design, badly selected indicators, or inappropriate analysis. It will not remove any limitations imposed on data analysis from sources such as sampling frame, sample size, lack of a measured baseline or control group, response/ non-response bias, etc. like any tool, it is only as effective as the M&E system within which it is being applied.
Mobile Data Collection tools offer numerous benefits compared to the traditional paper based data collection tools.
Most of development programs operate under very tight budgets. Limited funds means that any money saved in monitoring and evaluation can help to implement more impact oriented activities. Although the adoption of MDC tools has some upfront costs, it can lead to enormous savings. A World Bank study found that average interview cost was reduced by up to 71%.
- Traditional data collection requires double data entry where enumerator enters data in paper and data clerk transfers that data into the computer. Elimination of this redundancy can lead to significant savings especially when the survey is large.
- Savings are also made on printing costs, which can be significant as survey size and interview length increase.
- Potential cost savings can also arise from the flexibility and customizability of mobile tools. No need to carry extra questionnaires as customization such as language can be done on MDC fast and easy.
Speed and Efficiency
According to World Bank, mobile data collection lowers the average interview length by 3.6%. Using MDC methods, the data is instantaneous. With the use of internet technology, access may not only be real time but also global.
- Data can be ready for analysis as it is entered in directly into an electronic form that can be exported into a statistical package.
- Data can also be presented automatically in visual forms that track the most important indicators without requiring manual analysis by a statistician.
- The speed of conducting interviews can be reduced, as the interviewer is automatically prompted with the correct questions to ask, they do not need to concentrate on skip patterns or spend time checking that each question has been asked and all required fields have been filled.
Mobile data collection not only reduces the possibility of error at the point of collection, but can automate the cleaning of data.
- Filter logic can be utilized, which eliminates the possible confusion arising from questionnaire instructions.
- As data does not need to be separately transcribed from paper to a computer, there is no possibility of data entry error.
- MDC allows for auto validation of data being entered e.g. a question requiring only numeric is forced only to accept numeric answer.
MDC tools have a wide range of customization possibilities.
- Utilization of multi-media features such as the use audio, graphics, photo voice and video to improve comprehension of survey topics e.g. using a camera function to capture a photo of a survey site.
- Utilization of GPS technology to capture location and create a map of the survey sites.
Flexibility and Enhanced Management of fieldwork
Speedy access to data improves not only analysis and program responsiveness, but improves staff ability to react to unexpected changes and the ability of the survey supervisor to monitor the fieldwork.
- Since surveys in the MDC devices can be updated, it is possible to fix small issues in questionnaire design such as typos, badly phrased questions, or filter logic. Additional questions can even be added as quick as possible and with no cost implications.
- Effective supervision of enumerators is also a common problem in fieldwork. This can be mitigated by use of MDC .In addition to the automatic metadata and timestamps, the GPS capability allows tracking the enumerator’s route to further validate that the supervisor’s directions were followed.
For all of these reasons, many organizations stand to benefit substantially by switching from paper to Mobile Data Collection in their field work.
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