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Mobile data collection technology is transforming fieldwork

For decades, field-based data collection was synonymous with cumbersome paper-based processes that involved carrying stacks of questionnaires, manually filling them out during interviews, and enduring the lengthy, error-prone task of data entry. This traditional approach not only demanded significant labor and time but also left much room for inaccuracies due to manual transcription errors. However, the adoption of mobile devices equipped with advanced survey technology has revolutionized fieldwork, making it faster, more accurate, and cost-effective.

By directly entering data into electronic forms that are immediately ready for monitoring, mobile data collection tools have reduced data analysis turnaround times drastically. A randomized controlled trial in Peru showcased this efficiency, demonstrating that using mobile devices for data entry required 70% fewer labor hours and halved the data turnaround time from 25 to just 12 days.

Eliminating the need for double data entry and the associated printing of surveys also drastically cuts down on labor and material costs, reducing the average cost of surveys by up to 71%, according to a World Bank study. Moreover, the use of mobile data collection tools improves data quality by enforcing logical flows in surveys, reducing human error in data entry, and allowing for real-time validations and corrections.

While the shift to mobile devices for fieldwork has been underway for over a decade, new advancements in technology continue to come to market. In this article, we’ll look at what mobile data collection capabilities exist, how they enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of fieldwork, and how to evaluate the right mobile data collection tool for your organization.

Evaluating mobile data collection tools for fieldwork research

A business person's hands point to a screen, where they are selected from different options as they evaluate mobile data collection technology.

Choosing the right mobile data collection tool is crucial for the success of field-based research and data collection projects. To ensure that a selected tool aligns well with your organizational needs and project goals, it is important to evaluate it across several key criteria. Here’s a detailed guide on what to consider when assessing mobile data collection tools:

  1. Feature set
    The first and perhaps most critical aspect to consider is whether the tool provides all the necessary features required for your specific data collection needs. Essential features for fieldwork might include:
  • Data validation capabilities: Ensures the accuracy of the data as it is collected.
  • Offline functionality: Allows data collection in areas without internet connectivity.
  • Multimedia support: Enables the capture of images, audio, and video, which can be crucial for comprehensive data gathering and are integral to many field-based projects.
  • Geolocation tracking: Confirms the exact location in the field where data collection occurs, adding an extra layer of data verification.
  1. Usability
    The ease of use of a mobile data collection tool impacts the speed of data collection and the training time required for field teams. Considerations include:
  • Intuitive user interface: Look for a clean, straightforward interface that can be easily navigated by all users.
  • Local language support: The ability to use the tool in the local language of the data collectors and respondents can significantly improve data quality and ease of use.
  • Training and technical support: Adequate training materials and responsive customer support are essential for resolving any issues that arise during field operations.
  1. Scalability
    An effective mobile data collection tool must be able to scale according to the project’s size and complexity. This includes the tool’s ability to:
  • Handle large volumes of data: The tool should function efficiently under the strain of large data sets.
  • Support multiple users: Ensure that the tool can accommodate the number of data collectors involved in the project.
  • Expand functionality: Check whether additional features or modules can be added as needed without significant disruptions or costs.
  1. Cost effectiveness
    Evaluate the total cost of ownership, which includes not only the initial purchasing price but also ongoing costs such as:
  • Maintenance fees: Regular updates and technical support may require a tool that charges a subscription fee. However, also be aware that free open-source tools come with associated costs, like IT expertise and resources to integrate, deploy, and keep the tool updated and secure.
  • Training costs: Consider the resources needed to train staff on the tool.
  • Operational efficiency: Assess whether the time and resources saved by using the type of tool you choose offsets the total cost of ownership.
  1. Compatibility and integration
    The selected mobile device collection tool should seamlessly integrate with other software and systems used by your organization to enable a smooth workflow. Important aspects include:
  • Data export and import capabilities: The tool should easily interface with common statistical software packages or databases used for further analysis.
  • Hardware requirements: Ensure that the tool is compatible with the hardware available to the team, such as smartphones or tablets.
  1. Security
    Given the sensitivity of data collected in many research contexts, the security features of a mobile data collection tool are crucial. Essential security features include:
  • Data encryption: Protects data from unauthorized access during transmission and storage.
  • User authentication: Ensures that only authorized personnel can access the application and data.
  • Compliance with regulations: The tool should comply with relevant data protection regulations, such as the GDPR, depending on the needs and geographical scope of the research.

How SurveyCTO is innovating for fieldwork

A woman interviews another woman using a mobile device.

SurveyCTO was designed specifically for mobile data collection in the field with a focus on innovating to enhance its capabilities and effectiveness in the realm of fieldwork research data collection. Our platform’s robust set of features not only speeds up the data collection process but also ensures greater accuracy and efficiency. 

Here’s a closer look at how SurveyCTO’s key features are reshaping field-based mobile data collection.

Offline data collection

Recognizing the challenges of inconsistent internet access in field environments, SurveyCTO allows for the collection of data offline. This capability ensures that data collection is not interrupted, even in remote or rural areas without reliable internet connectivity. Once a connection is available, the collected data can be seamlessly synced with central databases, maintaining the continuity and integrity of data collection efforts.

Complex survey logic like relevance

SurveyCTO supports complex survey logic, including relevance (or skip logic) that dynamically alters the flow of surveys based on previous answers. This not only reduces the duration of interviews by avoiding irrelevant questions but also improves the accuracy of the data collected by ensuring that respondents only see questions pertinent to their experiences.

Constraints and conjoint analysis

SurveyCTO’s platform enables the application of constraints to ensure that the data entered meets specific criteria, reducing errors during the collection phase. Additionally, SurveyCTO supports conjoint analysis features, which are essential for evaluating preferences or valuations statistically and can be integrated into surveys to facilitate sophisticated data analysis.

Geolocation

Geolocation functionality embeds geographic location data with each survey entry, providing contextual insights and verifiable data points that are crucial for spatial analysis and ensuring that data collection covers the intended areas.

Form versioning and updates

SurveyCTO allows for multiple versions of the same form, making it possible to update data collection instruments during fieldwork, without losing the ability to track and manage data across different versions of the form. This feature is vital for longitudinal studies where adjustments to the data collection instruments may be necessary as the study evolves.

Strong security measures

SurveyCTO places a strong emphasis on the security of the data it handles, employing advanced encryption protocols to safeguard data both during transmission and when at rest. This ensures the confidentiality and integrity of sensitive information, protecting it from unauthorized access or breaches. In addition, SurveyCTO supports compliance with international regulatory requirements, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Multimedia collection

The ability to collect multimedia inputs, such as photos, videos, and audio recordings directly through a data collection app enhances the richness of the data collected. And being able to incorporate images, audio and visuals into survey forms can provide additional insights into the survey’s topics and make questions and response options clearer, leading to better-quality data.

Customizable mobile interface

SurveyCTO offers a highly customizable mobile interface, which can be tailored to meet the specific needs of each project. This customization capability ensures that the data collection interface is intuitive and user-friendly, reducing training time and enhancing your fieldwork’s overall efficiency.

Real-time data monitoring

Real-time data monitoring capabilities allow project managers and researchers to view and analyze data as it is being collected. This immediacy can lead to quicker decision-making and the ability to promptly address any issues that programs or data collection teams are having in the field.

Integration with external systems

SurveyCTO can integrate smoothly with external systems and platforms, facilitating a streamlined workflow where data moves effortlessly from the field to analysis. This integration capability is essential for ensuring that data can be easily and quickly processed and analyzed in the context of larger data systems and goals.

24/7 support and training

SurveyCTO offers round-the-clock customer support, ensuring that users receive timely help whenever needed, regardless of their geographic location or time zone. This support is crucial for fieldwork operations that run continuously and may encounter unexpected challenges. Additionally, SurveyCTO provides extensive training resources, including detailed documentation, online tutorials, and webinars that are designed to equip users with the knowledge and skills to effectively use all aspects of the platform. This training support helps reduce the learning curve and increases the adoption rate among new users.

Language support

Recognizing the global nature of field-based research, SurveyCTO supports multiple languages, allowing data collectors to work in their native language or the language of the community with whom they are working. This flexibility not only improves the accuracy of the data collected by reducing misunderstandings but also enhances the engagement of participants who feel more comfortable responding in their native language.

Empowering you to make fieldwork better through mobile data collection

Mobile data collection technology has transformed fieldwork research, making it much faster, easier and more cost-effective to collect accurate data in person from all kinds of locations, from remote areas to crisis zones.

At SurveyCTO, we are committed to continuing to further innovate and improve our mobile data collection technology to support fieldwork in the social impact space. As a bootstrapped, user-funded platform, we’re free to create the sophisticated features we believe will benefit users the most. And because learning new features can be extra work, we also provide the training and customer support that makes it easy to implement these new mobile data collection capabilities.

Want to be part of this community of data collection professionals who have ongoing opportunities to up their game through data collection technology innovations? Follow the links below to start exploring SurveyCTO today.

Better data, better decision making, better world.

Melissa Kuenzi

Product Marketing Associate

Melissa is a part of the marketing team at Dobility, the company that powers SurveyCTO. She manages content across SurveyCTO’s external platforms, publishing expert insights on best practices for high-quality data collection and survey research for professionals in international development, global health, monitoring and evaluation, humanitarian aid, government agencies, market research, and more.

Her background in the nonprofit sector allows her to draw on firsthand experience as a user of software solutions for the social impact space to bring SurveyCTO’s tools for uncompromising data quality to researchers all around the world.