Open Data Kit (ODK) is a fantastic open-source platform. We took that as our foundation and then added hundreds of improvements, hosting, documentation, and support.


Below are the key differences between SurveyCTO and straight ODK:

Differences in security (relative to ODK security features)

SurveyCTO offers data protection with multiple layers of encryption and redundancy from user devices to our secure servers.

  • End-to-end encryption with industry-leading 2048-bit encryption, including user-owned public-private encryption keys, automatic encryption in transit, and at-rest encryption that stores data separately from the encryption key necessary to read it. 
  • Data security that satisfies GDPR compliance standards and institutional review boards (IRBs).
  • Access restriction with fully customizable user permissions and the creation of teams to silo access to forms and data on a single server.
  • Secure hosting in multiple server locations in the US and EU with state-of-the-art firewalls and penetration monitoring technology.
  • Seamless logins and user access management with Google, Okta, and Azure AD SSO support.
  • Strengthened password expiration and complexity requirements.

Differences in support (relative to ODK community support)

SurveyCTO offers time-saving and thoughtful guidance that helps projects succeed.

  • 24×7 support team availability from our team of expert research and data collection professionals who have an average first response time of under 2 hours. 
  • Extensive support library with help articles, sample forms, video tutorials, product documentation, and user forums.
  • Self-paced online training course for an introduction or refresher to the platform.

Differences in the server relative to ODK Aggregate

The SurveyCTO server console is a central repository of forms and a robust website for designing, testing, and reviewing forms. It also provides a universal web interface for filling out forms online.

  • Cleaner, faster, and easier-to-use UI.
  • Individual virtual server for each subscription, with free software updates.
  • Online/offline spreadsheet-based form design – plus ability to design forms with an online drag-and-drop form designer.
  • Online/offline Android and iOS-based data collection – plus ability to preview and fill out forms online, using a simple web interface.
  • Rigorous form testing interface to preview forms, toggle between test and design views while making changes, and test downstream processes, such as quality checks and publishing to outside systems.
  • Ability to safely generate public-private encryption keys with a simple web interface.
  • 24×7 hosting with near-zero down-time (scheduled maintenance Saturday midnight GMT).
  • Mirrored continuous backups on Amazon servers (with option to restore server to snapshot from any day/time in past 30 days).
  • Instant data visibility with built-in Data Explorer, including powerful visualization and monitoring options – even for encrypted data.
  • Custom branding of various platform components, including server console, Data Explorer workbooks, and data export reports. 
  • Automated monitoring of data quality with nightly email reports that flag critical errors, suspicious surveys, or enumerators whose responses differ significantly from the rest of the team.
  • Review and correction workflow to review, comment on, correct, and then approve or reject incoming submissions – even encrypted submissions.
  • Ability to easily export .csv data directly from the web – even with encrypted forms.
  • Automated integrations to other tools via Zapier, Google Sheets, and OpenFN. 
  • Android/iOS and desktop software components with matching versions available as part of server.
  • Direct upload and validation of spreadsheet-based form definitions.
  • Ability to upload form revisions, even when they alter the back-end database structure.
  • Online relevance, constraint, and calculation expression-builders, as well as an online constraint-tester.
  • Safe publishing to Google Sheets (all sensitive data can remain encrypted with your private key).
  • Automatic merging of form data into server datasets, which can then be automatically pre-loaded into forms.
  • Automatic generation of new form templates, with easy support for encryption and pre-loaded data.
  • Automatic generation of printable versions of survey forms.
  • Automatic generation of mail-merge templates.
  • Statistics tab for monitoring form submissions over time.
  • Direct support for transferring files between SurveyCTO and Google Drive.

Differences on the Android/iOS side (relative to ODK Collect)

SurveyCTO Collect, the mobile application, offers secure and robust data collection across devices and without connectivity.

  • Enhanced functionality for telephone interviewing (CATI), including recording both sides of calls, generating call activity logs, and more.
  • Support for audio audits (invisible, random audio recording for quality control) and sensor readings (device sensor readings that capture conversation, sound, light, and movement) for greater insights into how surveys are being conducted and higher levels of quality control.
  • Case management workflows for centering data-collection on pre-defined subjects or respondents (patients, clinics, schools, households, etc.).
  • Option to hyperlink all field references for non-linear workflows.
  • Easier navigation via color-coding of hyperlinks and question lists.
  • Ability to enforce, log, or audit “speed limits”.
  • Optional main-menu status bar to give status of connection, submissions in the queue to sync, and more.
  • Smart form version control (only most recent form version is displayed, updates can auto-download).
  • Ability to receive forms from and send data to laptops while offline (using local wi-fi networks).
  • Compression of form files in transit for better field performance.
  • Ability to log administration sequence and timing.
  • Ability for enumerators to add comments to any field.
  • Flexible new options to validate or skip fields mid-survey.
  • Option to hide forms that are under development.
  • Additional automated backups to device’s internal storage (in case of SD card failure).
  • Improved handling of very long expressions in calculate, constraint, or relevance expressions. 
  • Display option of filtered table views for case management.
  • Option to resume crashed forms.
  • Option to send crash reports directly from devices to SurveyCTO support staff.
  • Innumerable other incremental improvements in stability and error reporting.

Differences in the desktop software (relative to ODK Briefcase)

SurveyCTO Desktop offers the safest and most powerful way to centralize work, export data, manage projects, and work offline.

  • Dramatically cleaner and more streamlined UI and installation process.
  • In addition to raw .csv exports, ability to export to Google Earth or Stata, merge with Excel, or mail-merge with Microsoft Word – all safely for encrypted forms.
  • Ability to create multiple desktops for different servers or projects with their own local storage, export settings, and workflows.
  • Automatically-generated export reports to better contextualize data and produce audit trails. 
  • Offline support for directly pushing forms to and pulling data from devices, using local wi-fi networks.
  • Scheduled syncing for periodic background download and export.
  • Workflow automation (can fire off custom processes after each export).
  • Support for selective merging of data from multiple forms in desktop software datasets and then into Excel workbooks.
  • Offline form validation and constraint tester.
  • Offline relevance and constraint expression-builders.
  • Built-in support for public-private key generation.
  • Built-in support for re-encoding .csv files, for better font and language support.
  • Automatic compression of form files in transit.
  • Options to auto-clean local storage.
  • Export setting to export .csv files with a separator other than a comma.
  • Option to export data without group names in .csv headers.
  • Convenient access to the server console, Support Center, and other online resources.
  • Offline access to the product documentation within SurveyCTO Desktop.

Differences in survey forms (relative to XLSForm)

SurveyCTO allows for effortless design of complex forms with a wide offering of fields and functions, plug-ins, non-linear navigation, randomized elements, and more.

  • Online drag-and-drop form designer, with ability to go back and forth between online and spreadsheet design modes.
  • Field plug-ins support to control the appearance and functionality of survey questions.
  • New field types: comments, calculate_here, text audit, audio audit, speed violations count, speed violations list, speed violations audit, caseid.
  • New field attributes: publishable, length, minimum_seconds (for configuring “speed limits”), calculated default values (for, e.g., defaults pre-loaded from .csv), notes (for printable versions), organized (for groups).
  • New appearance styles: “show-formatted” appearance style for integers and decimal numbers, “numbers_decimal” and “numbers_phone” for text fields, “randomized” for select_one and select_multiple fields.
  • New functions: empty(), sum-if(), geo-scatter(), de-duplicate(), format-number(), duration().
  • Can easily record total time spent filling out a submission (or time spent within individual modules).
  • Can add hyperlinks and menus for within-form navigation.
  • Can design collaboratively in Google Drive.
  • Can use spreadsheet-based form templates designed for ease-of-use (including conditional formatting and help tabs).

Overview video

Learn more about SurveyCTO in this overview video, and by browsing our video library

SurveyCTO platform overview: Collect your best data

We improve SurveyCTO relentlessly, so this list is bound to be out-of-date. Sign up for a free trial and check it out for yourself.