Using paper surveys and for data collection can create big hassles and inefficiencies. In addition to spending a lot of valuable time on data entry, transferring data from paper surveys to a database leaves a lot of room for errors. And, really, who wants to carry, organize, and track hundreds of paper surveys? Well, thanks to readily available mobile technology, there’s no reason to use paper anymore.
We’ve used EpiSurveyor, an open access mobile technology tool, for all our quantitative data collection over the last year. For those who aren’t familiar with Episurveyor, it’s a mobile phone and web-based data collection system, created by Georgetown University pediatrician Dr. Joel Selanikio, developed in Kenya, and used by hundreds of organizations in over 170 countries in international development and other sectors.
Within the last year, we’ve learned and mastered the ins and outs of EpiSurveyor, and we’d like to share our experiences.
- It’s free! Well, there is a free and paid version of EpiSurveyor. The free version includes basic functions, but is limited to 20 survey forms, 100 questions per survey, and 5,000 data uploads per year. If you need more power or advanced functions such as SMS data entry and unlimited storage online, there are paid versions of Episurveyor that are still more cost-effective than other commercial programs. Check out the EpiSurveyor pricing page.
- The program and its applications are extremely user friendly. Our evaluators are all self-taught users. Further, we train field staff and enumerators and have had great success with transferring knowledge and skills! With training this easy, you can devote more time to designing solid instruments and doing thorough field testing.
- Cell phones are found everywhere, even in the poorest of countries, and are relatively cheap. This takes care of the hardware requirement. Remember, the software is free, (see point 1 above)! In the words of Dr. Selanikio, cell phones work for data collection because they are “the most successful tech product in the developing world since the radio.”
- Managing data collection and oversight is a cinch since data can be viewed in real time (if there is a Internet network available in the field). Every time an enumerator completes a survey, he or she can save the completed survey and then “send” it (if there’s a working network) to the EpiSurveyor server. Data or project managers can view the submitted data in their EpiSurveyor account as it’s being sent from anywhere in the world!
- The GPS function allows data and project managers to track geographic data, follow enumerators, and make sure the project and evaluation target area is being adequately covered.
- EpiSurveyor support is always helpful! When we have had issues come up, the EpiSurveyor support team is always quick to help and resolve our problems. They are so helpful, in fact, that two members of the DataDyne team have happily agreed to be interviewed for our next post. Stay tuned for our Q&A session with Joel Selanikio (founder) and George Njuguna (Tech Support)!
The (not so) Bad
- Although technology is supposed to make things easy, sometimes it can make things harder (at least in the short-term). If Internet connection is slow, it can be a pain to download survey forms on the phone. This, of course, is not by fault of EpiSurveyor, and we hear that system improvements set for rollout in 2013 will make it even easier to download survey forms.
- Some EpiSurveyor compatible phones are easier to use than others. We had trouble using the Nokia c3-00. However, we’ve had the most success using Android phones.
- “Missing data.” On a few occasions data that was “sent” from the phones to the server did not appear on the EpiSurveyor website. “Missing data” is put in quotations because, although the data was still stored in the phone, it did not appear in the EpiSurveyor account despite having been sent. Tech Support was quick to resolve our issues and improvements are constantly being made to make EpiSurveyor a better product.
- With any sort of change, there are always people who will be resistant to change. Fortunately, in our experience, EpiSurveyor is so easy to use and understand that people oftentimes get more excited than hesitant for the new technology.
- There’s nothing ugly about a free user-friendly open access mobile technology tool for data collection in developing countries. We love using EpiSurveyor!
Have you used EpiSurveyor or another mobile data collection tool? If so, tell us about it here on our blog. If you would like to hear more about how your organization can use EpiSurveyor in your evaluation efforts, contact us directly at email@example.com.