Mobile Data collection: The Liberian experience
Updated: Dec 23, 2018
These technologies come with a lot of advantages from easy collection, analysis, collaboration to disseminating data in real time onward to finding a unique way to curate and organize data directly from the field, helping to reduce the time it takes to complete survey by improving data integrity and accuracy.There are a lot of mobile data collection tools, proprietary and open source alike in used nowadays, each with it’s unique functionality; from mapping, curating, analyzing, collaborating data, to real time collection.
Our implementation methodology uses formhub instead of ODK Aggregate which wasn’t conducive for our reporting structure. We chose to use formhub as server and Open Data Kit Collect Android app to render and handle the forms on the mobile devices.
The forms were designed in xls format and uploaded to the formhub server, from where it can be access via both web interface and mobile devices that are configured to access the server.
Mobile Data Collectors(Community Advocates) were trained to use the mobile phones to collect data from the field. The collected data can be edited, saved offline on the device and later submitted when the device is connected to the internet either via Mobile Data Packages; (GPRS, Edge,3G or 4G) or WiFi connection. This data can now be further manipulated on the formhub server where the data can be viewed on a map or tabulated. Data can also be downloaded from the server and imported into any data manipulation software for further processing.
Selecting which mobile device to use was an issue, we had to take into consideration several concerns:
•The screen size(since it’s a touch screen device),
•The battery life (since it will be used in the rural area where electricity is an issue)
•The body of the device (the device will be expose to rain, dust, mud and sand)
•All the phones should be of the same brand and specifications
•The Operating system that best works with the system, among other things.
From our survey on the Liberian market, we could not find a phone that fitted the description, and the few that did, were far fewer than the number of phones needed.
Searching online, we came across the Samsung Galaxy Xcover 2. Immediately, we knew this was what we were seeking. However, the price became an issue, but after discussions and presentations, our client agreed to go with the Xcover.
We then had the phones configured by installing the ODK Collect app with all necessary configurations.
Mobile Network Connectivity
These devices needed to have internet connection at certain time of the project to submit the collected data. This was a huge challenge for us, we needed to study and understand the coverage and services provided by telcos operating there (the project coverage areas/zones).
To make a choice between Cellcom GSM & Lonestarcell MTN as to which network to use, we had to visit couple of places (in the project zones) to test connectivity - both voice & Mobile Data alike. Our first test was conducted in Nyen town, Todee District in Montserrado County, there, Cellcom signal was on and off (that is, you get signal at certain part of the town and no signal in other parts). This research was shared with Cellcom, at least verbally. On the other hand, Lonestarcell MTN has a tower right in the town providing it’s cell coverage to the rest of the nearby towns in the district.
We then moved to Blohn town, in Saclepea district, Nimba County to test connectivity as well as meeting with the community advocates. There, Cellcom was much better as compare to Lonestarcell in voice, but Mobile Data was really poor. Then came Flumpa, a nearest town to Blohn, there, Lonestar connectivity was quite okay, we were able to collect sample data, recharge credits to the phones, activate mobile data and submit data using Lonestar network.
At this point, we concluded using the MTN network. Finally we procure all SIM cards for all the remaining phones.
The community advocates we are working with have been working on health, education and other enumeration exercises in their respective towns and districts for a while now, but had not done work using mobile phones and so it was a new approach but entertaining system to them.
Because of their past experiences, it wasn’t difficult to get them using the phones, with just little issues like using the fingers gesture to move about the screen. After three days of training, they were all able to effectively handled the devices.
Mobile data collection is a new method reaching the shores of Liberia, with very minimum institutions using different MDC systems as far as we are concern:
•Norwegian Refugees Council - Using Fulcrum to collect incidents of land disputes on ipod Touch.
•Ministry of Health and Social Welfare - Using the Nokia Data Gathering to collect and conduct birth registration using Nokia Symbian E6 phones.
•The Winrock ARCH project - using Formhub & ODK Collect to data on children working in rubber plantations in Liberia
•Naymote - Using Formhub & ODK Collect the data on what the citizens understand about legislative processes.
iLab Liberia is engaged with these institution in their respective projects.
Being a technology hub, we’ve been providing technical support to NGOs, INGOs, central government and a lot of other institutions in a direction of their projects surrounding data collection, citizen participation and information dissemination. We currently have two MDC projects ongoing with others in the pipeline to harness information gathering and sharing..
Apart from using Mobile Data Collection platforms exclusively, over the past four years, we’ve been and are deeply engaged with using mobile (low tech) for information sharing and data collection allowing for community dwellers to report issues of crime, rape, police actions, land disputes, cross-border incidents, to even issues surrounding ongoing road construction.
We look forward to working with more and more institution to project information availability and curation.
By Carter Draper