Creative Consulting & Development Works

We are a research, evaluation and communications consultancy, servicing nonprofits, governments and donors with innovative solutions within the development context.

Innovation: Utilising Mobile Survey Technology

13 May 2014


Screenshot of mobile survey technology phone interface.

Screenshot of mobile survey technology phone interface.

Throughout last year, Creative Consulting & Development Works (CC&DW) has been guided and inspired by thinking about how we can bring innovation into the research process to both increase the quality of our work and make the process more efficient and effective. One such way is to the employ the use of mobile survey technology.

Paper-based data collection has been the standard method for decades – but errors are frequent, storage costs are prohibitive, and the costs of double data entry are high.

Electronic methods of data collection have been developed in order to merge the process of data collection and data entry[i]. In Africa, mobile users account for 83% of telephone subscribers, a higher proportion than any other region in the world[ii]. South Africa leads the continent in mobile penetration with 36.4 mobile phones per 100 populations[iii]. Use of mobile phones is widespread even in remote areas of rural South Africa[iv].

Community representative shows the new electricity system put in by UISP at one of the sites.

Community representative shows the new electricity system put in by UISP at one of the sites.

At the end of 2013, CC&DW was awarded a contract by the Department of Human Settlements to undertake an evaluation of the Department’s Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) in the Western Cape Province. The evaluation aimed to assess the outcome of the UISP and the extent to which the programme has enhanced security of tenure, improved healthy and secure living environments, and reduced social and economic exclusions. UISP projects within the City of Cape Town and the five District Municipalities were evaluated, with the aim of identifying strengths, challenges and lessons for future strategy planning.

CC&DW employed a mixed method summative evaluation design using the Lot Quality Assurance Sampling (LQAS) methodology to assess the outcomes of the UISP in designated areas of the Western Cape. The methods of data collection employed were key informant interviews, focus group discussions and a beneficiary survey.

After extensive research, CC&DW decided to utilise Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) as a new method of data collection for our beneficiary component of the UISP evaluation.

Our researchers employed a CAPI software application that can be uploaded onto a mobile phone. The software allows for access to a survey, which takes the mobile phone user through the survey step by step. The data is saved and uploaded when the mobile phone is next within network range.

Our research team received extensive training on the CAPI system and we found the whole process of creating and uploading the survey to be very user-friendly. The application takes the fieldworker through the survey question by question. Fieldworkers are required to select options in example questions shown above, including multiple choice questions, qualitative or open ended questions and tick box questions. Additionally, the application has prompts to ensure validity of answers captured by the fieldworkers – forcing them to answer a question or give a valid answer.

Once in the field, the research team were able to use the phones with ease. Fieldworker Monalisa Guzana shared, “Using mobile survey technology was tricky when we first began, in terms of learning the questions on the phone and how they were formatted, charging the phones every night – we had to get used to these aspects not present with paper-based surveys. Once we had systemised our way of working, the application and tool made our work simple and quick.”

CC&DW fieldworker reviews a new UISP drainage system at one of the sites.

CC&DW fieldworker reviews a new UISP drainage system at one of the sites.

After the fieldworker has completed a survey, the results are uploaded from the phone once within network range.  Fieldworker Tarryn Blouws had this to say about capturing data electronically for the first time, “CAPI is the future… Conducting surveys/questionnaires via cellphone simplifies the process of capturing the data. No paper, no fuss. It is convenient and easy to use. It was such a delight to use in the field.”

A key feature of mobile survey technology is that the system provides a fieldwork management spreadsheet showing the number of surveys captured by each agent, when they were uploaded and how long the survey implementation took. This information is vital for an evaluation, streamlining the process of fieldworker and survey management and allowing project managers to see where each fieldworker is reporting from and how long each survey takes to complete. CC&DW researcher Paul Dube shares his insight, “CAPI is an innovative tool that not only improves efficiency in the research process but also secures data. Using the software also requires adequate training, an aspect, which should not be undermined. Nevertheless, with appropriate skill and technical know-how, designing the surveys within the software online and actual execution of the survey and analysis of results thereof will become exceptionally manageable, time and cost saving.”

One of the greatest strengths of using mobile survey technology was that the data from the field was already captured and the research team were able to start working on analysing the data immediately upon returning from the field. Our first foray into using mobile survey technology was very successful and we are excited about using CAPI mobile survey technology for our evaluations and research projects moving forward. Read our top five tips for utilising mobile survey technology and CAPI, below.


CC&DW’s Top Five Tips for using CAPI/mobile survey technology:

1. Maximise on the input / support around the design and functionality of your survey.  

The initial navigation of learning how to design and create your CAPI survey can be quite daunting. CC&DW were fortunate enough to receive comprehensive training and support, which definitely made the process of using CAPI for the first time much easier. Use the support!

2. Train your fieldwork staff thoroughly.

As is true with all research projects, it is important to provide training for fieldworkers who will be collecting data. Whenever a new avenue is used to collect data, it is even more important to provide comprehensive training. When fieldworkers are comfortable using a new form of technology before embarking on data collection, it will create fewer problems once they are in the field. Run through your phone survey in the training!

3.     Pilot your survey, analyse the results and give yourself the necessary time to make any adjustments needed. 

Piloting your tools before entering the field is an essential component of the research process. When using a new form of data collection, it is advisable to give yourself enough time to analyse the results and make necessary adjustments. Practice, practice, pilot!

4.     Regularly check your data as it comes in.

The CAPI web console allows you to access and manage data in real time. This is particularly helpful as it allows you to monitor data as it is coming through. Such a process ensures you are able to keep track of what your fieldworkers are achieving, as well as pick up any problems that might be occurring. Project Managers: keep track of fieldworkers and surveys online, in real time!

5.     Regularly check up on your data bundles to ensure that your surveys are captured.

CC&DW utilised the pay-as-you-go method for data collection, purchasing credit for our phones before we entered the field. It is very important to monitor your credit usage to ensure your surveys are being captured when your fieldworkers are in the field. Check your data usage regularly!

[i] Skuse A, Cousins T: Managing distance: rural poverty and the promise of communication in post-apartheid South Africa. J Asian Afr Stud 2007, 42(2):185-207.

[ii] White D: Telecommunications: A dynamic revolution. 2006 [,dwp_uuid=1f2588a0-765d-11db-8284-0000779e2340.html?nclick_check=15]. Financial Times

[iii] Vodafone Policy Paper Series: Africa: the impact of mobile phones. Vodafone Policy Paper Series, No. 2 2005.

[iv] Skuse A, Cousins T: Managing distance: rural poverty and the promise of communication in post-apartheid South Africa. J Asian Afr Stud 2007, 42(2):185-207.

« Previous article
Next article »

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment