1 How to Choose the Right Mobile Data Collection Tool
“We used to run paper-based monitoring and evaluation systems, which were inefficient and painful to manage. (Mobile data collection) made our lives easier.”
Prachi Patel, Manager of Technology for Development, CMS India
2 How to Design Your Mobile Surveys
The proceess of designing you app involves both (1) defining who will use your app and (2) determining how to best structure the app with the right modules and features. A well-thought out design will make the building and testing phase that much easier.
Identify your user stories
Your first step is to identify the users and user stories to build your app around. These should be centered around the biggest pain points and opportunities for impact you identified in scoping—not just the loudest voice in the room.
Ask your team:
They should be able to answer these questions in a way that indicates whether your new mobile data collection tool aligns with original objectives of your program.
Understand the precise needs for your application and its implications on everyone in the program.
Design the structure of your system
Once you validate your user stories, it is time to translate these into your app's module and form structure. This is important to do before you start building to ensure your vision is possible with the set of features at your disposal. Essentially, it is about confirming whether your chosen platform can do precisely what you need it to.
So while these user stories are an important start, you still need to map out how they actually look in your app, in the form of modules (groups of forms), individual forms, and features, which define how your app performs tasks.
Check out a sample form structure in our Guide to Survey Design.
Develop your content & delivery design
By now, you know what data you need to collect, but the way you actually solicit it might still be in question. Content and delivery design are how you determine the phrasing and actual delivery of the questions you need to ask.
Content design focuses on developing a survey of clear questions that avoid bias, maintain consistency in phrasing, and are culturally appropriate. Delivery design is all about how to best structure and disseminate your survey (e.g. order of questions, requried questions, mode of communication, etc.).
Spending a bit of time planning and strategically designing the content that will be used in your surveys, as well as how those surveys will reach your beneficiaries, will help ensure that you follow a systematic process collecting data from the beginning to the end of data collection period.
It is not about putting all the questions you can think of in the survey and sending it to everyone you can. With a consistent, well thought out design, results that emerge from data collection will be cleaner and more reliable.
3 How to Build Your Mobile Data Collection App
Plan for development
Keep your team organized and focused on their assigned workstreams. One app development methodology that we found can help with this is Agile (also known as Scrum), whose principles of incremental development and constant iteration help ensure you are staying focused on your project priorities, and validating along the way.
JIRA is a software project management software built to support agile teams and processes. Whatever methodology you choose, make sure roles, responsibilities, and processes are very clear to the team, and that everyone agrees. Then, establish mechanisms to ensure your team sticks to them.
Align with your team on your approach to app development — we recommend Agile.
Draft a versioning plan
A tough realization for many organizations in the build phase is that not everything will always fit in the first version of your app. Think carefully about what is time sensitive or a priority and the level of effort associated with including certain criteria. You need to map out a versioning plan to identify what modules and features will be included in each version of your app.
Consider which features or flows make the best introduction to the tool for new users and which might be too confusing for them to take on from the start. Sometimes it makes sense to introduce a certain feature set that you know the user will be able to understand quickly and wait until they are comfortable before introducing new functionality.
4 How to Test Your Mobile Data Collection App
The quality assurance (QA) process can often be the most headache inducing phase of testing, but at the end of the day, you need to make sure the app you have in your head actually works in real life.
This means building a dedicated QA period into your timeline and holding yourself to it. Documenting your use cases and all the workflows you designed will make designing your test plan that much easier and even help you prioritize which tests to run when you inevitably run short on time.
Give your team an app they will love by making sure it actually works when they get their hands on it.
Work through your test plan to ensure your most important workflows are functioning properly.
Usability (or user acceptance) testing is the process of putting a functioning app in front of your end users and seeing what they think. The concept is quite simple, but the execution is a bit more nuanced.
From selection bias to asking leading questions, there are many ways that your approach to collecting feedback can lead your users to give you the answers you want. As tempting as this can be, you need to make sure that the feedback you collect is as unbiased as possible.
5 How to Deploy Your Mobile Data Collection Software
Choose the right device
Your app should not only function on its device — it should thrive.
Deciding between a feature phone and a smartphone, determining an operating system, and choosing the right internal memory and battery life are all key considerations for the device your application will run on.
Prepare your devices
As the number of users increases, the complexity of device preparation increases exponentially. Smaller projects might not have as much trouble preparing their devices for the field, but preparing a device for field use is still a tedious job and there are many pitfalls you can encounter.
When a new device is opened, it takes a few minutes for the initial setup. Often, there is a mandatory operating system update, which adds a few more minutes. Once the device is ready, the mobile data collection app needs to be installed. And while projects with only a few users might not face much of an issue, for projects with hundreds (or thousands) of users, this process can take weeks. Budget both time and resources for device preparation accordingly.
Device setup isn't so bad on a small program. For national deployments, it's another story.
Find the right data plan
Without a doubt, you will want to make sure that the data plan you choose is with a provider who has good coverage in your the data plan you choose project area and will cover the data required to transmit the number of forms your users collect.
Determine which providers work best in your project area, examine their billing schemes (we recommend pre-paying, if possible), and determine how much data your application will need.
6 How to Train Your Team in Mobile Data Collection
Choose the right method of training
Effective adult learning involves specific techniques. Experiential learning, an understanding of a topic’s importance, and freedom to learn in their own way are a few methods that are helpful during trainings. Keep in mind your participants’ backgrounds while choosing which of these techniques is the best fit.
Your workers need to know how the app will help them do their job better. Explain to them how it will help them reach more beneficiaries or consult them faster. Show them results from the pilot or data from similar efforts and challenge them to beat it. You can’t expect your workers to just accept the challenges that might come with the new way of working -- you have to empower them.
Just like you know your workers’ level of digital literacy and objectives, you should know what type of learners they are: Visual, auditory, or tactile. Everyone learns in a different way, so tailor your training to your workers – and sometimes that means taking a hybrid approach.
7 How to Sustain Your Mobile Data Collection Program
You can’t assume your work is done after the last training session. To ensure all the effort you put into the implementation of the program pays off, you must set up a system to support your users. They should have proper resources and supervision, incentives to continue their usage, and, if they have thoughts or suggestions about the program, opportunities to be heard.
The importance of a good support system to sustaining a mobile data collection program cannot be overstated. Ensuring that responsive channels exist for users to flag issues they might face – related to the application, device, or data – is important to build trust in the system.
A user manual is a good place to start for troubleshooting, but make sure your users are aware of and encouraged to use all of the support channels available to them. As your program grows, you’ll need new resources like help desks or a central call center. And whatever the support channels you offer, make sure you track any and all of the issues raised. Delays in communication or repeated failure to resolve their problems will cause users to lose trust in the program.
If you want your workers to use your platform, you need to make sure they know how to address the questions that come up. A well-executed and diverse support system should ensure your team is supported and always performing at its best.
A paper training manual can be a useful tool on programs trying out mobile data collection for the first time.
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