Mobile surveys: The past, the present, the future

Emily Tomkys Valteri ICT4D, Methodology

Since 2013 mobile surveys have become increasingly important to our survey processes at Oxfam, and across the sector. Emily Tomkys shares some of the key learning that has contributed to the latest Mobile Survey Toolkit, now available online to all development practitioners.

It has been a long journey from when most of Oxfam’s data collection used paper and pen in 2013, to today, where over two-thirds of our countries have used mobile data collection in their programmes or for monitoring and evaluation. Having identified the value add potential of reducing time and improving data quality of our survey processes, thorough research into the array of tools available was carried out. Multiple pilots in varying contexts revealed good practice in the approach and so Oxfam compiled this learning into its first version of the Mobile Survey Toolkit internally back in January 2014. It explored the appropriate methodology and compared ten mobile software tools for programme teams to determine which was the best for different contexts and projects. With demand from country programmes increasing, the revised Mobile Survey Toolkit (which is now available for all development practitioners) has built upon years of learning. It is designed to provide country programme staff with the support and information they need to make informed decisions on whether using mobile is suitable and which tool is most valuable for their case. The refined methodology has added best practice advice, particularly on data ethics and security, as well as a narrowed down the tool selection that Oxfam supports.

Narrowing the tool selection has facilitated faster decisions from country teams and ensured that data is protected

From ten tools, two have been identified as the most valuable and the most widely selected by our country teams – Mobenzi and SurveyCTO (an ODK based option). Both tools are in line with our commitment to value for money and data security, with EU data hosting options available, whilst being easy to use with wide functionalities for survey design and data reporting. Some may see downsides to the tools not being free or open source, but our learning has shown that these types of tools can be buggy and we value having responsive and formalised support channels to turn to whilst in the field.

Narrowing the tool selection has facilitated faster decisions from country teams and ensured that data is protected to the standards required by Oxfam and the EU. This narrowing should also enable us to create a network of international country staff that have used the tools and can help train and support usage globally, whilst creating extra-curricular opportunities for staff that are outside of their immediate job remits. A survey bank is also being created, where standard survey templates will be available, in Mobenzi and SurveyCTO as well as on paper for teams to edit and use as needed. Not only will this save teams valuable time, it will also facilitate best practice survey design and standardise our common indicators which could lead to some level of global reporting – dare we dream!

There are many fantastic toolkits readily available and published from other organisations on mobile data collection which have helped Oxfam to learn and form ideas about our methodology. While the toolkit we have released is certainly not new to the space, hopefully others will find Oxfam’s method, process and decision making on tools valuable.

The toolkit is available in English, French and Spanish and covers the following steps:

• When should you use mobile data collection?
• Selecting the right tool(s)
• Selecting a mobile device
• Guidelines for creating a mobile survey
• Informed consent and ethical considerations
• Tips on reviewing data in Excel


Jola Miziniak