As we discussed in How to Collect Data, collecting data digitally–whether in person using smartphones or tablets (mobile data collection), or sending the survey remotely to respondents–there are many options to fit every organization’s unique needs.
Datassist has worked with evaluation projects around the world where digital data collection has many advantages, including third world countries. Some of these benefits can also prove positive for your surveys:
- With some tools, data can be submitted real time into the database, and with effective evaluator training and data collection survey tools, this can lead to cleaner data.
- In many cases, costs can be reduced with digital data collection, through elimination of paper forms, and less data entry and cleaning.
- Often there can be instant visualization of the data, as well as capture of other forms of data including images, GPS coordinates, or enhancements that assist the surveyors
- Online forms have capacity to do advanced things:
- Customized invisible logic for customized questions for each respondent
- Predefined choices for faster form setup
- File uploads for easy file collection
- Images, icons and videos for a better experience
- Field validation for guaranteed results
Different platforms, programs, and tools for digital data collection offer variations in characteristics ranging from form compatibility, setup support, available alphabets and languages, and other features. Your choices depend on the amount of cost and coding required. There are many commercially available packages, some cheap, some expensive. Some require you to do a little coding and some are easy to use for folks with little technical skills, with no coding required.
Sign up for our September monthly resources newsletter for a detailed list and links to our preferred options – both paid and free.
If you’re looking for completely free options, most platforms have a free trial for you to test the platform out, and there are others that are open source or have a basic version for free. Using Google Apps and Google Drive, you can collect data online through forms, analyze data in real time and display your results All for free. The basics can be done by anyone who can use Gmail, and the more advanced pieces require a little bit of coding experience. I’ve had friends with no coding experience who have been able to walk through even the more complex steps with these Google data apps in just a few days.
If you want to work in a mobile setting, Formhub, a project from the Modi Research Group at Columbia University, is the tool for you. It has a much steeper learning curve, but if you’re willing to put the time and effort in, it can be much more powerful than most mobile form apps. There’s no form builder, so instead you’ll use a spreadsheet to list your form fields using the XLSform syntax. Once that’s done, upload your spreadsheet, and your team can fill it out online or with the free ODK Collect app for Android, which works offline and lets you add photos, GPS locations, and more to your forms. Back on your server, or in Formhub’s app, you can manage your form entries, and even plot them on a map in Google Earth.
For more options, there is a list of Mobile Data Collection (MDC) tools provided by Better Evaluation in Table 2 (Platforms to consider using when collecting mobile data). NOMAD offers a free online assistant for helping you choose between 24 MDC tools by walking you through a series of questions about your survey.
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