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Information and Communication Technologies

Using mobile phones in data collection: Opportunities, issues and challenges

Michael Trucano's picture
there are lots to ways to collect data while mobileThe explosive growth in the availability of mobile phones in societies around the world – even in some of the poorest, most remote communities – is increasingly leading many groups to explore how these devices might be used effectively as part of large scale data collection efforts in many sectors, including education. Utilizing small, portable electronic computing devices to help collect data is not new, of course. For over two decades, laptop computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) have featured in initiatives to (e.g.) collect census information, interview consumers of various goods and services and poll potential voters. That said, such efforts often faced constraints related to, among other things: costs; the relative novelty of such devices among key segments of the population; the need to provide device-specific user training; and difficulties in exchanging data between these devices and other components of a larger system for data collection. If, as it has been argued, the best technology is often the one you already have, know how to use, can maintain and can afford, for most of the world, the mobile phone fits these criteria quite well. As of late 2013, rates of mobile phone penetration stood at 96% globally (128% in developed countries and 89% in developing countries). According to the International Telecommunications Union, “today there are almost as many almost as many mobile-cellular subscriptions as there are people in the world.” 
 
Given their ubiquity, increasing functionalities, and decreasing related acquisition and operating costs, it is not surprising that mobile phones have been employed in a variety of ways to aid data collection efforts around the world. While many people may believe that such efforts require the use of a high-end (and expensive) smart phones, phones of all sorts have been deployed successful to different ends in different contexts.

Very simple, low-end ‘dumb phones’, for example, can utilize simple text messaging (or SMS) or voice to (e.g.) send out short queries by phone to a bank of phone numbers, prompting users to reply with a short response, which can be either predefined (‘text 1 for yes, 2 for no’)  or open-ended. Smartphones can be used in much more sophisticated ways by presenting rich media survey questions directly to respondents or to help guide the actions of an ‘enumerator’ (someone who administers a survey in person) by presenting a user-friendly interface to help an enumerator input and transmit data in structured ways. Such phones may also contain help files and training aids for the enumerators. In between the high and low end, ‘feature phones’ (a catch-all category of sorts for phones which can do more than make basic voice calls and send and received text messages, but do not have the advanced functionality of smart phones) can make use of simple graphical forms (e.g) on screen as prompts for questions, and can store/transmit structured data as a result of responses.

Data input or captured into phones may be transmitted or shared in many ways (including SMS, MMS, USSD, Bluetooth, wireless Internet, or the exchange of physical memory cards). Where mobile connectivity is not available, data can be stored on the phone and transmitted later once a phone is within sufficient range of a cell tower.
 
How and why might mobile phones
be useful in large-scale data collection efforts,
and what comparative advantages might their use have when compared to other options?
 
A number of attributes and characteristics of mobile phone use in such activities (as well as the use of other small, low-cost portable devices such as tablets, especially where such devices can be connected to mobile and wireless networks) may lead them to be considered, especially when compared with the use of more traditional, paper-based survey instruments:
 

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

The Transformative Impact of Data and Communication on Governance: Part 3
Brookings Institution
How do digital technologies affect governance in areas of limited statehood – places and circumstances characterized by the absence of state provisioning of public goods and the enforcement of binding rules with a monopoly of legitimate force?  In the first post in this series I introduced the limited statehood concept and then described the tremendous growth in mobile telephony, GIS, and other technologies in the developing world.  In the second post I offered examples of the use of ICT in initiatives intended to fill at least some of the governance vacuum created by limited statehood.  With mobile phones, for example, farmers are informed of market conditions, have access to liquidity through M-Pesa and similar mobile money platforms.

Cashing in: why mobile banking is good for people and profit
The Guardian
Using digital finance to tackle development problems can improves lives, and offer innovative companies handsome rewards. Whether it is lack of access to water, energy or education, development professionals are well versed in the plethora of challenges facing billions of people. The traditional approach to solving these problems has been to think big – in terms of the millennium development goals, government aid programmes, or huge fundraising campaigns. But there are dozens of startups and larger companies with innovative ideas who are approaching these challenges in new ways using digital finance.

Can Computers Outperform Humans?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

The epic battle of man against machine has been fought on many occasions. One of the most memorable encounters was the chess game between IBM’s Deep Blue and Gary Kasparov. Deep Blue was the first computer to beat a reigning chess champion in 1996 (the machine still lost 2 to 4 after six games). A year later, at their “rematch”, the machine won on the overall score: 3.5 to 2.5.

However, it is surprising that, 18 years later, we still have not figured out the ultimate winning strategy in chess. Any game with limited combinations and full disclosure of information must have ‘safe strategies’ and can be ‘solved’ (as has happened with the game checkers in 2007). The solution, in chess, would from what we know today involve strategies whereby the white player would win or the black player would force a draw. Yet no human or super computer to date has managed to solve chess’ mathematical puzzle.  How much more computing power do we need to succeed?

Apr 11, 2014: This Week in #SouthAsiaDev

Liana Pistell's picture
We've rounded up 39 tweets, posts, links, and +1's on South Asia-related development news, innovation, and social good that caught our eye this week. Countries included: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, NepalPakistan, and Sri Lanka. For regular #SouthAsiaDev updates, follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Media (R)evolutions: Digital Natives

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

The world’s “digital natives,” young people born around the time the personal computer was introduced who have spent much of their lives connected with technology, are rapidly increasing in numbers.  Internet usage has increased significantly in the developing world in the past five years, and the digital native population in these countries is expected to increase by more than double by 2017.


 

More efficient ways to transfer remittances are emerging. Are migrants and their families ready to benefit from them?

Massimo Cirasino's picture

The price of sending international remittances has reached a new record low in the first quarter of 2014. The global average cost of sending money across borders was recorded at 8.36 percent. This figure is used as a reference point for measuring progress toward achieving the so-called “5x5” objective – a goal endorsed by the G8 and G20 countries – to reduce the cost of sending remittances by five percentage points, to 5 percent, by the end of 2014.

Most indexes of international remittance costs – published by the World Bank in the new, ninth issue of the Remittance Prices Worldwide report, which was released on March 31 – indicate good progress in the market for remittances.

The global average cost is significantly lower when weighted by the volume of money that flows in each of the report’s country-to-country pairs. The weighted average cost is now down to 5.91 percent, following a further decline in the last quarter. For the first time, the weighted average has fallen below 6 percent.

Nearly one-third of the remittance-sending countries included in Remittance Prices Worldwide have now achieved a reduction of at least 3 percentage points. Those countries include such major sources of remittances as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan. This is also the case for 39 out of 89 of the remittance-receiving countries.

Apr 4, 2014: This Week in #SouthAsiaDev

Liana Pistell's picture
We've rounded up 18 tweets, posts, links, and +1's on South Asia-related development news, innovation, and social good that caught our eye this week. Countries included: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. For regular #SouthAsiaDev updates, follow us on Facebook and Twitter

A Portal to Greater South/South Cooperation

Richard Record's picture

 Kingdom of LesothoHere at the World Bank we put great effort into facilitating South-South exchanges. But the truth is that developing tangible results and sustainable partnerships are still tremendous challenges. That’s why when a genuine, substantive example of South-South cooperation comes along—as is the case with the new Lesotho Trade Portal (LTP)—this effort should rightly be praised.

The LTP—billed as “the first trade portal in Africa”—was developed through a bilateral agreement between the Kingdom of Lesotho and the government of Lao People’s Democratic Republic, with the assistance of the World Bank Group. The LTP is a single, online source for all trade-related laws, regulations, and procedures for importing and exporting. It was officially launched on March 26, 2014, immediately establishing a new standard in Africa for communication with traders.
 

New technology changes the working day, offering a strategy for more jobs in the Middle East

Kara Schoeffling's picture

  Arne Hoel

It’s no secret that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has the highest youth unemployment rate in the entire world: nearly 30% according to the International Labour Organization. Over one in four young people have no viable means for economic prosperity, and sadly education is no guarantor of a job. Despite these bleak statistics, a recent survey commissioned by Qatar’s telecom giant, Orredoo, suggests that young people still have hope of a great future, fueled in large part by the innovations of the 21st century. The challenge is to innovate technology and alter our way of thinking about work to motivate MENA’s youth.
 


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