After months of preparation Dr. Simon Willcock and I touched down in early January in Phnom Penh to begin the first of two 2-day long workshops in Cambodia and India over the following week. We had won some money from Bangor University’s Global Challenges Research Fund (Capacity and Capability grant) to put on workshops to train people how to ditch the paper and clipboards and reach for smartphones to collect data instead.
Between us we have been using Open Data Kit (ODK) over the last decade on multiple projects (see a few here). We’re not the only ones! Many institutions are now seeing the benefits of rapid data collection and visualisation, from collecting data on diseases, tracking forest losses, and even helping with election campaigns. The effort is front loaded in coding (maybe a few weeks) but compare that to data sitting in paper piles for months on end, which many researchers will recognise.
As we stated early on in the workshops: the main downside to using smartphones is it’s relatively unknown. And that unknown can be scary. Will the data be protected? Backed up? Anonymous? Accessible? Will it work? Isn’t it really expensive? What if there is poor signal? These are all elements that can be worked out with pilots, decent data management protocols and following the guidelines of your institution. And the benefits can be enormous. We are currently handing out phones to over 500 farmers across rural and urban areas in Cambodia, collecting weekly data on wellbeing, and ecosystem services over a whole year as part of the MobilES project – imagine the logistics of doing that with a field team and paper surveys? It would take too long, and cost too much- it just wouldn’t be possible.
We wanted to share our experience to get people excited and interested in using smartphone data collection techniques: from recording audio and visual data, to tracking with GPS and using skip logic (where only relevant questions get asked!) – both on- and off-line. There’s lots of companies charging to code and host surveys, but with a laptop, excel, and a smartphone, anyone can use ODK as it’s free and open source!
We invited participants from NGOs, local councils, government institutions and universities. Participants came from a variety of sectors including; Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH), Rural livelihoods, Education, Statistics & Economics. We were joined by Dr. Andrew Reid Bell and Mr. Ehsanul Haque Tamal to deliver the training. In total over 30 participants came to both workshops and we used a variety of lectures, seminars and practical sessions over the 2 days. We were hosted by the National University of Management, Phnom Penh, and secondly in the School of Economics, University of Hyderabad. We covered; the pros and cons to smart data collection, setting up your first hosting server, accessing and downloading data, how to design a good survey. By the end of the workshops participants had worked in thematic groups and all went home with a working survey relevant to their research agendas! We had some great feedback from the sessions, and hope to hear back from the participants about how they have used ODK in their work since!