Smartphone data collection- can it work offline?

As part of my PhD in Conservation Science at the University of Bangor, I looked into the effects of Community Based Conservation projects in Madagascar. The group were reintroducing the Madagascar Pochard that scientists had thought extinct in the 1990s (read the story here). I wanted to conduct household surveys, before and after the community based conservation project rolled out- with enough households completing both surveys with inevitable drop-off rates over a two-year gap. I had previously worked with Open Data Kit (ODK) in rural Uganda, and knew it was perfect for the job despite the following potential issues:

  • The project’s rural location
  • Changeable weather
  • Limited power for days on end (either generators if accessible or solar)
  • No data connection except for several days drive away.
  • Being on foot or in boats

And… we managed it! We used ODK briefcase to download phone data directly to the laptop which removed the need to have the data sat in a server. The laptop battery would last several days if that’s all I used it for until we could get back to a generator. I worked with a team of up to four enumerators, we had spare phones, spare batteries and everyone had collapsible solar chargers. The phones were sealed in waterproof cases, and when we weren’t using them they lived in several layers of dry bags! We had to remember to turn the GPS off, as that often drained the battery, and we selected smartphones with a good, but not huge screen, which reduced battery drainage. We were then able to go through the results almost instantly! This was a great help during the pre-test stage, firstly as enumerator feedback- its great seeing a GPS point you have just collected pop up on a map! Secondly, it’s a great way to check consistency in your answers- compared to trawling through the days’ paper copies! I can’t imagine conducting the survey without smartphones really, even just carrying all those paper copies!

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