Using tablet computers to conduct household surveys could help improve the quality of socio-economic data for development projects.
Indicators that inform and monitor development policies are often derived from household surveys, making them a vital source of socio-economic data. The information gathered is then analyzed to identify issues concerning household conditions and behavior, especially the prevalence, causes, and effects of poverty in its varied dimensions.
"We got very clean data which could be immediately accessed. We can now spend more time on the analysis."
Since household surveys require a huge amount of human interaction, the quality of data may not always be accurate and reliable. Paper-based surveys can be inefficient, error-prone and difficult to validate. Additionally, the results are often produced too late to adequately inform design and may also be inaccessible later in the project cycle.
Digital technology could benefit the way surveys are conducted and data analyzed. ADB is testing field-integrated tools to aid in this goal. In a recent poverty analysis and stakeholder consultations for ADB, a geo-digital survey application was used to collect and analyze gender and poverty data in the People's Republic of China (PRC). The initiative saved time and money, while improving data integrity.
"We first considered using digital platforms because of the challenges that the project was facing in terms of a very limited budget and very limited time. We were looking at a very big project area but not enough time to collect the data," said Melissa Howell Alipalo, a consultant working on the project. This encouraged her to look for a better solution.
By going digital with the survey, a number of manual tasks were eliminated, like development of the database and the data entry process. The use of tablet computers also helped reduce costs of surveyors and the time needed in the field, allowing them to reach respondents more efficiently. In the PRC example, survey costs were reduced by over 50%, including the purchase of the tablets, software and training.
"Survey results can be stored on the tablet. Consultants would go out in the field, and by noon they can go back to the office and upload the data online," Alipalo explained. "The old way of doing it with pen and paper takes a long time - usually, up to 2 to 3 weeks and involved a lot of money spent on people inputting the data manually. There are all kinds of opportunities for errors; during the whole data entry, while creating the database, all of that requires so much work."
The quality of data gathered was also enhanced. Human errors could be reduced due to a precise digital questionnaire presented in a well-ordered and easy-to-navigate format. This helps surveyors ask all of the questions properly.
Another advantage is the validation of results using global positioning systems (GPS) that helps field personnel plot the area of coverage and provide specific details on respondents in each location. Geo-tagging also lets experts check on where and what time updates to the data are made.
"We got very clean data which could be immediately accessed. We can now spend more time on the analysis. The geodata is very important to resettlement and the documentation of assets and environmental risks. The opportunities are endless," Alipalo added.
Standardizing the survey
ADB is developing approaches to pilot e-surveys for collecting geo-referenced poverty, gender and involuntary resettlement data, explained Andrew McIntyre, a social development specialist at ADB. This can also assist with effective and meaningful consultation.
"We are planning to develop a master set of standard surveys and reports integrated with simple, user-friendly IT and geographic information system tools. This will assist teams to collect and process data, easily develop geo/tabular presentations for poverty, socio-economic, gender and resettlement planning, implementation and monitoring," McIntyre said.
Data will be collected and processed faster, allowing social surveys to better inform project design. It will also enhance consistency and quality of social development data and its presentation.
Other challenges that will be addressed are the inability to easily store, integrate or share data between project phases and with other projects. Some of the proposed innovations include: developing a tablet application that allows geo-located project maps to be uploaded, including annotation by project stakeholders; and a module for users to collect data more quickly and efficiently.
Ultimately, the main goal is to reduce costs and time for project teams, improve the integrity of data collection, and ensure more robust and transparent reporting.