Due to the low technology base, most African national statistical systems use mostly manual, paper-based data collection methods for specialized surveys, which provide the bulk of statistical data. Paper-based methods involve printing of the paper questionnaires, transporting them across to the fieldworkers, and getting them back to a central location. The lengthy processes not only delay the production of data for decision making, but also require a lot of personnel for data collection and capture, thereby exacerbating the financial constraints. Due to these and other problems, computer assisted interviewing (CAI) methods are increasingly replacing pen-and-paper methods of survey data collection. The advantages of CAI methods include: automatic transfer of the survey to central database; automatic validity checks; automatic data cleaning, more control of question sequencing by the interviewer; easier to scale up (or down) and adapt for other surveys; more privacy due to the reduction in intermediate processing and cleaning, and concomitant reduction in operators involved. One of the disadvantages of CAI methods is the initial and running costs of computer hardware and related infrastructure. However, the increasing power of handheld devices such as mobile phones, tablets and personal data assistants (PDAs) has resulted in affordable CAI alternatives.
Realizing the advantages of using mobile technology for data collection and statistical production, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has implemented a series of pilot projects on strengthening the capacity of African countries to use mobile technologies to collect data for effective policy and decision making. The project is a parallel funded implementation of a Development Account (DA) project involving five countries in Phase I, and an additional five in Phase II.
The main objective of the DA project is to improve the capacity of countries in using mobile technology to make statistical data available and accessible to support evidence-based policy making. It is built in two phases. The results of phase I will be incorporated into the findings for the roll of the methodologies to Phase II and to other countries.
The five selected pilot countries are distributed in the five sub-region of Africa as follows: The Gambia from West Africa, Kenya from East Africa, Tunisia from North Africa, Cameroon from Central Africa and Zimbabwe from Southern Africa. Ethiopia, was added to phase I with the generous contribution of the Irish government.
One important aspect of this project is the reliance of the National Training and Research Institutions (NTRIs) to undertake applied research to adapt and develop appropriate concepts, systems and methodologies for the use of mobile technologies in data collection, and the integration of the collected data into standard statistical processes. The objective is to build the capacity beyond the narrow scope of the National Statistical Offices (NSOs) and ensure acceptability and sustainability. NTRIs are expected to develop their own research projects based on the results, thereby ensuring sustainability of the capacities being developed. To achieve this objective NSOs and NTRIs work together from the onset of the activities in the project. It also allows to deal with the challenge of ensuring that the concepts and systems being introduced can be localized.
Another aspect of these pilot projects is the “citizen as data collector.” The objective is to develop procedures and tools that will enable citizens, untrained in statistics, to submit data on their activities for statistical production. The pilots may start with few operators and extend to more as the systems and processes are refined based on the experience of the participating self-enumerators. The few trained statisticians would visit the self-enumerators to continue to refine the processes and ensure quality control.
Progress to date
A regional workshop was held in Praia, Cape Verde, 18-19 March 2014. This workshop, which was part of a situation analysis of target countries to select the pilot countries, was jointly organized by ECA, PARIS21, the African Development Bank and the African Union Commission. An Ad-hoc Experts Group Meeting (EGM) was organized as a pre-event of the joint session of CoDG/StatCom-Africa to discuss challenges that the pilot countries would be expected to encounter in the use of mobile technology for data collection.
Following the EGM, a training workshop was organized for the pilot countries on how to customize CSPro Android for their developing data collection applications.
Pilot countries in the phase I of the DA project have already undertaken field data collection with mobile devices. While The Gambia has completed the work, most of the countries are close to finishing.
The regional conference
This regional conference is programmed in the DA project document for pilot countries to share the experience gained and the lessons learned with practitioners and academics in the field of mobile data collection. It will also provide a forum for other practitioners to share and showcase their work, and ensure that phase II of the DA project is built on the lessons learned.
The conference proceedings will be compiled into a set of guidelines for countries adopt when introducing mobile technologies in statistical processes. Topics to be covered include, but not limited to:
- Use of mobile technology for data collection;
- Flexibility of the mobile apps to adapt to local situations, conditions and thematic area;
- Data transmission methods: ways to optimize data transfer to the central database;
- Software platforms for analysis and dissemination, including visualization and customization.
Organization of the conference
The conference will be held at the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The conference will be preceded by a one day workshop on the lessons learned from phase I of the pilot project. It will feature presentations from invited contributors based on the review of their extended abstract and will also include demonstrations on mobile tools and products for data collection from invited practitioners and stakeholders.
The proceedings of the conference will be disseminated widely, along with the discussion papers as supporting input for the policy guidelines. The full document will be available for download from a dedicated web site, and a printed publication will be distributed.
Call for Participation
Organizations and individuals interested in participating in this conference are hereby invited to submit a letter of intent or proposal, as an email attachment addressed to email@example.com, with the subject line “regional conference on data collection with mobile devices”.
Organizations wishing to participate as partners should include the following information in the letter:
- Organization’s name and address
- Name, address, telephone number and email address of the principal point of contact; and
- Specific areas of support, which could be any of the following:
- Membership of editorial panel to select paper proposals.
- Funding of travel (ticket and DSA) of contributors to attend the regional conference.
- Preparation of institutional paper and participation in the regional conference
- Representation at the regional conference.
- Co-publishing of the printed document.
Letters of Intent must be received by 31 July 2015. Material in these letters will be for information purposes only a formal agreement will be executed if need be.
Letters from individual participants should be accompanied by an extended abstract of one page of their proposed contribution and a résumé of their academic and/or professional expertise on the subject. The proposals should be received by 31 July 2015.
Work Plan and Time Line
An outline of the work plan is as follows
|Call for participation circulated||15 July 2015|
|Letter of Intent to be received||2 August 2015|
|Review committee||3-14 August 2015|
|Notification of selection||17 August 2015|
|Draft papers received||4 October 2015|
|Regional conference||13-16 October 2015|
|Revised papers received, incorporating feedback from conference presentation||1 November 2015|
|Final papers on the web in original language||30 November 2015|
|Printed version completed||[date to be determined]|
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