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Covid-19 program data toolbox

3.1.1 Recommendations for data collection and management

Summary of generic recommendations applicable to data collection and management in the context of the Covid-19 crisis

In the context of Covid-19 most actors currently recommend to:

  • Limit as much as possible (or even stop entirely) face-to-face data collection (such as paper or mobile surveys, focus group discussions, etc.) and prioritize (or even mandatorily use) “remote” data collection mechanisms to limit the frequency and number of contacts between individuals.
  • Limit data collection to essential and critical data for project implementation and context monitoring; and postpone non-imperative data collections to later.
  • Identify the level of risk for teams and communities and stop all “risky” data collections (or equip personnel with the necessary protective equipment) such as the collection of biometric data (which by its very nature can facilitate the transmission of Covid-19) or data collections resulting in the gathering of too many people.
  • Make maximum use of secondary data. The current crisis is generating a large amount of data: consider using publicly available data (see for example the HDX platform) at least for context monitoring. This limitation of primary data collection can also be an opportunity to explore your old data that you may not have had time to analyze completely yet ;)
  • Share your data as much as possible: it is crucial - even more than usual - to limit unnecessary data collections if this data already exists and can be found. Try sharing as much as possible your shareable data (with your partners, clusters, open data platforms such as HDX, etc.), even if you doubt their quality - in the context of a crisis, data is of often of imperfect quality due to the difficult data collection conditions.
  • Integrate the data protection component into your new tools (consent, security, etc.) especially - and above all - if you have lists of people identified as infected (significant risk of stigmatization). If you anticipate having to refer cases to another actor, think about planning sooner rather than later a “data sharing agreement” so that these are in line with your organization’s procedures. See section 3.1.4 Data protection issues.
  • Review data collection strategies:
    • Potentially limit quantitative surveys (more complex to implement at a distance and potentially a source of many biases - see section 3.1.2 Alternatives to survey-type data collection) in favour of more qualitative approaches (such as semi-structured telephone interviews for example),
    • Review your sampling strategies to possibly target a smaller number of individuals, for example using sentinel households or “snowball” sampling rather than representative probability random sampling as originally envisaged,
    • Also review the very relevance of conducting certain data collections such as baseline or endline surveys in the context of the current crisis. The latter, as an exceptional event, could impact the results and make the study incomparable with a “normal” period,
    • Think about using alternative means, when possible and relevant, such as satellite or drone images or remote sensors (for example to measure the quantity of water distributed).
  • Coordinate your efforts. Some States or organizations (such as national Red Crosses, NGO consortia…) are setting up communication mechanisms that can be aimed at certain actors or communities (hotlines, SMS sending…). Make sure you know these and coordinate on the topic so as not to duplicate them, to avoid misunderstandings, doubts for the communities or them also having more information than they need.
  • The health crisis can affect everyone, and in this sense, it is important that your procedures apply to all your partners: organizations in charge of “third party monitoring”, local partners, etc. Stay attentive to the feedback and possible fears expressed by the latter and accompany them in the changes.

See also:

  • Humanitarian Data Solution’s blog post : here
  • The compilation of resources by the European Evaluation Society: here

Get ready (for those who still have time to do so)

Most alternatives to face-to-face data collection require the use of telephone services or even the Internet:

  • So think about - quickly - collecting the telephone numbers of key actors in your area of intervention (local authorities, community relays…) and of individuals or groups benefiting from your projects, if relevant. Many people use more than one SIM card, think about collecting these different numbers, if relevant.

Nota bene: Please review the various consent messages used in your data collections now to ensure that you can legally retain, use and possibly share these numbers. It is important to specify the purposes for which you plan to use these numbers (only for your current projects and/or those that would be implemented later in preparation for or in response to Covid-19). If you plan to share these numbers with other sectors, the consent should be specific and granular(and allow your contact person to refuse one or more types of sharing while accepting that your organization may use it). See section 3.1.4 Data protection issues.

  • In very vulnerable communities without phones, consider distributing basic phones as well as SIM cards (many countries require the presentation of ID to obtain a SIM card - anticipate this step if your country is concerned).
  • Using the telephone, SMS or the Internet will probably require your future interlocutor to use his communication credit and his battery. Think now about the means to reimburse your interlocutors (credit distribution, reimbursement by mobile payment…) and identify, if necessary, how they will be able to recharge their phone.

Nota bene: For areas with no telephone coverage, no easy “remote” collection alternatives have been identified (apart from possible traditional satellite phones, community radio systems, etc.) and data collection will potentially have to be suspended depending on your organization’s procedures- or at least minimized to the maximum.

The introduction of new communication mechanisms (and therefore technologies) is generally strongly discouraged in a crisis situation, as you will probably not have the time to identify your needs, train your teams and raise community awareness. Nevertheless, you may not have the choice to make the transition to technologies that are - for your organization and the beneficiary communities - still unknown to you. It therefore requires:

  • to identify as soon as possible the alternative you are going to use in order to anticipate its cost (most solutions are not free or easily accessible as can be the case with KoboToolBox for example), to proceed with its purchase (identification of the supplier, drafting of the contract, etc.),
  • write procedures for the use of these new tools and train your teams,
  • raise awareness as much as possible amongst communities and your future interlocutors who may not have confidence in these new mechanisms. If possible, begin to introduce the use of the telephone in a gradual way, using individual and explanatory telephone calls as soon as possible to build trust.

Also anticipate that your data collection and community exchange exercises will also be an opportunity to discuss questions from your interlocutors in the context of this crisis and that it is your responsibility to answer them. Therefore, make sure that the concerned teams have all the answers to the most frequently asked questions. This includes, for example, identifying the nearest medical center to which to refer suspicious cases, or providing an identical answer from one team to the other as to the expected date when the activities will restart. Similarly, these exercises are likely to be an opportunity to raise awareness on the epidemic, so keep in mind to include important messages regarding hygiene practices, prevention, etc.

Finally, be prepared to accommodate new data sources (e.g. SMS, but also potentially other activities that can be dematerialized, such as cash transfers) in your current information systems, which may not necessarily be structured according to your usual data sources. Anticipate as much as possible interoperability issues between your current systems and those that will be implemented (export format, automation of transfers via API, etc.).