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Mobile Data Collection toolbox

4.1.1 Choosing and setting up your software


What criteria should you look into ?

There are more than a hundred Mobile Data Collection tools being used in the aid sector for various purposes: some tools aare more suited to a specific theme and others offer advanced features for case management, data protection or geographical data collection.

After taking into account the requirements of your organisation, we encourage you when choosing a tool to explore some of the MDC tool benchmarkings and the criterias that were looked into, such as the substantial 2017 CartONG benchmarking of MDC solutions, and a 2021 counterpart (that both focus only on low-cost tools working on Android devices). Both shed light on different questions one can ask one’s self when choosing an MDC solution.

The choice will rarely be easy except in some straightforward situations. An organisation probably needs a range of different tools to address different issues. Indeed, a humanitarian organisation has various needs such as :

  • Following up on a patient on a weekly basis,
  • Transferring cash to beneficiaries or organisations,
  • Doing a large scale mapping exercise of a refugee camp that my field team would be able to maintain over time, or mapping agricultural plots of farmers,
  • Collecting beneficiary feedback through IVR,
  • Etc.

As many tools offer multiple possibilities, a single tool may not be suitable to meet all of them properly. Similarly, if a tool can be modified to meet other needs, it may not be the best choice when considering the wider context of the organisation in terms of needs, information management capabilities, team turnover, technical or financial constraints or the potential for extending the tool.

The picture below shows an example of a tension in priorities- here between choosing a very generic tool that will work more or less across multiple sectors or else choosing a specialised tool that perfectly fits the need of one sector but that therefore will not answer other needs. It categorizes the tools into:

  • At one end of the spectrum, generic MDC low-cost tools digitising structured paper forms for one-shot data collection across any sector of intervention and,
  • At the other end of the spectrum, more customised and technologically advanced sector-specific tools. These often cover full business processes and include features like advanced longitudinal surveys or case management, SMS based data collection directly from beneficiaries, mobile banking, Interactive Voice Response systems or a strong component for collection and management of geographical information.

image info

There’s actually a blurry area in the middle where tools and features from both groups overlap. Standard MDC tools now tend to incorporate more complex, sector-specific features, while at the other end of the spectrum, formerly highly specialised business tools are starting to become usable across different sectors.

Choose a tool adapted to your data security need

The question of data protection often being central to the choice of a tool, here is a checklist of key considerations to keep in mind in order to select a new digital data collection tool in a responsible way.

Other useful resources to guide you in this tricky choice:

Once you have chosen your tool, you can look into how to set it up for your needs.