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Mobile Data Collection toolbox

4.1.4 Tool focus - ODK Collect


ODK Collect is the most widely used data collection application in the humanitarian sector. Don’t hesitate to see this website for further information on ODK Collect. The application is running under Android and will be installed on your mobile device allowing to host your survey, record the data and send the data to your KoBoToolbox account. Different deployment profiles exist for the synchronisation of data:

  • Online,
  • Offline with USB,
  • Offline on a local network.

Installation of ODK Collect

ODK Collect is the application on the mobile device that will host your survey, record the data and allow you to send the data to your KoBoToolbox account. Make sure that the application is installed on your smartphone and that it is functional and updated with the latest version. Should you need to install it, you can check this page or follow these tutorials:

Option 1 – Install with Google Playstore (easier)

For this first option, you need a Google account and an Internet access. The Google account can be created for free. This is the simplest option.

Warning: If you decide to use this option, you should create a Google account that is separate from your personal one. This is because you want to keep your personal data and information away from work phones: you may lose sight of where these phones end up, but if you use a personal account, personal data will still be available on these phones.

  • Open the Google Playstore (application whose icon is a green, blue, yellow and red triangle on a white background)
  • In the search bar, type « odk collect » and select it (cf. printscreen)
  • Follow the instructions for installation. It is very simple and only takes one minute.

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Option 2 – Installation by USB (longer)

This second option works when you do not want to use a Google Play account or have a very poor Internet connection on your phone.

  1. You will first need to recover an apk file, which is the installation file for a manual installation. You can simply download it with your computer. It is available here
  2. On the phone, you must first allow “Unknown Sources”. To do this, go to “Parameters” or “Settings” (depending on your phone). Then, under “Security”, you can scroll down until you find a box for “Unknown Source”. Make sure it is ticked. (The exact location of this feature may vary from phone to phone – if it is not there, look around for similar menus):

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  3. You must then place the .apk file you have downloaded on your phone, in a folder that you must be able to access from your phone later. For example, the “Download” or “Documents” folders are good choices. Simply connect your phone by USB to the computer and copy the .apk
  4. Then, on the phone, you must navigate to the folder where you have placed the .apk file, tap on it and it will start the installation process:

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  5. Don’t hesitate to add the ODK icon directly on your phone desktop, which will make it more easily accessible for you and the enumerators.

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Prior to setting your ODK Collect app, make sure that the application is well installed (latest version) on your mobile device and that it is functional. There are two types of parameters that can be set up in ODK Collect: the mandatory and the optional ones.

Setup the address (URL) for the server

In other words, you need to tell ODK Collect “where” to get the forms and to send the submissions for the survey it will use. Multiple server are compatible with ODK Collect and thus can be connected. There is for example ODK Central (former name ODK Aggregate) for which you have a tutorial here. It is also possible to link ODK Collect directly to a google sheet, see here and this Humanitarian Data solutions video.

Here we are going to detailed the connection to KoBoToolbox server, you can also see this Humanitarian Data solutions video. To connect ODK Collect to KoBoToolbox server:

  • If you are using a KoBoToolbox Online account on the OCHA platform, the URL for the server needs to be set:
  • Open ODK Collect ( ), tap the “Menu” button and choose “General Settings”, then “Configure platform settings”.

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  • You must then specify the address of your KoBoToolbox account. In the above example, the KoBoToolbox username was “jean”. Replace by your own:

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You can leave the username and password blank, except if you have required authentification for that account.

To know how to set up ODK Collect on your mobile device before deployment of a form see section 8.2.1 Deploying your form - iii. Preparing mobile devices with ODK Collect

Other settings – Optional

This section is about choices you can make in the configuration of ODK Collect, depending on how you prefer to manage the survey. You can simply leave everything at their default value, or fine-tune according to your needs.

General Settings

You can access it by pressing the “Menu” button and choose “General Settings”. You then have 4 options:

  • Server
  • User interface
  • Form management
  • User and device identity

“User interface” and “Form management” are the two menus where there are important optional settings. To have an overview of all ODK Collect settings consult this page.

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The “navigation” option can be used to set how to move from one screen to the next. It can be swipe only, buttons at the bottom of the screen only, or both. On small screens, the buttons do take away some of the screen space and therefore using only swipes is recommended.

Auto-send with Wifi or with Network

If checked, any form that is saved as “finalized” will automatically be sent to the server as soon as Wifi, or Network, is available, without going through the “send finalised form” functionality.

This option isn’t recommended for most operations because it offers no way to verify the data on the mobile device before send-off which is often preferable.

Delete after send

Although it is recommended not to use the mobile devices as a long-term storage, as long as the survey is ongoing it may be reasonable to keep the forms on the mobile devices. They can then be deleted once the data has been collected and proper back-ups established. In most cases this option shouldn’t be checked.

Warning: The option of keeping data saved on the mobile devices should not be used in case of sensitive collected data since you never know in which hands the mobile devices may fall into.

Default to finalize

The “default to finalise” will automatically check the “Mark form as finalized” box at the end of the survey:

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If “default to finalize” isn’t checked, then either the enumerator will have to check it manually when he arrives at the end, or the survey managers after he verifies the data and wants to send it to the KoBoToolbox Account.

It can be practical to NOT default forms as finalized. This makes it easier to keep track of which form has been reviewed and checked by the survey manager or a supervisor. At least early in the survey, someone should review the work before it is sent to the website. The option can then be changed later on, if it is observed that data quality is acceptable and there is no need to systematically check every record any longer.

Constraint processing behaviour

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In ODK Collect, there are 2 ways to manage mandatory answers (that can’t be skipped) or restrictions on the answer that can be given (for example, the age of the respondent can’t be less than 10 years or more than 100).

  • The 1st option (recommended) is to validate each question as soon as they are answered. If you try to swipe forward on a question that is mandatory or on which a constraint is not respected, ODK Collect will block you and ask an answer to be given before moving on.
  • The 2nd option is to defer validation until the final step of the survey with “Mark as finalized”. In such case and if a mandatory question has been skipped (or a constraint not respected), it will only as this step that the user will be brought back to problematic questions in order to fill (or modify) them before accepting the form to be finalized. Note that it is impossible to send a form to the website if it isn’t finalized.

For newer enumerators, it is strongly recommended to validate each prompt upon forward swipe. The constraints in the survey are in place to prevent them from making mistakes. If the validation is done only at the end, it leaves room for them to make a lot of mistakes, and creates confusion. The survey manager can then end up with a phone that has many questions unanswered, but since the survey was done by someone else, it can be difficult to correct the mistakes or complete the form.

Admin settings

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Setup admin password

In order to make any changes under this menu (Admin Settings), a password can be set. This may only be useful for very remote locations, where remote support is the only option available for debugging and there is a concern that enumerators may play with settings they shouldn’t look into.

Hiding menus & options

The rest of the admin settings allow you to hide some options from the main menu. This can be useful for example to prevent enumerators from deleting a form (or, even worse, the “blank” form) by mistake. “Delete saved form” is likely to be the most useful one to hide. Remember that if you hide “Send Finalized Forms”, then each evening whenever the survey manager intends to send the data to the server, he/she will have to un-hide the option, send the data to the server and re-hide it. This can be time-consuming if one has numerous phones to deal with.

h. Non-Latin character virtual keyboards

It is generally possible to use a non-latin character keyboard on your mobile device during the survey. For instance, on a Sony Ericsson Xperia,

  • Press the “globe” key on the physical keyboard (or the “tool” key on the virtual keyboard).
  • Click on “Writing languages” and tick the language(s) you want to add (e.g. Arabic).
  • Go back to your form using the “Return” button twice. Now, when you press the “globe” key on both keyboards, the different keyboard configurations you’ve chosen will scroll, you can type using any of them.
  • To delete these additional keyboards, hold the “globe” key for a few seconds. The keyboard settings will appear again, go to “Writing languages” and un-tick the languages you don’t need anymore.

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App maintenance

This tutorial reviews some good practices to maintain your data collection app and run your survey without a problem.

Ensuring a clean start when deploying a new survey

To avoid any issues, it is advised to ensure that both the material and the application are “clean” and ready to be used:

  • If the device was used for other surveys, check that all data already present has been synchronized first.
  • It is then recommended to reset the app to factory default for a clean start.

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This action will remove old saved forms, blank forms and more, depending on what action was selected. The minimum is to remove blank and saved forms.

  • Ensure that the latest app version is installed on your device (if not, please update it).

Maintain your app during a survey

After the survey starts, to the following good practices help ensuring a good data collection:

  • Check that your forms are sent and finalized on regular basis. The method (automatic or manual send) as well as the synchronization frequency should be defined beforehand, during the implementation process and put in Standard Operating Procedures.
  • Check if any changes were made to the survey that you have the latest version of the survey by comparing the version and name of your current “blank form” with new “blank form” available.

Before running a new survey, you want to check if there is an updated version of your app (via Google Playstore). It is not recommended to do it during an ongoing survey except if you have a specific bug.