Using tablets for real-time data collection


Socio-economic data collection through household surveys need huge investment in time, human resource, and cost. When one of these is compromised, the quality of data suffers. When data is collected using paper-based formats, errors happen despite clear instructions in the questionnaire. A considerable amount of time is also lost in transferring data from hard to soft version and in finalizing the dataset. 

In view of these issues, the ‘Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalayas (Himalica) Initiative’ has started data collection using Android-based tablets. The use of tablets will have following advantages over paper-based data collection:

  1. Enhanced interview experience: The most important benefit of using tablets for data collection is that the survey software will guide the interview process, and improve the interview experience, primarily because it will be easier to administer the questionnaire and ensure data quality. Also, the interviewer can see only one question on the screen at one time, which helps in increasing the readability. In addition, the interviewer need not remember any code or instruction as everything is displayed on the screen.
  2. Real-time data: The use of tablet provides access to real-time data along with GPS coordinates of interviewers. One can monitor the quality of data collected by each interviewer and communicate immediately to the team on any change or mistake. Moreover, delays incurred in the transfer of data from hard to soft version by data entry will be reduced. Currently, the data from field is getting synchronized to a Dropbox server. However, we are trying to see if the data can be synchronized to a FTP server for enhanced security.
  3. Quality control: Use of tablets ensure more control over the data quality by automatic skip-pattern and validation of the response, minimizing data-entry errors. Due to built-in skips and validation rules, interviewer can immediately rectify the errors in the field and reduce the time lost in correction. 
  4. Greener solution: A significant amount of money is spent on printing and transportation of questionnaires. Use of tablet can reduce that to a great extent. Moreover, replacing paper questionnaires with electronic data collection is a greener solution and doesn’t require physical storage space. 

Himalica has procured 25 tablets and are currently being used to collect data for on-farm monitoring survey for the action research on ‘Agricultural Extension Services in Nepal: Using Social Networks to Promote New Agricultural Technology’. This is the second round of survey and aims to collect data from 1,380 households. 

In the first round, approximately 2,500 questionnaires were printed and data collection took 20 days which translates into 69 interviews per day. In addition, transfer of data from hard to soft version and finalization took another 70 days. In the ongoing round, the survey will be completed in 15 days (with 92 interviews per day) with the same number of interviewers. Thus, the use to tablets has saved around 100 days. The tablets will also be used for data collection in poverty and vulnerability surveys and other pilot and action research studies.