Saying Goodbye to Paper: Mobile Data Collection in Cabo Verde

Last week for two days in Praia, Cabo Verde, over 80 statisticians from 30 countries gathered with eight international organizations, and civil society organizations from across Africa. The two day event, "Regional Workshop on the use of Mobile Technology for Data Collection and Statistical Production in Africa" took stock of opportunities and limitations of using mobile technologies for data collection and statistical production in Africa, while gathering and consolidating experiences for better understanding of how to best integrate such efforts into existing statistical structures.

Participants focused on the benefits and challenges associated with migrating from more traditional means of data collection - mainly manual, and paper-based - to mobile technologies such as mobile phones and tablets. Currently most African national statistical systems use these manual collection methods for specialized surveys, which provide the bulk of statistical data. These paper-based methods involve printing questionnaires, transporting them to fieldworkers, and returning them to a central location. This lengthy process not only delays the production of data for decision making, but also requires a large number of personnel for data collection and capture. 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 a central database; automatic validity checks; automatic data cleaning, and more control of question sequencing by the interviewer; greater ease in terms of scaling and adapting for other surveys; increased privacy due to the reduction in intermediate processing and cleaning, and a reduction of the number of operators involved.

With these advantages in mind, workshop participants shared their experiences regarding CAI across different platforms, software packages, and technical capacities. Common threads throughout these experiences raised the prospect of formalizing and harmonizing some of these approaches, leading to a more efficient spreading of good practices. This is not only a technical issue, as participants highlighted that new tools for data collection will mean opportunities for informing better decisions and policies for better lives. 'Besides the production of statistical data, we have to think about the process of transforming strategy for open data in Africa, not only for the consumption of the administration and government, but also for the society to have necessary tools for the transformation of the African continent,' Cabo Verde Prime Minister José Maria Neves told participating statisticians. Cabo Verde was selected to host this workshop because of its established best practices in using mobile technologies for data collection, including the conduct of the 2010 census.

PARIS21 will follow-up on this workshop with efforts to integrate the specification of mobile technology into the NSDS process, work with partners to determine the potential for cost savings and improved data quality through the use of CAI, and develop advocacy materials to promote the effective use of mobile technology for data collection.


24 March 2014