Limited network? No problem! Using cell phones to collect data in resource constrained settings

Sierra Leone isn’t renowned for its network connectivity or technology. Only 38% of the population has a mobile phone, and only 1.6% of the population has reliable internet access. Even in resource limited sites, mobile data collection platforms have proven to be smart solutions to ensure high-quality real-time data as long as they’re tailored to local contexts.

Unlike some of the more technology-dense countries in East and Southern Africa, Sierra Leone presents unique challenges for collecting data using mobiles, particularly around connectivity and reliable access to electricity for charging mobile devices.

A health worker surveys a new mother using a mobile phone. The data collected from the surveys is aggregated and analyzed to assess the efficacy of an MNCH pilot program being implemented in the region. Photo Credit: JSI
A health worker surveys a new mother using a mobile phone in Bo district, Sierra Leone. The data collected from the surveys is aggregated and analyzed to assess the efficacy of an MNCH pilot program being implemented in the region. Photo Credit: JSI

In October 2013, our JSI team implemented a baseline assessment using the SurveyCTO mobile data collection suite in Bo District, Sierra Leone for the Essential Newborn Care Corps pilot of the Innovations for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) initiative led by Concern Worldwide. The pilot explores the potential to provide standardized training to traditional birth attendants as MNCH health promoters to ensure quality care for pregnant women and newborns in order to improve health outcomes.

Selecting the right mobile platform was the key to the success of the baseline data collection in Bo District. In Bo, access to internet is limited; however, SurveyCTO proved to be a fast, simple solution to collecting real-time, high-quality data with minimal reliance on internet availability. Surveys were easily developed in Microsoft Excel without the need for internet access, enabling the team to quickly adapt the survey to the Bo District context while in country.

Once data was collected, it was easily transferred from the mobile phones to a laptop so that when internet was readily available, the data was sent to the server for analysis. Internet was only need to download the surveys into the phone and to upload the data to the server.

There was also the issue of reliable electrical charging availability. To address this, mobile phones were charged using solar panel battery packs, which when fully charged could charge each phone at least 5 times. However, due to weather conditions and inconsistent sunlight, solar power chargers were not always fully charged and therefore failed to charge the phones. At times, team members had to walk to the nearest charging station to charge their phones.

Mobile data collection platforms can be used in low resource settings with limited access to power or internet to ensure high-quality real-time data to inform program design. SurveyCTO allowed us to review data in real time and identify problems during data collection thereby enabling us to address any issues in a timely manner.

Additional findings from the baseline and details about the use of mobile data collection tools as part of this project will be presented in a poster session at the CUGH Conference, May 10-12.

2 responses to “Limited network? No problem! Using cell phones to collect data in resource constrained settings”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *