“For too long, the world’s information (and the world’s tools for collecting and understanding and using that information) was limited to the richer countries. Now the world has changed so much that a tool created in Kenya can benefit gorillas in Uganda, mothers in Central America, school children in Zambia, and a hospital in Washington DC. And all because of these common miracles—the Internet and the mobile phone that are binding us together as never before.” ~ Joel Selanikio, “Mobile Phones and the Power of Data Collection”
Many typical data collection methods such as telephone interviews and email or online surveys are not broadly feasible in lower-resourced countries, where landline infrastructure and Internet connectivity may be patchy or absent. Mobile technologies are creating a “leapfrog” effect—jumping over earlier stages of infrastructure and technology development completely, rather than waiting for them to catch up. For example, many health organizations around the world are using mobile phones to collect vital health information to design, evaluate, and make adjustments to their programs.
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Health Workers using EpiSurveyor for antenatal care provision in Ethiopia, DigitalCampus.org
One of the leaders in the mobile data collection field is DataDyne’s EpiSurveyor. People are using this mobile phone-based service in more than 170 countries to collect and analyze essential data for health, agriculture, business, research, and conservation. According to its website, “EpiSurveyor lets anyone create an account, design forms, download them to phones, and start collecting data in minutes, for free.” The free version provides 20 forms with up to 500 records per form, with a ceiling of 5,000 uploaded responses per year. Like many free services, EpiSurveyor also has paid premium versions. Since its launch two years ago, EpiSurveyor has won over 6,000 users—its widespread adoption helped by its availability inmultiple languages (at this writing: English, Spanish, Swahili, French, Portuguese, and Russian). Some examples of use include:
A team of programmers in Kenya developed the EpiSurveyor system, which can be used on major brands of phones including Nokia, Samsung, BlackBerry, and Sony Ericsson. The web site lists specific phone models which have been tested or are in beta testing. The site also features a 10-minute video on how to create a form and collect data using the system.
Dr. Joel Selanikio, formerly of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and technologist Rose Donna, formerly of the American Red Cross, founded DataDyne (the company that created EpiSurveyor) in 2003. The United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation provided initial funding for DataDyne.
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Blog by Stephen Goldstein, K4Health, JHU∙CCP | Senior Consultant