Getting More Data for Less Money
Remote Data Collection Comes of Age
More data for less money. That sounds like an unrealistic expectation – but in a recent blog post, we noted that the unprecedented rollout of mobile phones to even the poorest of populations worldwide is causing data acquisition costs to plummet.
Yes: we can get more and better data by spending less. Much less.
This is possible because in a pre-mobile-computing world the only way to get information from most developing-country populations was to physically go to them, or have them come to you. Now we have the option of having people report from hard-to-reach areas using their mobile devices – moving electrons, instead of moving people.
The High Cost of Gathering Data in the Field
To give an idea of the cost comparison, imagine that you needed to get an idea about whether people in a poor country were using the anti-malarial bed net that you had distributed to them the year before. Or maybe you just want to know what kind of soap they use, or mobile phone carrier they prefer?
If you did things the “old way” (still the most common approach), with a week-long paper-based survey for 500 households (and a 30-question form), you might have to budget for:
Roughly $30,000, and that’s not including the salary cost for the activity leader, or laptops or other supplies – and just for one small survey. And the same, of course, applies to facility surveys and any other data collection activity in which the data collectors must travel to the person or persons providing the raw information.
If you did it with the Magpi app on iOS or Android smartphones or tablets, the cost would be less (probably by $5-10,000) – but note that the majority of costs aren’t for the paper forms or printing, but for the personnel and their transport and accommodation (and if you used a non-Magpi mobile tool that required programmers your costs would actually increase).
But let’s say $20-40,000 is a reasonable cost estimate.
Remote SMS Surveys Lower Costs by 80%
Now suppose that you collected the bed net recipients’ mobile phone numbers during the distribution. You could use Magpi’s iSMS (interactive SMS) automated SMS system to send questions out to the recipients and collate their answers – all without any of the costs noted above.
Let’s look at the cost using iSMS:
That’s a cost savings of 80%.
And of course the Magpi Pro subscription would be active throughout the year, so that you could perform more such surveys with that same subscription cost. If you did three such surveys over a year, the cost would drop to just $2300 per survey – less than 1/10th the cost of the standard approach.
In fact, Magpi could let you administer a remote survey twice a month for a year for less than the cost of a single traditional survey like the one detailed above.
Voice-Based Data at the Same Cost as SMS
Just this past month, Magpi has introduced IVR (interactive voice response). Like iSMS, it allows data collection from any phone, but since it is voice-based it can be used even in illiterate populations. And even though voice calls are more expensive, since numerous questions can be asked over a one-minute phone call, the costs are about the same for many voice-based surveys as compared with SMS:
Yes, that’s right: a voice-based automated survey can cost about the same as an SMS-based automated survey, and both are 80% less expensive than traditional data collection methods. And IVR enables organizations to get valuable and timely data even from illiterate populations.
More Data, Less Money
As you can see from the above examples, many organizations operating in emerging countries are dramatically overpaying for their data. And many smaller organizations simply can’t afford to collect data at all using expensive traditional methods.
As the mobile phone becomes ever more widely-adopted, and aid budgets get tighter, we hope that more and more organizations will begin to realize that less money does not have to mean less data.
With Magpi, less money means more data.
or read more about remote data collection with SMS and IVR
Remote Data Collection
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