Reports First: Let Reporting Needs Drive Mobile Data Collection

At Magpi, we are often asked by users to help them create reports and visualizations of the data they collect using Magpi.  One of the things we’ve noticed is that often the users have not really thought about the content of their reports until after the form has been designed – or even after the mobile data collection. We think that users would benefit from promoting reports from afterthought to being front-and-center in the design process for their data activities: design reports first!

Why? Because if you’re in the field collecting data, it should be for a reason and usually that reason is to

1 – demonstrate a change

2 – quantify a situation

3 – assist with management of a process

In all three cases, if you can imagine yourself at the end of the data analysis, showing the data to decisionmakers, you should be able to have some idea of what, exactly, you’ll be showing them. This means you should start by designing – or at least sketching out – your reports first.

For example, suppose you want to demonstrate that the construction of a dam in a rural area has affected livelihoods in that area over time, reducing the number of people supporting themselves by fishing.  Once you’ve collected and analyzed the data, what webpage, or pdf, or printed report will you be displaying?  Probably something that looks like this:

IMG_1398

Even just sketching out the elements of your report on paper like this tells you what kind of data you’ll need to be collecting in order to produce these results: date information plus a question like “Do you engage in fishing as a work activity? Yes/No”.   So this graph tells you that you’ll need a form like this:

Q1 – What is today’s date? [this isn’t needed in Magpi, because Magpi automatically collects date/time info for each data record you collect]

Q2 – Do you engage in fishing as a work activity? Yes/No

It’s the eventual end result – the report – that helps you to visualize what questions you’ll need to ask. And once you’ve collected the data, you’ll indeed be able to show that data just as you imagined:

You will find, as you further sketch out your report on paper, that it will aid you in determining what additional questions are needed:

report sketch

Now we know to go back to our form and extend it:

Q1 – What is today’s date? [this isn’t needed in Magpi, because Magpi automatically collects date/time info for each data record you collect]

Q2 – Do you engage in fishing as a work activity? Yes/No

Q3 – Do you engage in farming as a work activity? Yes/No

Q4 – What is the sex of the respondent (observe and note)?  Male/Female

(You’ll need the GPS location, too, but Magpi captures that automatically.)

So by using a “reports first!” approach, and using that to guide the creation of the form questions, you’ll never be in a situation where you only realize after the data collection is done that you forgot to collect a crucial piece of information.  Or that you collected it in the wrong way.

 


Also published on Medium.

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