Remote Data Collection Comes of Age

Go-to-Field Becomes Get-from-Field

Over the last twenty years, an important tool has been added to the options for mobile electronic data collection: remote data collection (no field trip needed!). This post will introduce the concepts of mobile data collection, and the implications.

Initially, when devices were scarce and expensive, the only option was to have highly-trained data collectors carry mobile devices to the field – much as they had previously carried paper forms on clipboards. In some cases, this approach – let’s call it the “go-to-field” approach – still makes sense.  You may need a data collector with specialized understanding and training to go to the field to make an evaluation of some kind that simply can’t be done by those already in the area.   An example might be sending a nutrition expert to the field to evaluate children at a school.  Or the data may need to be collected by someone specially authorized, like a building safety inspector.

In an earlier age, though, we had to send someone out to collect data regardless  of whether someone with specialized understanding or training was required – because there was no technological way to get field data otherwise.

But as mobile devices have gotten less and less expensive (and, let’s not forget, as millions worldwide have climbed out of poverty) it’s become quite common that we see a mobile phone in every person’s hand, or at least in every family – and this means that we can utilize an additional approach that was simply not possible before: remote data collection.

We can call this the “get-from-field” approach: people already living or working in the remote sites can send in information via SMS or IVR (interactive voice response) or sometimes via an app if their devices supports apps.  If we are using IVR, the person sending in data does not even need to be literate.

And note that by “remote” we don’t necessarily mean rural, just “not close to the person who wants the data”.  So if I am in Nairobi and I want to get information from another city in Kenya, the respondents in that city are remote from me, but certainly not rural.
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womanwithphoneLess Money Means More Data!

This change from a situation where ALL data collected had to be go-to-field, to one in which some portion of that data can be get-from-field, means that fewer people need to physically be transported and accommodated as they travel, and this means dramatic decreases in the cost of acquiring information from remote locations. Read more about comparative costs of remote vs go-to-field data collection.

The volume of data that we are gaining access to is also increasing, both because as the cost of a unit of data drops we can afford to “buy” more, but also because our devices are in many cases generating data as a side-effect of their operation.  As an example, even basic phones are generating location data all the time, that we may be able to tap into.  Not to mention the rising tide of social media and other posts.

Want to learn more about lowering costs and increasing data flow?

Download our Remote Data Collection  Guide, below!

Remote Data Collection

Download Our Remote Data Collection Guide and Learn How to Use SMS and IVR to Collect More Data, for Less Money, from Remote Respondents Using any Mobile Phone, no Matter How Basic.

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