Mobile Technology Usage in Statistical Processes

In the bid to incorporate the advantages of using mobile technology for data collection and statistical production, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has implemented pilot projects to strengthen the capacity of African countries. The launching session will be held in Addis Ababa from October 13th to 16th at the organization’s conference center.

Six countries in phase I and II are selected to take part. The aim of the venture is to improve the capacity of African countries in using mobile technology to make statistical data available and accessible to support evidence-based policy making. The project will be implemented in six counties of the Gambia, Kenya, Tunisia, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

In Africa, the bulk of specialized survey and national statistical systems use manual, paper-based data collection methods. It involves a long process of printing questionnaires, transporting them across to the fieldworkers, and getting them back to a central location. The lengthy processes not only delay the production of data, but also require a lot of personnel. This has rendered data collection more expensive than it should be.

On the other hand, computer assisted interviewing (CAI) methods are increasingly replacing pen-and-paper methods of survey data collection. It has the advantage of automatic transfer of the survey to central database; automatic validity checks; more privacy thus reducing intermediate processing. The disadvantages of CAI methods is the initial and running costs of computer hardware and related infrastructure. However, the increasing power of handheld devices such as mobile phones, tablets and personal data assistants (PDAs) has resulted in affordable CAI alternatives.

The National Training and Research Institute (NTRI) of selected countries is to undertake applied research to adapt and develop appropriate concepts, systems and methodologies for the use of mobile technologies in data collection, and the integration of the collected data into standard statistical processes.

It will build the capacity of National Statistical Offices (NSOs) and ensure acceptability and sustainability. The NTRI are expected to develop their own research projects based on the results, thereby ensuring sustainability of the capacities being developed. To achieve this objective, the NSO and NTRI work together from the onset of the activities localizing the system.

On the plan, nationals of the selected countries will take part as data collectors. The new procedure and tools will enable citizens, untrained in statistics, to submit data. It will start with few operators and extend to more people as the systems and processes are refined based on the experiences of these individuals. The few trained statisticians would visit the self-enumerators to continue perfecting the processes and ensure quality control. Training workshops are also organized for the pilot countries on how to customize developing data collection applications.

The upcoming regional conference is programmed for countries to share experiences gained and the lessons learned with practitioners and academics in the field of mobile data collection. It will also provide a forum for other practitioners to share and showcase their work to ensure future projects are built based on past experiences.

By Eden Sahle

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