Advantages and Challenges

There are numerous advantages in using mobile phones in survey data collection. Combined with the knowledge of well-trained supervisors, team leaders, measurers and interviewers, mobile technology has improved the quality of the data collected. On the other hand, mobile technology raises the survey´s technical level, mainly for the survey coordinator. This section presents advantages and challenges of conducing a mobile data collection (MDC) survey.


Using pocket-sized mobile phones during data collection is handier for the data collectors than carrying large piles of paper. From experience we have seen that most data collectors will find the mobile phones easy to use and will prefer them to paper.

This new method comes with a set of higher technical tools than what has been used in the past, including smart phones, router and computer – but all are commonly used tools in most environments.

The new technology requires the survey coordinator and certain team members to be more or less well versed with new technologies and/or to receive specific training on the use of mobile technology. Survey coordinators will receive training and assistance prior to and during survey implementation, either from external ODK experts or from UNHCR in-house capacity.


Collecting and digitizing data right at the source makes data entry more efficient and cleaner and leads to improved data quality. Experience show that data collection so far has yielded good or excellent data quality (based on SMART plausibility check) in all surveys conducted with mobile data collection.


Pre-coded skip patterns make it easier for enumerators and prevent the need for removing irrelevant fields later. Skip patterns are useful for example when pregnant and non-pregnant women are to be asked different questions; then the response “yes” to the question about pregnancy automatically takes you to one question whereas “no” automatically takes you to another question.

Pre-coded ranges and restrictions tailored to the survey’s needs are great for reducing errors during data collection, and also save time in having to clean up the database later. Ranges are for example set around the expected weight of a child between 6 and 59 months, so that if e.g. 148 kg is recorded, the phone will ask for verification – as this would normally be a computing mistake and should have been 14.8 kg.

Mobile data collection leads to seamless Integration with Excel. Data from the phones is easily converted to an Excel file when it is downloaded from the server. Therefore, the need for data entry is eliminated and cleaning is limited. This makes it possible to deliver preliminary results in two days.


More time must be allocated for survey planning if extra support is needed to adapt and test questionnaires on the phones. The survey training needs allocation of extra time for the team members to get familiar with the smartphones and the electronic questionnaires that are less visual than paper questionnaires. One extra day of training is highly recommended.


While MDC is over time more cost-effective, the initial investment needs to be accounted for. Funds may be required for procuring smartphones and other equipment as well as providing extra technical support on particular missions.


Recycling of Coded Questionnaires

In the SENS tools there are pre-coded standardised MDC global questionnaires; one for each target group. As these have already been programmed, they can be reused in any setting with some local adjustments including adaptation of response options and translation.

Environmentally Friendly

Using electronic questionnaires is more environmental friendly as opposed to traditional paper format data questionnaires.

No Internet or Mobile Network Needed

For this process, there is no need for an active internet or mobile network connection in order to collect and save data. The phones work in flight mode, and data is transferred to the computer using a local wireless connection (router).

Stable Electrical Supply

It is crucial that there is a stable electrical supply for the router and computer (or Raspberry Pi) when transferring data and for charging all phones overnight. Car chargers can be used as a back-up, but this is only for a limited number of phones and not for the router and survey computer.

Safety Measures

Concerns have been raised regarding possible increased security risks linked to using smartphones in the field, but since the phones are not connected to the internet or mobile network, contain no SIM card and are always in flight mode during data collection would inhibit calls and internet communication. Our experience is using smartphones in many contexts has not raised any increased risk in terms of theft or added pressure on teams.

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