Top Tips for Training Outreach Workers on Mobile Data Collection

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Recently in the blog post entitled Top Tips for Converting Paper Forms to Digital Mobile Forms, I discussed Equal Access’ transition from paper-based to mobile Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) methods. A big part of my job at Equal Access is to not only to facilitate mobile data collection methodologies but to also build the capacity of our country teams to use these technologies. This means training, training and more training.
A Word on the Multiple Intelligences
I have a modest background in education and like to bring what I know about being an effective teacher to all of my trainings. This means utilizing creative training techniques including educational games, energizers, role-plays and demonstrations. I am a staunch opponent of long lectures or worse, power point presentations, and I prefer to draw on Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences to inspire my training plans. (Gardner theorized that individuals learn and think through a variety of mechanisms and labeled these mechanisms as separate “intelligences” such as visual, linguistic or logical.)
Different people will understand the same concept through different mechanisms so it is best to incorporate as many of these teaching techniques as possible in a training to ensure that each trainee understands the mobile data collection tool. Getting people to change their existing work routine and adopt new technologies can be exceptionally difficult. Referencing the multiple intelligences when planning a training session can help make the training more successful and ensure that participants are engaged.
Based on my years as a teacher and experience running trainings for Dimagi and now Equal Access, I created the following recommendations for training outreach workers on mobile data collection.
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Top Tips for Training Outreach Workers on Mobile Data Collection Techniques

  1. Reference the theory of “Multiple Intelligences” when drafting a training plan. Make sure to teach the same concept in a variety of ways including visual demonstrations, verbal explanations, and musical interludes. Be sure to utilize role-plays and interactive games during the training. Learning by doing is a powerful training tool.
  2. Allot enough time for the training. Technical trainings usually require at least two days of training on the technical tool. Do not shortchange this time. A one-day technical training is almost pointless because it is not enough time for the trainees to get accustomed to the technology, practice accessing the content, and feel comfortable enough to ask questions. It is best to devote at least three days to the technical portion of any M&E user training.
  3. Plan to train a maximum of 15 trainees at a time. Technical training is like language learning and requires small facilitator to trainee ratios. Maintaining the quality of the workshop with a group larger than 15 trainees is nearly impossible because technical training relies heavily on one-on-one interaction as well as small group dynamics.
  4. Create a training guide for the trainees to use as a reference. The guide should be filled with screenshots and not just instructions.
  5. Make sure the mobile devices are completely prepared before the training begins. This means that they should all be configured with the most updated version of the app, each have an activated SIM card, and be fully charged.
  6. Train in the local language. If possible, avoid translators and hold a Training of Trainers (TOT) before the outreach worker training.
  7. Make the mobile usage policy of the organization clear. Reiterate the data/phone plan you already have on the phones so the mobile users are clear on how they can use the mobile device. Also, the users should sign a contract that ensures they know the organization’s mobile usage policy.
  8. Teach basic phone navigation before app navigation. Level the playing field of your trainee group by making sure everyone knows how to use the mobile device before moving onto the content of your organization’s M&E data collection.
  9. Utilize your audience’s terms for phone features. Solicit local descriptions and names for phone features and functions. For example, locals may call the “hash” key the “ladder” key in their local language. Remember that some training groups may already be familiar with common English technical terms such as “homescreen”, “power”, and “signal” while others may not.
  10. Take time to demonstrate the basics of the phone (turn off and on, lock and unlock screen, move in and out of the app menu, settings, how to connect to a network, etc). Do not assume that everyone in your training group already knows how to utilize these functions.
  11. Always ask questions. Constantly. Do not speak for more than five minutes straight – make sure to constantly enlist feedback from the trainees. Never ask “Do you understand?” or “Do you follow?” Indeed, do not ask yes-or-no questions at all since the collective answer will invariably be “yes” which tells you next to nothing about the level of understanding of your group. Ask specific comprehension questions such as “Which button turns the phone on?”, “Which button locks the phone?” and “How do I open the app menu?”
  12. Train outreach workers to always sit next to a respondent, not opposite from them, when filling out individual surveys. This helps transparency and local buy-in to the survey initiative.
  13. Take time to train the participants on the touch keyboard and how to toggle between upper case letters, lower case letters, and numbers. If you are using a local script, you may need to download a local language input tool from the Google Play Store before the training begins. You will also need to set that local script keyboard as the default keyboard on the mobile device. Many of your trainees may have never typed anything before so allow enough time for trainees to practice typing and ask questions regarding use of the keyboard.
  14. Identify “champions” amongst the trainees. “Champions” are those who learn quickly and are adept at using the technology. Encourage these people to take more of a leadership role during the training and to assist their peers.
  15. Encourage participants to answer each other’s questions. This will encourage the growth of local capacity and an individual’s confidence when using technology.
  16. Gather feedback on the survey and the mobile data collection application from the trainees. Make any adjustments that are necessary to the application survey. Relay feedback to the technology software company or persons responsible. .

Training is perhaps the most important part of the transition process from paper-based to mobile M&E. Your data will only be as good as your trainees are trained. If trainees misunderstand how to use the technical tool, managing a technical M&E deployment can quickly turn into a more exhaustive task than managing a paper-based system. Make sure to devote enough resources to your initial training as well as refresher trainings to be held at regular intervals during the technical M&E implementation. Good luck with the transition to mobile M&E!
Natasha Beale is the ICT4D Specialist at Equal Access International. She leads the Monitoring and Evaluation data collection and ICT4D implementation capacity building efforts for Equal Access field offices. She has previously worked for the mobile data collection company Dimagi in India and has experience as a teacher and a trainer with WorldTeach and Amigos de las Americas.