Mobile Data Collection: Current Practice and Lessons Learned at Plan International

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Smartphones and tablets offer an increasing array of applications and services that can be useful in our daily lives and work. Data collection, an important part of Plan’s work across the world, is no exception.
There are several apps available now which allow an organisation to send out a digital questionnaire to the phone or tablet of their field staff, who can then collect responses and upload them to a central server. As with many digital services, this promises gains in efficiency and speed, and even accuracy and quality of the data collected.
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Digital Data Collection in Plan – A review of current practice and lessons learned, commissioned by Plan Finland and conducted by independent consultants, aimed to explore the current uses of digital data collection tools in Plan, to tease out the lessons learned from adoption and implementation, and the benefits and challenges of transition from paper-based to digital data collection processes.
Plan has been using a tool called Poimapper since 2012. As Poimapper is the most widespread and widely used digital data collection tool within the organisation, its users were an entry point to this research. This report relies heavily on their experiences to generate findings, learning and conclusions. Some of these apply to digital data collection as a whole, while others are specific to the use of Poimapper.
The first part of Digital Data Collection in Plan includes examples of how digital data collection tools have been used in Plan, and analysis of the types of benefits and challenges that have been noted at the level of programme or country office. The second half of the report provides the authors’ analysis of the potential of tools like Poimapper to increase the quality and efficiency of data collection in Plan, and provides some lessons learned and concrete recommendations as to possible next steps to build on the knowledge and skills and meet the needs of the organisation:

  1. Establish, support and encourage a Community of Practice for those using digital data collection tools and approaches
  2. Position digital data collection within a broader context of effective use of data, and forge connections with Plan processes to improve the effective use of data for programming
  3. Support a small number of country offices to explore the implications of scaling up data integration and management
  4. Build further evidence of the cost and value for money of digital data collection tools at different scales.

Based on the experiences and insights of Plan staff, we hope that this report will provide useful inputs and guidance for those considering adopting new tools in their work, whether in the field or for global information systems.