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Mobile Data Collection

As increasing numbers of humanitarian organizations are experimenting with mobile data collection (MDC) in their assessments, it's worth considering what role, if any, MDC should play in emergency market assessments like EMMA. Using MDC tools can virtually eliminate the need for data entry and facilitate analysis, though they take more time and thought to develop and test than do paper questionnaires. The purpose of these tools is to improve the speed and quality of field-level data collection by eliminating the need to compile paper questionnaires, decipher handwriting and transcribe a questionnaire into a spreadsheet database prior to analyzing the information.

[Tips from the IRC's 2-pager on integrating mobile data collection into emergency market assessments:]

  • Build sufficient time into the pre-assessment workshop agenda for form development, digitization, testing and revision. Include an ICT specialist in this planning process to adequately gauge how much time is needed for this.
  • Mobile technology is a support tool, not an end-all solution. The most successful uses of ICT take context into account, including security, connectivity and local staff’s capacity using mobile devices for data collection.
  • It is worth exploring how ICT can support emergency market assessments beyond just MDC. For example, one could set up SMS reporting mechanisms with select market actors in order to provide ongoing market monitoring data. 

Rosa Akbari

Most EMMA/PCMA assessments are still conducted using pen and paper data collection tools. One of the reasons EMMA assessments lag behind in the uptake of MDC tools is the types of information collected during EMMA fieldwork. EMMA employs a broad mix of data collection methods including observations, quantitative and qualitative information, and often uses indirect, open-ended lines of questioning to arrive at the desired pieces of information. This mixed-method approach can be hard to systematize and structure electronically. Sample sizes also pose challenges to MDC, as most EMMAs involve small numbers of interviews with a range of different types of market actors and key informants, each relying on a slightly different questionnaire. A final challenge is that there is no standard EMMA questionnaire; questionnaires tend to be adapted and/or developed from scratch each time to suit the market system(s) being studied and the assessment's key analytical questions. This short document following the IRC's pilot of MDC during a PCMA in Niger provides more details on, as well as some proposed solutions to, these challenges. 

Using [mobile data collection] probably wasn't all that beneficial...the volume of quantitative data was not high merit the use of MDC over paper.

Corrie Sissons, PCMA in Iraq, 2016

While there are no clear answers on if and how MDC should become a standard part of market assessments like EMMA and PCMA, one point is clear: For MDC to make sense for EMMAs, the time needed to develop questionnaires in the first place should be minimized. To that end, the IRC, with the generous support of USAID, has developed a number of MDC templates that can be adapted for humanitarian market assessments such as EMMA and PCMA. All of these templates are intended to be used with open source mobile data collection and fully adaptable to different market assessment contexts, commodities/services, or key analytical questions.

Available templates: 

Ona/Open Data Kit (ODK): preliminary MDC tool for vendor interviews during EMMA assessments.  This template allows you to develop your own questionnaire from scratch. 

CommCareHQ: Vendor and household-level questionnaire templates based on a PCMA done in Niger in July 2015. 


Additional guidance on accessing the above templates and building and adapting questionnaires in some of the commonly-used data platforms: 

Kobo Collect

Ona and Open Data Kit (ODK)



The testing phase was a bit rushed [and so I had] to adjust the trader questionnaire [afterwards with IT support], as the sequence of the questions was a bit cumbersome/repetitive and could not adequately capture the nature of the responses provided by the traders. One of the team members was quite comfortable with the use of the tablet, as he has used similar devices to conduct interviews in the past, but the two other team members showed much less confidence and as a result, I had to go through the dataset with them to correct some of the data entered, as the quality was rather poor. I had to spend a bit of time "cleaning" the data sheet before proceeding with the analysis. So, if I factor in all these elements, I dont think that MDC helped to speed up the data collection and analysis phases.

I would therefore not recommend MDC for future similar exercises. MDC would be useful for more straightforward household questionnaires, particularly for larger samples.

Alexandre Gachoud, PCMA in Iraq, 2016

Though this site provides detailed information on a few data collection platforms, numerous other options are also available. The templates provided can be uploaded into the different platforms with only minimal adjustments. The Nomad Selection Assistant and the Kopernick Technology Catalogue can help you to choose from the many MDC platforms available. Each data collection platform has slightly different functionalities and degrees of user-friendliness. Both "form builders" and mobile users (i.e. data collectors) must be comfortable with the technology platform chosen, so allow time for each to explore and decide which tool is most appropriate.




Or download the individual files:

Pre-Built Rapid Market Assessment Questionnaire in ODK

Template for Building your own ODK questionnaire from scratch

Using Ona and Open Data Kit to Build Mobile-based EMMA Market Assessment Questionnaires

Office App Installation

CommCare Instructions - Adapting questionnaires for use in Market Assessments

Kobo Collect User Instructions