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How to Safely Collect Data Remotely During COVID-19 Digital Response

By Guest Writer on April 22, 2021

safer data collection

Please RSVP Now to learn more about data collection solutions at the Global Digital Development Forum on May 5. Our amazing agenda features multiple sessions dedicated to different data collection approaches, opportunities, and concerns.

Much of the world’s most important data has traditionally come from direct observation and in-person interviews. At a time when that data is needed more than ever to inform policy and programs, the methods used to collect it have been suddenly rendered less safe. The Safe People + Data Initiative focuses on helping to ensure that data can continue being collected — safely.

This initiative is led by Dobility, the makers of SurveyCTO, with generous support from its many partners and users on the ground in over 165 countries. It provides methodologies and resources for safer data collection, in response to new challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing need for safety-focused innovation.

Reflecting the diverse needs of global practitioners who are exploring how to continue their work, the initiative offers tools and insights to support safer methods of in-person data collection as well as alternative and complementary methods of reducing in-person interactions and collecting data remotely.

Safer Operations for 5 Data Collection Processes

Lock-downs, widespread in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, have forced projects to quickly adapt to an extreme degree of decentralization and remote operation, as well as to shift to alternative methods. Fortunately, even in-person operations can be decentralized in order to systematically reduce the need for travel and in-person interactions. These approaches to decentralization can also be applied to remote data collection methods.

The following resources offer guidance on these approaches to safer data collection and examples of how global researchers are applying them.

1. Computer-assisted telephone interviewing

Phone surveys, also known as CATI, offer interviewer-mediated research, where enumerators play a critical role in ensuring respondent survey comprehension and completion. CATI can be deployed rapidly, implemented at lower costs than in-person surveys, and capture both qualitative and quantitative data. Although CATI necessitates that respondents have access to mobile phones, it facilitates the collection of data from respondents with low levels of literacy.

2. Decentralized computer-assisted personal interviewing

CAPI is an in-person interviewing technique in which enumerators use tablets, smartphones, or laptop computers to move through interviews and record responses. Decentralized CAPI can overcome traditional processes of travel and in-person training via remote recruiting, onboarding, training, and supervisor accompaniment.

3. Computer-assisted web interviewing

As a self-enumeration method, CAWI, also known as web or online surveys, can be administered widely, quickly, and inexpensively. CAWI is less disruptive for respondents than CATI and can capture more data than SMS surveys. It can also better facilitate the participation of respondents who are geographically inaccessible or unavailable for in-person interviews. Respondents must be literate and have access to internet-connected smartphones, tablets, or laptop computers.

4. SMS surveys

SMS surveys facilitate the collection of data from respondents via messaging on mobile phones and can be administered widely, quickly, and inexpensively. They are most effective for short surveys with straightforward questions. Respondents must have mobile phones, phone service, and high literacy levels.

5. Mixed Methods

In-person and remote data collection methods can be combined for complementary approaches. Initial interviews can be conducted via computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) and follow up surveys can be conducted over the phone via computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI), or vice-versa.

Web surveys, also known as computer-assisted web interviewing (CAWI), and phone surveys can also be combined, with web surveys being sent out first, followed by calls to either conduct the survey over the phone, or encourage web survey completion. For CATI applications with call center setups, enumerators can record submissions in web surveys, and respondents can be sent the survey links via email and text messages.

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