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How to Sustain and Support Your Mobile Data Collection Programs

By Guest Writer on October 3, 2018

supporting mobile data collection

After months of painstaking research, field visits, interviews, building, and testing, you have finally launched your mobile data collection program with fully-loaded devices and successful training sessions. Congratulations!

But your work is not done.

To ensure all the effort you put into the implementation of the program pays off, you must set up a system to support your users. They should have proper resources and supervision, incentives to continue their usage, and, if they have thoughts or suggestions about the program, opportunities to be heard.

In this post, we will share our learnings and best practices on what to do once your program is humming, and how to keep it that way. We’ll focus on:

  • Support
  • Supervision
  • Application Usage
  • Feedback

Develop a Strong Support System

The importance of a good support system in sustaining a mobile data collection program cannot be overstated. Ensuring that responsive channels exist for users to flag issues they might face – related to the application, device, or data – is important to build trust in the system.

Create a manual to serve as a first point of reference.

In-depth user manuals (printed, digital, or otherwise) for each section of your application are a useful resource and should be a first point of reference for most users. These manuals can contain information about application features, how to access them, and (depending on your needs) programmatic guidelines.

Identify support channels and encourage engagement.

Make your users aware and encourage them to use the support channels you give them. The end user training before launch is a good first opportunity to introduce them to what support is available to them.

From user manuals to support personnel, training sessions, and refresher courses, your program should develop a variety of ways to offer your workers support and sustain their usage.

It is equally important to build capacity among the local partners so that they can solve basic issues that might come up and offer avenues to escalate those issues, should they not have the expertise to solve them.

Designate a support person for scale.

The scale of the support needed is another factor to consider: A single designated support person can handle a 50-user pilot, but a national-level project with thousands of users might require something more robust like district-level help desks or a central call center. In both cases, the designated support person(s) should have:

  1. 1. A good working knowledge of the application
  2. 2. Admin rights to look into the system backend
  3. 3. Strong communication skills

Track response rate on issues raised.

Furthermore, you should track and respond to the issues your users raise. Delays in communication or a repeated failure to resolve their problems will cause users to lose trust in the program.

Key metrics, such as number of open issues at each level and average time taken to resolve, should be closely monitored to ensure that the support system is running smoothly.

If you want your workers to use your platform, you need to make sure they know how and address the questions that come up. A well-executed and diverse support system should ensure your team is supported and always performing at its best.

Involve Your Supervisors

worker management view

A clear view of the entire process, including both program and worker performance metrics, is crucial for your supervisors to keep the program running. With paper forms, most of their time would be spent on tracking down data and following up with users.

Now that they have a mobile data collection program, this information should already be at their fingertips, allowing them to focus their efforts on supporting the workers who need the most help.

With CommCare, we like to use Worker Activity Reports to achieve this. They allow supervisors to see broad-stroke details of the work that the end users are doing, including the number of forms submitted per user per day to help measure activity on the application.

Your supervisors should be trained so that they are able to access and monitor the reports themselves, giving them a direct window into their team’s work.

Whatever platform you use, the metrics used to monitor worker performance should be designed as per the nature of the project and agreed upon between workers and supervisors prior to implementation. For instance, one project might require a user to submit only a single form per day, whereas another might require five. In some projects, the number of form submissions might not be reflective of their work at all.

While gathering requirements for the project, care should be taken to also find out how the supervisors currently monitor the workers and where the existing gaps lie, so monitoring reports can be designed accordingly.

Incentivize the Use of Your Application

If users are not given sufficient incentive to use the application, then you should expect usage to decline once the novelty of the program wears off. There are a number of ways to ensure your team continues to use your tool for the duration of your program:

  • Save them time and effort: Reducing the amount of time and effort required from a user is a great way to ensure sustained usage. If they understand that it is easier for them to fulfill their reporting requirements via the data collection app compared to using paper forms, they will be more than happy to keep using the app.
  • Send them reminders: The implementation of reminders and nudges from supervisors into the app will help keep users on task and aware of their responsibilities. Whether you do it with a simple SMS or during weekly or monthly check-ins, it is always a good idea to let your team know what they need to do next.
  • Show them their impact: When users understand the impact they have, they are more likely to continue to participate. Show them the number of children they helped vaccinate or the number of institutional deliveries they carried out. Depending on your team’s mindset, comparative performance reports could also be a way to instill a sense of healthy competition.
  • Give them feedback: Regular feedback and engagement through supervisors is another way to motivate your users. The immediate availability of a wide range of data should allow your supervisors to extract insights on the users’ strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a user might have a high number of form submissions (good!), but may be limiting themselves to a small geographic area (can be improved!). Keep feedback positive, including tips on how to improve performance.

To sum up, closing the feedback loop by offering tools to improve their performance will help ensure that your team continues to use your application. And the more reasons you give your users to pick up the app, the better.

Encourage and Incorporate Feedback

Consistent interaction with your end users is key to improving your data collection application over time.

After all, those who use the tool will have the most valuable insight into its strengths and weaknesses. Listen to them as much and as often as possible to understand how you might improve both your tool and your program outcomes.

Feedback will come in on considerations as big as new use cases and functionality that field workers might be interested in or as small as specific feature bugs. Taking this feedback and reviewing how you might design it into your platform is crucial to an engaged and effective workforce.

There are numerous ways you can collect feedback. The most direct way is through your program supervisors. General check-ins and feedback collection should already be part of their responsibilities, so expanding that feedback to the new tool should be a logical add-on.

However, it should not be taken for granted that the supervisors are aware of this, so not only should they be made aware of how their workers are meant to be using the new tool, but they should be empowered to understand how it works so the feedback they receive will make sense.

You might also incorporate some indirect feedback collection methods, such as SMS surveys, or Interactive Voice Response calls. These have the advantage of being scalable and require few resources to implement.

Of course, however you receive feedback, it is the act of listening to your users and the understanding that your platform is never complete that will help improve the tool itself, as well as the overall impact of your program.

Why Does This Matter?

Yes, massive effort went into the development and implementation of your mobile data collection tool. But to sustain the usage and impact of your program, it is not enough to just build and release a great application.

Careful thought needs to go into your systems of support, the work of your supervisors, incentives for continued usage, and how you collect and address feedback.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach that can be followed to ensure the sustainability of your program, follow these basic principles to give your team the best chance.

  • Offer help to users who need it in a way that works for them.
  • Ensure your supervisors can see how their workers are doing, including how they might improve.
  • Build in mechanisms to help your workers perform at their best.
  • And touch base with them and their supervisors often for helpful insights to optimize your program.

We have seen many times that a project develops a great app, introduces it to its team, and successfully launches their data collection program, only to see it end after the pilot phase.

We believe all that hard work should not go to waste, and by supervising and supporting your team, while also listening to what they have to say, you can help your program continue its important work for as long as possible.

Originally published by Dimagi as How to Sustain Your Mobile Data Collection Program.

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