Using modern technology is cheaper than ever, and electronic tools now offer a cost-effective alternative to paper questionnaires for collecting high-quality data. To help you decide if using the Computer Assisted Personal Interview (CAPI) is for you, this blog reviews the potential benefits and challenges of using CAPI and shares a recent survey experience carried out in Guyana in which free software developed by Survey Solutions was used.
Use of survey software for data collection in Guyana
It is well known that certain technological innovations have enabled developing countries to leap into the 21st century. For example, the use of cell phones in mobile banking has enabled people in remote and rural parts of Africa to manage their finances and business transactions more effectively without having to rely on poor infrastructure. Tablets, projectors and learning software have been increasingly used to improve the quality of education in regions where teachers lack the relevant skills and training, and where learning materials are scarce and expensive. . If technological progress can accelerate development, shouldn’t it also be used to improve the efficiency of our work in developing countries?
Development effectiveness means that our strategies and policies are based on a sound understanding of the diverse contexts of developing countries. To obtain that knowledge, we need to collect high-quality data, often in the poorest and most remote regions. Traditionally, these data collection efforts have relied on the use of printed questionnaires, which are filled out in personal interviews with affected people and / or the community that benefits from a project. Often thousands are interviewed.
Paper questionnaires: the traditional way to collect data
Conducting surveys of this magnitude with paper questionnaires can be costly in terms of financial, administrative and logistical efforts while presenting a number of challenges: printing and transporting questionnaires to and from the field is often associated with a high cost; Corrections to questions can represent a significant cost and time challenge. There is also a real risk that questionnaires will be lost in the field or damaged by weather or transportation before the data is systematized.
Even when all the interviews have been conducted, the responses must be entered manually into a digital file before the data can be analyzed. This process is time consuming and manual labor and increases the margin for error. Data quality controls are limited, and errors are sometimes only recognized after the survey has finished, making them more difficult to correct.
However, there is an alternative to paper questionnaires: computer-assisted personal interview (CAPI for centuries in English). In recent years, CAPI has attracted more attention as it presents a cheaper way to collect high-quality data.
CAPI: an increasingly popular tool
With the new processing speeds of today’s computers, the increasing global availability of Internet service, and falling prices for mobile devices, CAPI has become increasingly attractive. The CAPI tool creates the questionnaire using special software that can be downloaded directly to a mobile device (usually a smartphone or tablet), which the interviewer uses to administer and fill out the questionnaire. The information from these questionnaires is uploaded to a central server where it can be accessed and reviewed remotely.
Depending on the size of the survey sample, purchasing electronic filling survey tablets becomes increasingly affordable than printing questionnaires on paper. The technical requirements for such devices are relatively low and a large number of questionnaires can generally be saved on the device without danger of running out of storage. Furthermore, once a questionnaire has been entered on a mobile device, it can be modified: If an error is detected in the early stages of the survey, it can be easily corrected without incurring additional printing costs.
Other significant benefits of CAPI are the frequent backups that can be done with electronic devices. While internet service is not necessary to carry out the interviews, the questionnaires can and should be uploaded to a cloud regularly while the survey is still in progress, so that data is not lost, even if a tablet is stolen or damaged. Survey administrators can also constantly check progress, review the quality of submitted questionnaires, and make immediate corrections if necessary. Since data entry is automated and most software offers automatic checks for certain input errors, CAPI promises that any survey will provide high-quality data.
The IDB’s experience with CAPI
Based on all these positive attributes, CAPI could be an effective alternative to paper questionnaires. Our team put CAPI to the test during a recent survey of 1,000 farming households in Guyana, in preparation for the IDB-funded Sustainable Agricultural Development Project .
For this data collection, the IDB cooperated with a team from the World Bank Group that has developed the free software Survey Solutions as a CAPI tool adapted to the technical and logistical challenges of developing countries. Survey Solutions has recently reached the milestone of more than 5 million interviews conducted. Its system has been used by government entities, NGOs, universities, expert groups and private companies in more than 500 surveys in 94 countries. The software combines powerful tablet data capture functionality with cloud data aggregation and survey management tools. In addition, the technology makes it possible to collect new types of data, such as GPS coordinates, time stamp, sensor information, and audio and video recordings.
With the technical support of Survey Solutions, our team designed a survey that allowed us to streamline the data collection process from the design stage to data entry. The tools were intuitive and easy to use for both the project specialists and the team conducting the field survey. The ability to constantly monitor the progress of the survey and verify the quality of the data allowed the project team to detect certain input problems in the first days of the survey and to make adjustments immediately.