PDAs: Remote technology in remote regions

Conducting research in developing countries brings with it a unique set of challenges.

Online or telephone methods of data collection are unfeasible among populations for whom this technology has almost no penetration. Thus, in the past, in developing, conflict and post-conflict environments researchers have had to rely on pen and paper. ORB have just completed trials of cutting edge methodology to overcome some of these challenges in the Sahel region of West Africa, with handheld Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) devices.

Instead of the need to print and transport thousands of questionnaires out to remote and difficult fieldwork locations across the countries in which we were researching (then waiting for them to be transported back to a data processing facility to be punched), each interviewer was issued with a handheld PDA device pre-programmed with the survey. Responses were recorded directly into the devices and completed surveys downloaded daily and sent back to researchers in London enabling fast, accurate reporting of results and continual monitoring of samples.

Use of PDAs for data collection offers crucial advantages over traditional paper questionnaires – they are a fast, cost effective means of collecting data that enable research managers to closely and continuously monitor the data being collected from a remote location and report findings within timelines equivalent to those possible using other electronic methodologies.

In addition, the devices can be mobile enabled to allow for activity tracking, which aids quality control checks and can also enable the mapping of attitudinal data according to GPS coordinates of sampling points.

For more information on conducting research in complex environments, please email ORB International


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