Thursday, May 23, 2019

Learning about the roses and thorns of digital survey data collection

Conducting a survey can be an arduous task. It entails encoding, printing, and processing, not to mention the struggle of recording handwritten notes that are sometimes difficult to read. Consequently, it can lead to gathering less reliable data.

To ensure ease, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness of field data collection, IRRI uses a range of programmable digitized survey questionnaires implemented by different research groups. Over the past 18 months, the research team from the Adaptive Agronomy and Pest Ecology Cluster of IRRI’s Sustainable Impact Platform has conducted Natural Resource Management surveys for the CORIGAP and Rice straw projects using CommCare.

Some 26 interested researchers from the Sustainable Impact and Agri-Food Policy platforms attended the workshop to learn about the experience of the group in using CommCare. Helena Wehmeyer, CORIGAP scholar, shared the survey protocols the group used in China, Thailand, and Indonesia. According to Anna de Guia, IRRI Assistant Scientist, “from our experience, different countries are situated in different socio-economic and cultural contexts, so we need to adjust our set of practices accordingly, and we integrated an internal set of good practices in our site-specific survey protocols” . The team shared their five key lessons learned: (1) Application building fit for a digital survey; (2) Back translation; (3) Post translation content validation; (4) Multiple internal testing; and (5) Data validation and documentation.  “If we wish to ensure that we have have high confidence of the reliability of the data, we can do many things , like integrating these data with validated data from other studies,” Abigail Mabilangan, Assistant Scientist, said.

During the workshop, the team shared their experiences of using the CommCare digital survey tool with the IRRI research community. “We have used a couple of survey tool applications in the past but we encountered challenges; so far, this is what has worked best for us,” Arelene Malabayabas , an IRRI Associate Scientist, shared in her talk.

The event also served as a platform to share knowledge on computer-assisted survey tools that other research groups at IRRI are using, and to talk about the challenges they encounter.  The group also pondered about intellectual property issues and other important concerns related to digitizing survey data collection. “We are not promoting a brand of survey tool the institute should use, we just want to share our experience in using CommCare and, ultimately, use this opportunity to discuss possible opportunities that we can explore together to ensure that as an institute, we generate highly reliable data at the most minimal effort, within our means,”  Melanie Connor, CORIGAP’s Cognitive Psychologist said. The events was held on 15 May 2019.


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