Mobile technology in Ethiopia

PCI’s commitment to preventing disease, improving community health and promoting sustainable development worldwide has never been more resolute. We have an incredible opportunity to maximize our impact through mobile technology by leveraging new and innovative resources, allowing us to make our work more impactful and effective.

Our programs touch the lives of 5.8 million people in 15 countries around the globe. That’s a lot of people, and quantity isn’t always quality. But it can be – and we believe that it should be.

We do our due-diligence to ensure that our programs are implemented in the most efficient and effective way so that we can make maximize our impact, and accurate data collection is a crucial part of our helping process.

Why Mobile Technology?

Mobile coverage in many of the countries where we have programs is expanding at a rapid pace, affording the opportunity for open and easy communication from the field back to our main offices.

Many organizations that have implemented mobile technology are experiencing a significant reduction in the time and effort spent collecting, cleansing and analyzing data. This allows our monitoring and evaluation staff to be more efficient in their processes; be responsive to the need for sharing information back out to PCI’s donors and supporters; and guide PCI to make informed decisions regarding programming.

Most mobile applications can track GPS locations, take photos and videos and are flexible enough to capture information that traditional pen and paper cannot. Data tracking can, therefore, be more comprehensive and user-friendly when moved through the analysis process.

Progress and Efficiency with Mobile Data Technology

Beginning in November 2013, PCI began pilot-testing a mobile health platform using Android smartphones to collect baseline data for Women Empowered (WE), our global initiative dedicated to promoting the economic and social empowerment of women.

Ethiopia was chosen for the mobile data collection pilot. This was considered very much a “baptism by fire” strategy. With one of the lowest cell phone usages in all of Africa, the idea was that if the program can be successful in Ethiopia, it can be implemented anywhere.

Within Ethiopia, two areas were chosen – one rural and one urban, with one implementing partner each and a single mobile health platform – – for both. In each area, 12 facilitators were hired from the local community and trained in smartphone and mobile data collection basics.

The pilot program will help the facilitators collect multi-dimensional questionnaires called Lives Changed Indices (LCI) developed by PCI to measure the impact of the WE Initiative and the impact of PCI’s programming overall. This allows us to capture the program participants’ assessments related to poverty, education, food security, social capital, household expenditure and savings, health and gender equity.

In the past and currently in other countries, PCI has utilized paper-based questionnaires to collect baseline data measurements during the early stages of WE group formations, which are later compared to measurements taken at the conclusion of the program. By measuring impact in this way, we are able to anticipate the complex needs in each community and create programming to target those needs.

The paper version of the LCI is lengthy and complex, sometimes taking up to an hour per person, and results in extensive staff time dedicated to entering data, examining data, and sometimes, cleaning the errors from the data.

Immediate Observations

From the beginning, the advantages over paper-based data collection were obvious. Benefits to using mobile phone data collection include speed of collection and entry, mandatory fields and automatic skip patterns to reduce errors and increase efficiency, basic and smartphone accessibility, and an easy, automatic language translation program.

Goals and Expectations

The findings from this initial pilot will be used to establish the feasibility and usability of this program and platform for data collection, to develop implementation strategies for future mobile technology deployments across other programs, and to increase the efficiency of PCI’s program monitoring and evaluation efforts.

Mobile data collection will provide our country directors and program managers with another helpful tool with which to monitor their projects – one with the capacity and potential to provide all PCI workers with real-time, easily accessible data, right at their fingertips! The global challenges we face are too great to settle for mediocre improvements, and we must utilize our culture of innovation to create sustainable, lasting change in the lives of the people we serve.