Reducing errors and delays in collecting millions of World Food Programme data points

March 1st, 2015 by Waylon Brunette

Dennis Kinambuga is a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer with the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), where he supports the monitoring and evaluation of the World Food Programme's Purchase for Progress project in 17 countries. In his guest post on Nafundi's blog, Dennis explains how Nafundi and ODK has helped AERC collect and analyze more than 3.6 million data points for the Purchase for Progress project.

Dennis Kinambuga writes:

The Purchase for Progress (P4P) project uses the World Food Programme's (WFP) purchasing power, paired with inventive local techniques and best practices, to bring smallholder farmers into formal value chains where they can earn more. The project started in 2008, and has improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of farmers in 20 countries in Africa, Asia, and Central America.

Collecting smallholder farmer data on paper is a nightmare

Monitoring and evaluation is key to proving P4P's efficacy and so the WFP collects longitudinal data on households and farmer organizations to monitor the project. In 2011, WFP partnered with the AERC to collect, clean, analyze, manage, and report on the quantitative data generated by 17 of the 20 P4P countries.

At the beginning of the project, the complex data sets, each with about 1,600 variables, were collected on paper. The data was then manually entered into computers at a later date. This paper-based process resulted in data collection errors, long delays before data entry, and difficulty in monitoring on-going surveys from AERC offices in Nairobi. It was a data management nightmare.

ODK reduced errors and delays in collecting millions of data points

In 2013, with the support of Nafundi, AERC started using ODK for data collection in Rwanda. The benefits were immediately clear. The time between data collection and analysis was reduced by almost half. Additionally, the near real time remote monitoring enabled catching and correcting errors while surveyors were still in the field.

Two WFP surveyors use ODK to collect data from a farmer organization in Rwanda.

AERC has since successfully used ODK to collect P4P data in Kenya, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Ghana, and Zambia. To date, more than 2,300 households and 230 farmer organizations have been surveyed using ODK in these countries. This represents more than 3.6 million data points collected with ODK.

With each deployment, there have been drastic reductions in the time between and effort required for data collection and analysis. We have also seen tremendous increases in data quality. For these reasons, AERC will continue to use ODK to collect and analyze data for monitoring and evaluation work at AERC.

Remembering Gaetano Borriello

February 1st, 2015 by Waylon Brunette


We have tremendously sad news. Our friend, colleague, and advisor Gaetano Borriello has passed away. Gaetano was the visionary and leader behind Open Data Kit. It was his idea that started ODK and his focus on academic research that improves the lives of the underserved that created this community.

There is an official announcement, but Carl, Yaw, and I wanted to share a personal story about Gaetano.

When we started working on ODK in 2008, Gaetano had just been diagnosed with cancer. Although he was given a few months to live, he refused to change course, instead doubling down on making ODK a reality. Over the last six years, Gaetano fought cancer with his unique brand of stubborn optimism. He drew his strength from this community and was so proud of ODK’s global impact.

It's a difficult time for all of us involved with ODK, but we have Gaetano’s example to guide us. The last thing he asked of us was to continue doing good work. It’s a responsibility we have planned for and take very seriously. ODK research and development will continue for years to come.

In remembrance of Gaetano’s legacy, the University of Washington has established two funds that accept donations: one supports Open Data Kit research and the other is a student fellowship for improving the lives of the underserved.

Collecting 50 million data points across 200 projects in 40 countries

January 22nd, 2015 by Waylon Brunette

Brian Chu is an Associate Program Director with the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center (NTD-SC) where he provides managerial, statistical, and technical leadership to multiple operational research projects and monitoring and evaluation efforts. In his guest post on Nafundi's blog, he explains how Nafundi and ODK helped NTD-SC collect 50 million data points across 200 projects in 40 countries.

Brian Chu writes:

Mobile data collection using Open Data Kit (ODK) has allowed global health staff, scientists, and researchers to rapidly gather and process data in the global effort to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). NTDs are a group of 17 diseases that cause substantial morbidity and chronic suffering to over 1 billion people in 149 countries worldwide.

A child in Ethiopia being examined for trachoma, one of many neglected tropical diseases that affects the world's poor. Photo courtesy of Dominic Nahr, Magnum Photos, and Sightsavers.

NTDs most commonly affect the world's poor through manifestations such as blindness, anemia, stunting, swollen limbs, and skin deformity that perpetuate cycles of poverty and stigma. NTDs were originally coined as 'neglected' due to their low awareness and low-profile funding, but recent years have seen incredible commitments by leading pharmaceutical companies, global health organizations, private foundations, and donor and endemic country governments towards combating NTDs.

Need for instantaneous data in push to eliminate neglected tropical diseases

The NTD-SC at the Task Force for Global Health is part of this effort to eliminate and control NTDs through operational research initiatives funded primarily by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID. With a plethora of research projects being deployed simultaneously in multiple countries, it made considerable sense for our organization to collect data electronically.

Early NTD-SC (formerly Lymphatic Filariasis Support Center) efforts utilized PDAs but we quickly found them expensive, bulky, unreliable, and the technology had a steep learning curve. A switch was, therefore, made to mobile phones and since 2009, the NTD-SC has worked with Nafundi to incorporate ODK as our primary data collection platform. The ease of setting up and using ODK, along with the flexibility and scalability of the system to provide instantaneous data provided considerable advantages for data speed, security, and accuracy.

Customization of ODK scales data collection for NTD-SC's research partners

ODK has become so indispensable for NTD-SC's global portfolio of projects that we worked with Nafundi to develop a customized branch of ODK called LINKS. LINKS meets specific NTD-SC requirements such as cascading selects and additional language support and navigation options.

A woman enters survey data into ODK-based LINKS for a trachoma prevalence tracking project. Photo courtesy of Dominic Nahr, Magnum Photos, and Sightsavers.

LINKS has essentially revolutionized data collection for the NTD-SC and has even spawned LINKS System, a small mHealth department within the organization that services partners in the NTD research community including the World Health Organization, CDC, RTI International, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Georgia, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and many others. The success and inherent benefits of LINKS has also led to NTD-SC supporting mobile data collection for non-NTD organizations such as CARE and Children's Investment Foundation Fund.

Collecting 50 million data points across 200 projects in 40 countries

LINKS is truly setting new standards and benchmarks for what is possible with mHealth in the global environment. We estimate that the NTD-SC has supported approximately 200 projects in 40 different countries and collected over 50 million data points using the LINKS system. A couple project highlights include:

  • The Global Trachoma Mapping Project, which is the world's largest single disease mapping initiative ever. In the last 24 months, LINKS has allowed more trachoma data to be captured and analyzed than probably all previous trachoma data combined.
  • Transmission Assessment Surveys, which in a few short years has moved from an operational research project to a standardized WHO protocol for lymphatic filariasis monitoring and evaluation. This would not be possible without data being processed and analyzed so quickly using LINKS.

The NTD-SC has supported several other projects ranging from water and sanitation assessments to vaccine knowledge and practices to mosquito DNA analysis. The flexibility of LINKS to support all types of projects has been truly phenomenal. Moreover, increased use of LINKS in so many countries by so many organizations and local health teams has built great mHealth capacity for future projects.

The NTD-SC is really proud to work with Nafundi and leverage the power of mobile technology and dynamic ODK solutions to tackle NTDs and other global health challenges.