Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Partnership with open-source technology opens door to improved survey data

This post was authored by Rick Mitchell, Senior Systems Analyst with the FTF-FEEDBACK activity at Westat.

Feed the Future has been piloting cutting-edge software, called the Open Data Kit (ODK), to improve its survey data collection methods, and in the process, has generated a number of lessons learned that are being integrated back into the open-source system for the benefit of future users. ODK provides a set of tools used to author, field, and manage mobile data collection. Using this new system for conducting population-based surveys (PBS) on Android 7” tablets, the project was able to scale its scope of collection significantly. The data collection forms with ODK used almost 3300 variables, spread across 19 modules, with well over 1000 built-in edit checks.

The project’s work with ODK is just one example of USAID’s public commitment to develop and scale innovation through strategic partnerships with the private sector. Within USAID Forward, smarter data use is placed center stage in the Agency’s efforts to increase transparency, collaboration, and impact.

FTF-FEEDBACK first began using ODK in early July 2012. The partnership was formed in the hope of increasing both efficiency and cost-effectiveness. For example, ODK’s features enabled the project to use a template-based development process, which resulted in quicker turnaround times and greater standardization among country-specific surveys. 

In piloting this technology, a couple of advantages became clear. Using the ODK development interface, the project was able to develop a core template for the data collection survey that was then modified based on the specific data collection needs and regional differences of each country. Also, in-country teams were able to provide feedback gathered from training sessions and testing to identify modifications to the core template. Taking advantage of the integrated nature of the ODK Collect survey tool and ODK Aggregate server, surveys could be quickly modified, tested, and released for further testing or data collection. This rapid prototyping method could be particularly valuable for those conducting surveys on a similarly large scale.The project’s experience using ODK on Android tablets to collect large amounts of survey data in nine countries has proved that investing in ODK was a good move, and FTF-FEEDBACK expects to continue using ODK on a wide range of other surveys.

In line with the Agency’s commitment to sustainability, the lessons learned from the project’s experience—and improvements made—have been shared with the ODK development team for further improvement. The results of FTF-FEEDBACK’s work can benefit other agencies and organizations doing large, complex surveys that wish to collect their data on Android tablets.  For more information on our experience using ODK, please contact FTFFEEDBACK@Westat.com.