The biggest advantage, and also the most obvious, of electronic surveying is that it provides easy access to data after collection. It completely eliminates the various problems that arise during manual data entry, which is a necessity if the survey is paper based. Moreover, electronic survey forms offer various built-in options for quality checks (pictorial records, random audio checks, calculation of average time taken for a survey/ section of a survey), which can be used to flag off inconsistencies in the collected data very easily. Essentially, electronic data collection allows unparalleled flexibility in form design, which ultimately results in better quality data being collected.
Given the aforementioned advantages, it becomes quite easy to get carried away with the electronic data collection idea. However, there are a few things that are worth keeping in mind while considering the use of electronic data collection. Most importantly,the equipment is not cheap – a basic Android phone costs around Rs.5, 000 ($85) and a tablet around Rs.10, 000 ($165). That said cost should not be the only factor when buying a device. The features of a device are very important. Thinking in advance about device storage capacity, GPS features, Wi-Fi connectivity and compatibility with existing devices would go a long way in setting up an efficient data collection framework. Considering the familiarity of the enumerators with the devices, and the amount of resources that could be spent on potential training are also great ways to narrow down options.
A vital aspect of electronic data collection is the survey form itself that is being used. Forms need to be rigorously checked at the beginning of any operation, as it helps to have a clearly envisaged data flow in place. While testing an electronic survey form can be a boring and arduous task, identification of form errors before surveying begins can save surveyors a lot of trouble that would otherwise pop up during the rollout, which is always unpleasant and counterproductive. .
All this dependence on technology and robust survey forms would lead one to think that if an electronic form is perfectly designed, to exclude all possible erroneous data entry, it would mean that post data collection scrutiny can be done away with. On the contrary, electronic data collection does make scrutiny easier but does not eliminate the need for scrutiny. The emphasis on scrutiny arises from the fact that while electronic data collection improves quality and consistency, it does not guarantee your full control over everything, likewise, all consistency checks cannot be in built. The most exceptional cases can be clarified during scrutiny, using paper documentation, and notes from the electronic survey
Thus, electronic data collection does make things easier, but it does not always result in a perfect survey or very good quality data.. Surprises (and not good ones) can always occur, even with electronic data collection. This highlights the importance of mock runs, picking the right equipment and software, familiarity with devices and software, contingency plans (extra devices on the field and good notes). Lastly, the notion that electronic surveying is meant to replace paper documentation and scrutiny is falsely dichotomous. Paper documentation of electronic survey forms, and rigorous post-collection scrutiny can go a really long way in maintaining high quality of data.
(The post is adapted from a presentation made on Electronic Data Collection. The presentation is attached below)