RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Saturday, December 13, 2008

EpiHandy mobile simplifies survey and data collection


Commercial companies, research organisations and individuals involved in collecting field data have something to smile about because the latest developments in Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are first improving the way data is collected and disseminated.

Makerere University Faculty of Computing and Information Technology (CIT) together with The University of Bergen, Norway, have implemented a mobile-device based form application called the EpiHandy Survey Data Management Suite, which is out to change the way surveys and data collection are done.

During the launch and demonstration of the EpiHandy mobile tool in Kampala on Friday, participants agreed this could be the solution to the traditional paper-based data collection techniques that have proved expensive and time consuming for many years.

According to, “EpiHandy is a new cutting edge solution that revolutionises the way surveys and data collection are done in health and development research. It eliminates bulky paper questionnaires and subsequent data entry as well as costly errors related to manual data entry and lack of validation of data at time of collection.”

This is possible because the EpiHandy mobile tool has in-built validation and cross-checking features which simplifies the collection and correction of data through an easy-to-use technology that researchers who are used to the traditional way of collecting data can easily adopt to prepare, gather and interpret data faster and more effectively.

“The EpiHandy software can be downloaded from Google and free of charge onto mobile devices such as Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) commonly known as the hand-held computer and phones for collection of data,” said Daniel Kayiwa from the Faculty of Computing and Information Technology (FCIT), Makerere University, adding that it will go a long way in helping to get updated and reliable data much quicker even from the country’s remotest areas.

The building of the EpiHandy software began in 2005 at Makerere University’s FCIT under the Department of Software Development and Innovation, out of the desire to develop a paperless system of data collection and management, for the generation of high quality and timely information.

After developing a user-friendly questionnaire design in EpiHandy, it was field-tested in Iganga and Mayuge districts using 30 hand-held computers with inbuilt cameras, Global Positioning System (GPS) connectivity, wireless data synchronisation and memory cards.

“On average, each field worker would do a minimum of eight households within five hours which is compared to an average of seven households within eight hours using paper based forms,” Doreen Nabukalu, who was part of the digitalised research talks about the advantages of using the EpiHandy mobile tool. “There were fewer errors found during editing as most of them were captured during the data collection exercise; talk of reduced costs, better quality data, timely reporting and analysis, and flexibility as opposed to the inconvenience of conducting paper based interviews.”

Exactly how the EpiHandy works; a questionnaire or form that guide the data collection activity in the field is designed on the server; then downloaded to a mobile device on which data is collected and then manually uploaded into the database through synchronisation. Cleaning and editing of the collected data is done from the database within the office. The mistakes that would result from the feeding of data into the computers or systems by people who did not collect it as has been the trend with the traditional way of collecting data, cannot arise with EpiHandy since it comes with an easy procedure of collecting and finally exporting of collected data into the computer. The data on the phone is sent using HTTP, GPS Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or a data cable which are all possible on a java enabled phone. The only fear is the security of PDAs, the possible loss of data due to battery failure, and smaller inbuilt capacity memory cards which may not accommodate the ever increasing data volumes.

Otherwise in a world where ICTs are advancing rapidly and changing society profoundly, electric data collection and processing systems have shown that reducing the data collection time can improve reporting and therefore decision making. Even in Africa, the mobile phone is fast becoming the most immediately accessible ICT device because of the direct result of the benefits and convenience it offers at low costs, which means there is much to gain in sensitising the masses to utilise all the possibilities and efficiencies to be derived.

As Prof. Fisseha Mekuria of Makerere University FCIT said, “Mobile phones are a platform for public information access and are no longer a voice only communications tool. It’s a mass product carried by three billion people worldwide and is used as a video camera, an MP3 player, calendar, calculator, alarm clock…we can use it for innovative mobile applications, for example in health, banking, education, voting, census and marketing of goods and services and generally as a vehicle of economic development.”

He added: “The EpiHandy tool is only the beginning; we want to work together with you to solve outstanding issues; develop mobile based services to the public and private sector; we need a change, and –‘Yes We Can’ locally develop innovative mobile applications and use ICT and mobiles for social, business and economic development.”

So the EpiHandy mobile tool excited participants but many, including Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, the Dean of FCIT Makerere expressed their fear in regard to its general acceptance and practicability especially in Uganda where many live in rural areas, and about 90 per cent of mobile phone owners hardly use other applications on their devices beyond placing and receiving calls.

Mellisa Ho from the University of California said technocrats need to evaluate what makes new technologies work, and that a lot of sensitisation ought to be done in order to build a community that will innovatively use mobile phones to enrich their lives.

In October 1983 when the first commercial cellular call was placed, few would have guessed that a time would come when we would access the Internet, listen to the radio and watch television programmes on our handsets. Likewise, the development of the EpiHandy could be a linchpin to greater things to come.

--Daily Monitor, Wenesday, December 3, 2008