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Posted by on Aug 16, 2019 in Information Management, Mobile Technologies | 0 comments

Typology of the world of MDC

Typology of the world of MDC

This is the first of 3 blog posts published to present some of the visuals produced by CartONG for the Lessons Learned paper reflecting on the Terre des hommes‘ experience of implementing Mobile Data Collection projects in their programs over the last five years. The study itself will be published on this blog in September (now available here).

As you probably know if you arrived on this page, there are more than a hundred Mobile Data Collection tools being used in the aid sector for various purposes. Although how to choose the right tool once the requirements are clear has been written about multiple times since mobile technology appeared in the aid sector (see resources below), we felt it was still necessary to help the less tech-savvy among us get a first level of understanding of where each mobile tool stands in the MDC world today.

In fact, one of the most frequent questions that CartONG staff hear in the MDC workshops and the multiple requests for support we receive from our partners is: “Why can I not apply the MDC tool I’m currently using for:

  • following up on a patient on a weekly basis,
  • transferring cash to beneficiaries or organisations,
  • doing a large scale mapping exercise of a refugee camp that my field team would be able to maintain over time, or mapping agricultural plots of farmers,
  • collecting beneficiary feedback through IVR,
  • etc. ?”

It can be a nightmare to explain to someone who has little prior knowledge of any MDC tools why the SMS-based tool they heard of recently – that works great in far-off communities for requesting spare parts for their water point – might not be the best solution for a one-shot survey to cover a post-distribution monitoring of seeds. The underlying issue though, is that the organisation probably needs a set of different tools to tackle different questions. It becomes even more tricky when the tool in question can  be tweaked to answer other needs, but might not be the best choice once we consider the organisation’s wider context in terms of requirements, IM capacities, turnover of staff, technical or financial constraints or the scale-up possibilities of the tool.

In this visual below we decided to answer this question by categorising the tools into:

  • at one end of the spectrum, generic MDC low-cost tools digitising structured paper forms for one-shot data collection across any sector of intervention and,
  • at the other end of the spectrum, more customised and technologically advanced sector-specific tools. These often cover full business processes and include features like advanced longitudinal surveys or case management, SMS based data collection directly from beneficiaries, mobile banking, Interactive Voice Response systems or a strong component for collection and management of geographical information.

However, it is of course never as clear-cut as one might wish for when designing a visual. There’s actually a blurry area in the middle where tools and features from both groups overlap. Standard MDC tools now tend to incorporate more complex, sector-specific features, while at the other end of the spectrum, formerly highly specialised business tools are starting to become usable across different sectors.

fig_5_generic_finalNB: This visual was produced for Terre des hommes (Tdh), the tools mentioned are therefore those best known inside the organisation. To learn more about our collaboration with Tdh, check out our website here. The visual is published under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Compiling this visual (you may download a PDF version here) meant multiple fighting matches inside our MDC team. It is not an easy task to present a complex world in one simplified representation. Nevertheless, we hope that it can support other actors in their organisation’s or operation’s strategy in terms of choice of MDC tools.

Don’t hesitate to share some ideas on how you would have tackled such a topic on commenting the blog post or by contacting us here! You may also discover the second blog post on the advantages and disadvantages of MDC here, and the third one detailing at which steps of the data collection process is MDC more time efficient than paper-based collection.


Related CartONG resources:

  1. Mobile Data Collection Toolkit – A guidance for the use of MDC in the humanitarian and development field (made available by Tdh & CartONG)
  2. Benchmarking of Mobile Data Collection Solutions – CartONG, Tdh & UNHCR, June 2017; Retrieved: 14 January 2019
  3. Benchmarking of Mobile Data Collection tools with a strong GIS component – CartONG & UNHCR, February 2017; Retrieved: 14 January 2019
  4. Simple geographic data collection apps blog post – CartONG, March 2017
  5. NOMAD Online MDC selection tool – CartONG, Immap, latest update 2016

Related external resources:

  1. Conducting mobile surveys responsibly – a field book for WFP staff – WFP, May 2017; Retrieved: 14 January 2019
  2. Digital Data Collection in Plan: A review of current practice and lessons learned – Erica Packington and Hannah Beardon, Plan International Finland, October 2015; Retrieved: 14 January 2019
  3. Oxfam Mobile Survey Toolkit – Emily Tomkys & Laura Eldon, Oxfam GB, 27 July 2016; Retrieved: 14 January 2019
  4. Choosing the Right Tool for Data Collection: Paper vs. Digital Tools vs. IVR – Gaurav Jha, SocialCops; Retrieved: 14 January 2019
  5. Using mobile phones in data collection: Opportunities, issues and challenges – World Bank, 18 April 2014; Retrieved: 03 March 2019
  6. Mobile-based technology for monitoring & evaluation; ICTworks, March 2017; Retrieved: 16 August 2019


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The content of the CartoBlog was transferred to the Information Management Resource Portal in May 2021:

Please note that the CartoBlog will be decommissioned in early 2022. From now on, we warmly encourage you to consult the tutorials, benchmarking studies and other resources directly onto the new portal.

Thank you!

🚚 📦 On déménage !

Le contenu du CartoBlog a été transféré sur l’IM Resource Portal en mai 2021 :

Veuillez noter que le CartoBlog sera désactivé au début de l’année 2022. Nous vous invitons, dès à présent, à prendre l’habitude de consulter les tutoriels, benchmarkings et autres ressources directement sur le nouveau portail.

Merci !