Doing a household survey using tablets

By Maliphone Douangphachanh, Saithong Phommavong

Nowadays, there is a growing tendency of using modern equipment in doing research. Data collection by using a tablet is one trend which is practised by many research projects and students all around the world. Using tablets for data collection comes up with pros and cons. Some pro arguments relate to a paperless technique, time and energy-saving method, cost efficiency, and skill and experience enhancement. Firstly, due to the online application, the survey consumes less questionnaire paper sheets and thus is considered as an environmentally friendly data collection technique. Secondly, it saves time and energy. Using a tablet saves lots of time during and post-survey. A tablet is small and light, but it can “store many paper sheets”. During the survey, an enumerator only swipes the screen of the tablet to ask the first to the last questions with no need of opening any paper sheets.


A MA student conducts data collection using a tablet for the first wave household survey at Dong village, Laongam district, Salavan province, Laos 2015. @ S. Phommavong

After the survey, the data is cleaned and submitted to a server hub directly which is less labour intensive than manual data entry. If we used the paper-based questionnaire, data entry would require lots of labour days to complete the task. The tablet can solve those problems and makes life easier. Data collection by tablet costs less than the paper-based method mainly because the labour cost for data entry is minimised. Nevertheless, it is necessary to check data before submitting the form to the server. Cleaning data after the submission remains necessary. Finally, using a tablet for the survey enhances enumerators’ skills and experience for modernised data collection techniques. The following statement is from an enumerator, and he shares the experience of using a tablet:

Through a survey with all six villages, I gained much good experience regarding team working, communities’ experiences and using a tablet. I think using a tablet is a perfect tool for surveying.  I [would] love to use the tablet for my future research; this is the green survey and easy for uploading to the database system. Based on my learning from the survey (using tablets), I would like to recommend that to ensure the good use of tablet. First, the communities where it will take place have electricity (this is the case in Lao there are some villages they do not have electricity access). Secondly,  [it is important that] we are familiar with the question form in case of tablet error, e.g. during the collection of data in the second wave of the survey, 2018. Lastly, when we use a tablet, making notes of the most important information may be needed as well. (Outhoumphone Sanesathid, a FATE PhD student)


 “Making notes of the most important information may be needed as well“. Household survey, May 2018. Bolaven Plateau, South of Laos. @R.Steffen

Nevertheless, data collection by using tablet also has some con-sides: complicated and time-consuming preparation of Excel form, enumerators’ training, battery charging, and cleaning data before submission. Preparation of the standard Excel form is the most crucial tasks before the survey. If an error with a variable is found, this might cause serious impact to the whole data set and thus requires additional adjustment time.  The whole set of questions in the tablet needs to be connected smoothly and systematically from the first question to the last question. Training on using a tablet for a survey is significant and consums longer time than paper-based data collection.  It is necessary to ensure that enumerators understand both the context of the questionnaires and the way of using a tablet. Therefore; the training should be longer in order to assure that all enumerators can collect quantity and quality of data. Another challenge of using a tablet is the battery because tablets need to be fully charged before an interview, otherwise it may cause data loss during the survey because it might not save automatically.  Finally, data should be cleaned before submission to a server hub which is time-consuming. If the data on the tablet is not checked clearly before sending to a server, it will affect data quality and analysis.

The FATE-Laos completed two waves of household survey data collection, the first one in 2015 and the second one in 2018. The first data collection by using a tablet covered 532 households in two provinces, two districts, and four villages, and the second one covered 719 households in two provinces, three districts, and six villages. The first wave of the survey consists of  15 enumerators; who spend two training days, four questionnaire testing days and 13 days in the field. The second wave of household survey was divided into two periods of time due to the larger sample. In total, the survey was conducted by 14 enumerators in 25 days excluding training and questionnaire testing days. The questionnaire for the second wave which was modified for some parts had a total of thirty-one pages. If paper was used, the team would have printed 22,289 pages.



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