There’s No Cheating With Phones

Running an effective Water and Sanitation Program requires lots of data collection. We need to know:

  • Are our staff and volunteer educators actually teaching Nuru farmers groups how to remove disease-causing germs from their water?
  • Are people actually practicing the water treatment practices they’ve learned?
  • Is the attendant at the deep well so that people can purchase clean water?
  • How much water can be stored in the tanks installed for our rainwater catchment pilot project?
  • How has the recent rainfall impacted the stored rainwater catchment tank volumes and deep well revenues?

Collecting such data requires inspection forms, attendance records…PAPER – stacks of paper in an endless queue awaiting data entry in a computer. This paper trail is so uninviting. When we look at it, we think, “tomorrow.” Sadly, our data collection investments often yield little to no returns due to this dilemma between spending time on life-saving interventions or sitting in front of a computer entering numbers into a spreadsheet.

Insert Nuru staff wielding inexpensive camera cell phones loaded with an internet browser.

This what Eliza, a Water and Sanitation Field Manager, thinks about Nuru’s use of mobile technology in the field: “When you are using the phone, the information is submitted immediately. There is no need for writing, transferring to the computer or discussing anything. Instead of sitting for about one hour (in meetings submitting forms, discussing data, etc), the phone is doing it in 5 seconds.”

You’ve heard the line, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Here in Kuria, those words could be any mix of three languages: Kikuria (I know greetings and a few lines), Kiswahili (I know enough to get around) or English (British English, that is, of which I’m gaining familiarity with). With one photo sent via email over the phones, I know exactly what has taken place. There is no need for phones calls filled with miscommunications due to language barriers, etc.

So, when Eliza sent me two photos – one of her colleague Daniel measuring depth in a plastic rainwater catchment tank and another of him recording the depth in the rainfall gauge I knew that she had trained him how to record those two pieces of data so that data collection would continue while she was away for a week with her fellow Water and Sanitation managers attending a course on Health Promotion for Trainers in Nakuru, Kenya.

As  Eliza said, “When you send that email with a photo, they will accept it as true.”

She also has an interesting insight about taking attendance at important trainings using Google forms on the phones. “Even the Water and Sanitation Representatives [volunteer community educators] have come earlier. They know that the phone records the time that I submit whether they are on time, late or absent. So, they don’t even ask me to change their records anymore. With the phones, there is no cheating.”

The benefits of moving pilot project monitoring, project inspection forms, training/meeting attendance forms to Google forms loaded to the phones have been numerous:

We save time – data moves from a phone directly to a spreadsheet in seconds

We get more data and better data- our staff love using the phones to submit data.

We can discuss important topics in meetings- no more precious time wasted submitting reports and deciphering marks on rain-soaked papers.

And speaking of stacks of paper, I am staring at a few scraps of paper containing the GPS points of water sources and sickness reports in the communities we’ve scaled to. Mapping those points to get an idea of the needs in those communities has been on my to-do list for weeks. I’m definitely moving our Water and Sanitation baseline data collection process to the phones!