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Report shows smartphones make surveys easier in Zimbabwe

02 May 2012

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How can smartphones be used to connect disaster-affected populations and the authorities that are supposed to assist them? A new report, Mapping with mobiles by International Media Support (IMS) and the Zimbabwean Humanitarian Information Facilitation Center (HIFC) shows a way.

Mapping with mobiles

Publisher: International Media Support (IMS) and the Zimbabwean Humanitarian Information Facilitation Center (HIFC)

Report shows smartphones make surveys easier in Zimbabwe
Image credits: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/ Using smartphones to conduct fast surveys on access to information in Zimbabwe

The report, Mapping with mobiles released recently by International Media Support (IMS) and the Zimbabwean Humanitarian Information Facilitation Center (HIFC) documents the experiences and lessons learnt in conducting smartphone surveys to explore how people access and receive humanitarian information in Zimbabwe.

The smartphone surveys were conducted with the so-called Nokia Data Gathering software, an open-source software making it possible to use smartphones to carry out quick surveys and transmit the collected data back to a central server for immediate analysis.

"The tool, could ultimately help save lives," explains Jesper Strudsholm, Zimbabwe Programme Manager at IMS.

The new geo-mapping tools make it possible to collect data from the most remote and poorest areas of the world. With digital surveys like this one, the people affected by a crisis are given a chance to channel their needs back to decision makers and aid agencies. It effectively establishes a two-way communication process, which potentially could make the aid more efficient and ultimately could help save lives.

Skepticism and political sensitivity

Carrying out the survey over the past few months 30 volunteers in Zimbabwe aimed to test the tool to find out how open-source software like it can be utilised in an environment that is both technically challenging and politically sensitive.

The survey was also a chance to gain valuable knowledge on the population's use of various sources of information in order to help humanitarian organisations and government agencies to improve their communication strategies.

Although the surveys in some areas were met with skepticism of the new technology among those interviewed, the 30 interviewers managed to gain 2500 answers to their questions on access to information. Also, in several areas of Zimbabwe the political situation remains fragile leading to the data gathering being met with some suspicion:

- In the Zimbabwean political context any gathering of information is treated with suspicion­, particularly in rural areas where some respondents refused to be interviewed using the tool. A majority of respondents nevertheless appreciated what advanced mobile phones can do and were receptive to new methods, says the report.

Following the survey, a number of humanitarian organisations have shown interest in the technology and some have borrowed HIFC's pool of smartphones used to carry out the survey. 

The results of the survey on access to humanitarian information will be published in a separate report available from HIFC later this year.

The Humanitarian Information Facility Centre (HIFC) was established to enhance the flow of concise and consolidated information on th humanitarian crisis. HIFC works with local organisations to manage the information produced on humanitarian issues for greater coordination and impact. Simultaneously, HIFC trains and supervise journalists in order to broaden the spectre and standards on reporting on humanitarian issues.

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