CRS Uses Mobile Technology to Collect Field Information

September 20, 2011 by

Collecting data and tracking the progress of development projects in the field has long been a challenge for humanitarian  agencies like Catholic Relief Services. Conditions in the field can be harsh for sensitive hardware, there is usually no internet connectivity and computer equipment can be expensive, although smartphone aren’t too pricey.

CRS is at the cutting edge of adapting information technology for the field, using the latest technological advances to manage and improve the quality of our services, through our ICT 4D initiative: Information and Collection Technologies for Development. By taking advantage of the rapid exchange of data and information that ICT allows, CRS has been able to adjust our programming to improve impact and scale programs to reach more people at a lower cost per person.

Shaun Ferris of CRS has been spreading the word about ICT 4D to his colleagues in the humanitarian field. He was recently featured in an article on the website for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) new Global Broadband and Innovations (GBI) program:

A variety of emerging technologies connects the digital fieldworker to the value  chain, according to Shaun Ferris of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in his presentation, “CRS ICT4D Strategy,” at the ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) August Meetup. According to Ferris, project progress tracking and data sharing are two of the challenges his organization faced while collecting data from their beneficiaries.  New technologies and/or new uses of existing technologies are helping to bridge this gap. In his presentation to the ICT4D group, Ferris showed the audience that a combination of hardware, software, and data-sharing technologies were used to ensure a more efficient transfer of data.

In partnership with the IT-focused non-governmental consortium NetHope, CRS beneficiaries and the international agricultural community share their information via the “Humanitarian Cloud.” The Humanitarian Cloud concept borrows its name from the information technology term, “cloud computing.” Cloud computing, is “anywhere access” to data or, more simply, web-based data.  Universal access to data is vital in ensuring equal distribution of services, particularly to underserved areas.  Connecting to this Humanitarian Cloud from rural areas with limited internet access, however, was one of the challenges faced by Ferris’ project.

Recognizing the reality of intermittent internet access, the CRS project needed a data collection tool that was both available offline (for data input) and online (for data transmission).  In addition, they needed software which was available on mobile devices such as tablet PCs and smartphones.  To address this need, they found software in which they could create customized forms and collect data, both on- and offline.  Using a form designed in iFormBuilder and accessed via mobile device, the fieldworker or project staff member are now able to add data to the Humanitarian Cloud.

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