A sexy tool that works

January 13, 2015
Pact collects data via mobile technology in Vietnam.

In international development, we are often looking for the next innovative thing—a fancy tool or innovative way of working.

Mobile technology is one of these “innovations” in development. It is a powerful and efficient tool that organizations are increasingly tapping in to to improve the efficiency and quality of their programming.

But is it just a shiny new toy?

Maybe, but it is one that is improving Pact’s work and flexibility to adapt to local contexts. In Vietnam, Pact is using mobile technology for data collection as part of our Mekong Vitality Expanded Alliance project.

Here’s what we’re seeing there.

Faster, more accessible data. Ability to monitor data collection. 

In early 2014, Pact field staff utilized smart phones and Magpi (data-collection software) to conduct a baseline survey of 387 women participating in the project’s savings and loan (WORTH) groups. At the end of the project, we will use the same technology to conduct an endline survey to measure improvements in the women’s income and families.

In late 2014, we also surveyed 170 women from WORTH groups to assess their barriers to business and the feasibility of using mobile phones to overcome those challenges. The data will allow us to provide recommendations on business skills training and what mobile tech might work best for them.

All this data collection took place in Vinh Long Province near the southern tip of Vietnam. Pact’s country office is located in Hanoi, more than 1,600 kilometers away in northern Vietnam, with project staff spread over three far-flung offices.

Using mobile technology to collect data means staff across all offices have faster access to data. It is allows staff to provide real-time analysis and decision-making, reducing the need for multiple trips to sometimes hard-to-reach locations.

It also means more reliable data.

Field visits are sometimes lengthy and often involve extreme weather conditions, particularly in the rainy season. Paper can become damaged or misplaced during these trips. Collecting data in the field with mobile devices eliminates the need to enter data from paper into a database, reducing the opportunity for errors and omissions from data entry mistakes or poor handwriting.

But it is more than just data. Mobile devices support a range of capabilities beyond data collection (e.g., mobile banking, patient tracking, and crowdsourcing, as well as communication). For example, selected women in the WORTH groups will soon be using smartphones with built-in training applications to learn business skills, with support from Pact field staff.

The Mekong Vitality Expanded Alliance is a partnership between Pact, The Coca-Cola Foundation and USAID that incorporates mobile technology solutions, deeper business skills training and additional networking opportunities into WORTH groups. The Alliance builds on previous work to enable women to become forces for economic change in their communities through WORTH, Pact’s award-winning women’s economic empowerment model. The current project focuses on transforming women from microenterprise operators to entrepreneurs and business leaders by equipping them with an understanding of sound business practices and market forces.

Mobile technology is a valuable tool for this work and in other countries around the world. Pact uses mobile technology to facilitate data collection that is faster, cleaner, better monitored and made richer by integrated GIS and camera capabilities. Pact has utilized mobile technology across Africa, Asia and Latin America, including in South Sudan, Tanzania, Namibia, Swaziland, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Brazil, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.